Starved Rock State Park is one of the more fantastic adventures in central and northern Illinois, attracting more than 2 million visitors a year. In contrast to the flat land of Illinois, Starved Rock is a rugged landscape sculpted by glaciers, the result being 18 canyons that cut into the earth. The exotic scenery includes rocky crags, caverns, cliffs, and of course, the variety of canyons.
What Makes It Great
Not to go all geologist on you, but you can thank a series of floods from glacial moraines that sent rushing water across the land and eroding the sandstone and other rocks in the area. The lush vegetation and abundant wildlife really stands out amid the endless acres of farmland surrounding the area.
The canyons carve four miles out of the sandstone bluffs in the park, and they are one of the reasons the park is so popular. During the spring or after a rain, each of the 18 canyons will feature waterfalls. The French, LaSalle and St. Louis Canyons have the largest, which also tend to last the longest in drier weather.
Starved Rock has more to offer above ground as well. Expansive views of the Illinois River can be seen from the top of several bluffs. As you weave in and out of canyons, there will be 13 miles to explore (take a look at the trail map here).
Visitors to the park can come year-round. Winter has become popular in recent years, thanks to the resident bald eagles who are active in the area. Trails are easy to follow and the park feels very different depending on the season you are in.
The park’s historic lodge was built in part by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It now offers 72 luxury rooms and 22 cabin rooms—and they go quickly. The lodge features a swimming pool, restaurant, and great room with a massive stone fireplace. Even if you’re not staying there, it’s worth a peek in.
Who is Going to Love It
Starved Rock State Park offers some of the best hiking and fishing in the area. Catfish, bullhead, white bass, sauger, walleye, carp and crappie all live in the Illinois River. For hikers, you won’t find better trails in the state. Go in the spring for the wildflowers and waterfalls running through the canyon. Go in the fall for the colors.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Chicago: Take I-55 South to I-80. Take I-80 for 45 miles to Rt. 178. Take Rt. 178 south for 3 miles and then follow the signs for the park.
The main park and picnic areas are open from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Camping areas are obviously open 24 hours, the gates are open from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
There are 129 premium camp sites in the park, with reservations accepted and highly recommended. The park charges $25/night per site, and $35/night on holiday weekends. Each campsite has electricity and a grill pit, and there are two buildings with showers and flush toilets. See the campground map here.