The Starved Rock State Park is the largest state park in Illinois and one of the oldest. It’s a must-see destination for those visiting Chicago or just looking to explore nature and an amazing hiking area.
Starved Rock State Park is located in Illinois, near the city of Chester. The park is a popular destination for hiking and camping on the Starved Rock Trail. It’s also a great place to visit for its geological formations, such as the “starved rock” formation that gives it its name.
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With over 2.4 million visitors each year, Starved Rock State Park’s 18 sandstone canyons and 14 waterfalls are a must-see for everyone visiting Illinois. We walked the park last summer, so read on to learn how to make the most of your visit to this lovely 2,630-acre state park.
Why is Starved Rock State Park so well-known?
Starved Rock State Park is home to breathtaking waterfalls and sandstone canyons. The Visitor Center or the historic Starved Rock Lodge is a place where you may go if you’ are both within a 2-mile trek of many of the vistas.
Enjoy excellent views of the Illinois River from the resort or its cottages. The Bluff Trail offers a spectacular perspective of the granite formations, while the River Trail leads into the canyons itself.
Where Did The Name “Starved Rock” Originate?
The park’s name stems from a mythology, according to the park guards. According to mythology, the Ottawa and Pottawatomi were at odds with the Illiniwek, who were pushed back to Starved Rock to make a stand. The other tribes formed a ring around the spot, waiting for them to run our food.
The Location of Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park is four miles south of Interstate 80 (tolls) on IL-178 S/E, just 95 miles from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.
The park is located on the Illinois River’s south bank, near the lock and dam. Plum Island, located above the dam, is home to bald eagles throughout the autumn and winter months.
What is the distance between Chicago and Starved Rock?
Starved Rock State Park is located 95 miles southeast of Chicago, 56 miles east of Joliet, and 106 miles east of Evanston.
On your journey, you will use the Interstate 80 tollway. The tolls do not accept cash; instead, you may use the I-PASS (Illinois) and EZ Pass, or you can pay with your license plate at the Illinois Tollway location within 14 days of your travel.
By August, the Starved Rock State Park waterfalls had dried up (Photo by James Monnett).
Starved Rock State Park’s Best Days/Times to Visit
Monday through Thursday are the ideal days to visit Starved Rock State Park. 2.4 million people visited the park in 2021.
When the parking lots are full, the Park Rangers often shut the entry to the park by 10:00 a.m. on Fridays and Sundays from June to late October. They often reopen them around 3 p.m., when the crowds begin to dwindle.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Starved Rock?
The month of October is the busiest at Starved Rock State Park, with visitors flocking to witness the stunning autumn colors. The water pours over the waterfalls until June, so April and May are ideal months to visit. Summer is an excellent season to take advantage of the many hiking routes.
Visiting Starved Rock State Park for a Day
On weekends, come by 9 a.m. to get a parking place in the lots. Arrive early on weekends to enjoy a full day at the park.
All visits to Illinois state parks, with the exception of beaches, are free. The Starved Rock Lodge is a place where you may go if you’ offers carryout of lunches, snacks, and beverages. Start your day by visiting the Visitor Center, which has trail maps, hiking tours, and bathrooms.
At Starved Rock, there is plenty of parking.
The primary parking lots are located near the Visitor Center and the resort. These bigger lots are ideal for RVs and campers. The lodge guests have their own gated parking lot. As the parking lots fill up, rangers will shut them. There is no charge for parking.
On the east side of the park, park in one of the three spots immediately beyond the Kaskaskia Canyon and Council Overhang formations for a less crowded experience.
What Can You Do In Starved Rock?
Hiking routes into and around the canyons draw visitors to Starved Rock. French Canyon is just a half-mile from the Visitor Center, making it ideal for the entire family.
You can camp right next to the park, kayak the river, fish, and drive 2 miles south to Matthiessen State Park, which has 11 miles of horseback riding trails.
At Starved Rock, Kayaking
You may go on a kayak excursion to visit the Starved Rock sandstone cliffs. Kayaking along the Illinois River below the cliffs is a popular summer and autumn pastime. Some of the groups make a pit stop in the park for lunch.
Many visitors bring their own kayaks to Plum Island for a self-guided tour of the sandstone peaks. You may also cast a line from your kayak and fish the river.
At Starved Rock, you may camp.
At the Starved Rock Campground, you may camp in an RV or in a tent. Reservations are required and may be made up to six months in advance. There are 129 Class-A premium sites at the campsite, each with a concrete pad, picnic table, electric hook-up, room for an RV or two tents, and a fire pit with a metal cook grill.
The campsite charges a site fee, which is greater on holiday weekends when a two-night stay is required. Reservations may be made by clicking here.
Starved Rock State Park’s sandstone cliffs (Photo by James Monnett).
Starved Rock State Park Hiking
In the park, you may trek to 18 distinct canyons and rock formations. The majority of the waterfalls will be flowing from March through June. Some of the streams that supply the waterfalls dry up in July. Two river vistas are available by stairways from the park’s paths.
Overlooking the Starved Rock
Lover’s Leap Overlook is the greatest place to observe the original Starved Rock protrusion. Eagle Cliff Overlook provides a wonderful view of the bald eagles soaring above Plum Island in the river throughout the winter. The Illinois River may be seen from three distinct viewpoints: Beehive Overlook, Oak Canyon Overlook, and Hennepin Overlook.
Hikes From The Visitor Center That Are Easy-Moderate
On level stretches of path, hikes from the Visitor Center are simple to stroll. These walks are considered simple by many hikers since they are less than 3 miles roundtrip. Others, though, characterize the walks as intermediate since most of the paths have steps at some point.
The French Canyon Trail is located in France.
