Starved Rock State Park is the go-to place for outdoor adventure in central and northern Illinois, attracting more than 2 million visitors a year. While Illinois has a deserved reputation for its flatness, Starved Rock features 18 canyons that were formed by melting glaciers. You’ll find impressive rock formations, wooded hiking trails, waterfalls and scenic lookouts atop sandstone bluffs that, quite frankly, make you wonder how this all got to central Illinois.
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.
In addition to the canyons, Starved Rock offers giant bluffs overlooking the Illinois River, which offer a panoramic view of the area that’s not to be missed. In total the park features 13 miles of hiking trails. See the trail map here.
The trails are open all year, and the park has become increasingly popular in the winter, where a large population of bald eagles can be seen feeding in the Illinois River. The trails are well-marked, with yellow dots indicating you are moving away from the visitor’s center, white dots marking that you’re heading back toward it. A pair of snowshoes has become a great way to explore the park away from the summertime crowds. You’ll have to bring your own, though, there are no rentals in the park.
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
OK, so you miss the fall colors when snowshoeing, but the waterfalls that turn to ice offer a whole new set of wonders to see. The park is becoming a lot more crowded in the winter because of the bald eagles, but if you strap on a pair of shoeshoes and hit the trails, you’re still likely to have much of the place to yourself.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The park is located at 2668 E 875th Rd, Oglesby, IL.
The main park and picnic areas are open from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.