Any family hiking trip should include the French Canyon walk. On a 2-mile circle, the canyon is just 0.4 miles from the Visitor Center. The signs are simple to understand. The 45-foot high spring-fed waterfall is active all year.
Because you’ll be walking beside a stream on your trip up the canyon, bring waterproof boots or sneakers. Closed-toe adventure sandals are also a good alternative in the summer. Children will like being in the canyon, which is surrounded by shallow water.
Canyon Trail in St. Louis
One of our favorites was this 3-mile round-trip trek. The trek ascends the bluff, passing via numerous wood bridges and passing by some amazing sandstone rock formations. You’ll travel through three more minor canyons along the way: Aurora, Sac, and Kickapoo.
Then, when you enter the canyon, you descend the route. The park’s largest canyon is St. Louis Canyon. The simple route will take you down and lower to the canyon bottom. The rock will soon surround you, with the brook trickling at your feet.
Waterfall in St. Louis Canyon
As the canyon opens out to the bowl, you may walk over the water on either side as you trek down the stream in St. Louis Canyon. The 80-foot high spring-fed waterfall may be seen around a curve. As the water cascades down, you may stand right next to the plunge pool.
Waterfall in Wildcat Canyon
Plan on doing the moderate 2-mile hike to Waterfall in Wildcat Canyon using the Bluff Trail to begin. Stand on any of the three lookouts at the 80-foot high waterfall. Then you can continue down the stairs to see the falls from the bottom.
You will see Waterfall in Wildcat Canyon at its best in the spring as the winter melt keeps the water cascading down the cliffside. At the bottom, this trail may be muddy and wet, but it is worth it.
Most of the paths may be completed in a single day if you are an experienced hiker. Bring plenty of water, wear excellent hiking shoes, and layer your clothing. On the stairwells and along the streams, hiking poles will come in handy.
On Amazon, you can find these trekking poles by clicking here.
The East Side of Starved Rock State Park: Parking and Hiking
On our way back to Michigan, we decided to go to the east side of the park on our final morning.
With a 2-mile circle, hiking from neighboring parking lots made it simpler to reach the Ottawa and Kaskaskia canyons (8-mile roundtrip from the Visitor Center). The Ottawa Canyon Waterfall is a stunning sight to see.
The Frozen Waterfalls are a series of waterfalls that have been frozen over.
Because some of the waterfalls are spring-fed, they run all year. In the winter, the canyon waterfalls in St. Louis, Ottawa, and LaSalle turn into beautiful icefalls.
The park attracts ice climbers and photographers who come to observe the stunning ice falls. Because the stairs and paths might be dangerous, bring ice cleats for your footwear.
On Amazon, you can find these ice cleats by clicking here.
Starved Rock Lodge is a place where you may go if you’
Staying in the historic Starved Rock Lodge is a place where you may go if you’ is the best way to enjoy the park. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corp built the lodge out of white pine timber.
This lodge, as well as many other historic structures in Great Lakes state parks, was designed by Joseph F. Booten. In 1985, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
The Starved Rock Lodge is a great place to stay if you’re looking for a unique experience. is a place where you may go if you’
There are three different ways to stay at the resort. One of the 16 cottages around the lodge is a terrific place to bring the entire family. Alternatively, you may stay in one of the lodge’s 69 rooms. Private bathrooms, flatscreen televisions, and free WiFi are available in all of the alternatives.
In the older wing, we stayed in one of the original chambers. It was spotless and inviting. We were treated to a beautiful view of the woods. You may also book a room in the lodge’s newer, more contemporary wing.
The Starved Rock Lodge’s Swimming Pool is a place where you may go if you’
The Starved Rock Lodge is a place where you may go if you’ includes an indoor swimming pool with a gated children’s swim area. You can enjoy one of two saunas and a steaming hot tub. You cannot swim in the waterfall plunge pools or in the river because of the current from the dam.
At the Starved Rock Lodge, you can eat. is a place where you may go if you’
On the porch outside the Backdoor Lounge, we shared a great burger and chips. The dam and the river below provided a breathtaking vista. The Cafe, the Backdoor Lounge (order carry-out for your trek), and the Lodge Restaurant are among the other eating alternatives.
Starved Rock Lodge is a place where you may go if you’ – The Lodge Restaurant
Sunday brunch and special dinners in the Lodge Restaurant’s Main Dining Room attract visitors from all over the world. The room is stunning. Breakfast, lunch, and supper are all available.
During the summer and autumn, reservations are advised for lunch and supper. For a wedding or other occasion, the Main Dining Room can accommodate up to 200 people.
We observed family reunions, a wedding party, and some kind of retreat group sleeping in one of the huge cabins during our Sunday/Tuesday visit.
Choosing to Stay Outside of Starved Rock
Oglesby, a small town 6 miles from the state park, has a few hotels as well as the Great Bear Resort and Waterpark, where you may relax after a day of park exploration on the waterslides and lazy river.
More accommodation and eating alternatives may be found in the towns of Peru/La Salle to the west and Ottawa to the east. They are just 15 miles apart and 20 minutes apart by automobile.
The Most Visited State Park in Illinois
Until 2021, Starved Rock State Park was the most visited state park in Illinois. In 2021, 2. 6 million visitors visited Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park to enjoy the 100 kilometers of paved route.
Since 1904, when the park was accessed by train and river ferries, people have journeyed to Starved Rock.
Visit Starved Rock State Park if you’re in the area.
When visiting Illinois, we must include Starved Rock on our itinerary. Hike the trails, kayak the river, or relax on the lodge terrace with a drink in hand and take in the scenery. Not to be missed is Starved Rock State Park.
Visit one of these other state parks:
California’s Salt Point State Park
Montana’s Flathead State Park
The “starved rock lodge” is a historic hotel in Starved Rock State Park, Illinois. The lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and is a popular spot for hikers to stay during their visit.
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