Surrounded by the flat, seemingly endless fields of Illinois farm country, a totally different topography is found within the Starved Rock State Park. It’s a unique contrast that will amaze you with its scenic trails and canyons and for sure you will enjoy the panoramic views from tall bluffs.
This amazing park is situated along the south bank of the Illinois River, less than 160 km (100 miles) from Chicago. As the water rushed downstream it eroded and stripped away everything in its path except the resistant St. Peter sandstone. A hike to the top of a sandstone butte or exploring any of the 18 canyons gives each visitor a memorable experience.
The name of the park is connected from a Native American legend. In the 1760s, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe was attending a tribal council meeting when an Illinois-Peoria stabbed him. Vengeance arose in Pontiac’s followers and a great battle started. The Illinois people took refuge on the great rock. After many days, remaining Illinois died of starvation giving this historic park its name – Starved Rock.
Although you can technically see waterfalls in 14 of the 18 canyons, some of the most scenic waterfalls are found in St. Louis, French, Wildcat, Tonty, Ottawa and Kaskaskia canyons. The best times to see waterfalls are in the spring when the snow and ice melt, or after a heavy rainfall.
If you like to enjoy the icefalls it’s nice to visit the park in winter as well. The freezing and melting that happens during this time of year create spectacular ice sculptures in the canyons.
When visiting the park you should be prepared for hiking. Wearing suitable clothes to the weather conditions, hiking shoes good for trails with dirt paths and difficult footing (especially after rainfall). You should know if you want to go closer to some of the waterfalls you might have to walk in the water, especially in the springtime when there is a bigger amount of water. It’s great that there are trails and many stairs which gives you an opportunity to see more in a relaxing way. If you go with small children a stroller will be inefficient … or make sure to have two strong people with you; one to carry the stroller one to carry the baby, as I did 🙂
The beauty of being there for the first time is that you can never know what’s coming next. The sound of the water is announcing that if you follow it there may be something amazing to see. The waterfalls are not so big, but the surroundings, the nature, combination of views from below and above, make’s your exploration very exciting. Stop every once in a while to look at your surroundings, enjoy the sounds and breath in the air feeling its scents. You never know what you might miss if you don’t. Always look back as you are leaving a canyon.
I liked the crossing over the noise and crowded waterfalls to calm trails. I have a feeling I didn’t capture enough when I’m watching the photos now. It’s much more beautiful to be there of course.
I guess the only thing I didn’t like was that there were many people around (we were there for a weekend). In some parts, I had a feeling like being part of a group walking together. Of course, everyone want’s to spend more time at the waterfalls. On the trails, it was calmer and you can make a better connection with nature.
Besides other activities, this is a great place for birds watching. The birds begin arriving in late December and stay until March. Generally, eagles follow seasonal food supplies; as lakes and streams freeze over, bald eagles must go south to find open, fresh water. The young eagles migrate before their parents. No one can explain how young birds know when and where to travel. I managed to capture an eagle on the next photography.
As well as my favorite birds – pelicans. Yes, pelicans do visit Starved Rock! It’s a great phenomenon that has been happening now for about 10 years. It turns out that over the last 10 years or so, a few of these pelicans began migrating up and down the Illinois River. Before that, the furthest east they were known to migrate was via a Mississippi River route. Over the years, it’s become a regular event and their numbers have grown. Some of the young pelicans are staying in the park for the whole year.
At the visitors center, there is a nice picnic area where you can have your lunch. And just as a reminder don’t leave your garbage behind.
Here are some tips for hiking through the park:
- Trail Map – Useful for planning hikes and finding your way around Starved Rock State Park. Find these at the information desk at either the Visitor Center or the Lodge.
- Take a small backpack and enough water with you, and some snack if you plan to spend longer period hiking.
- I already mention hiking shoes.
- Start with short hikes and work your way up from there. Use these hikes to familiarize yourself with the trail map and markers.
- Keep track of how much time you need to hike, that will help you easier to plan hikes in the future.
- For a more natural, rugged, hiking experience hike along trails that are further from the Visitor Center and Lodge, such as the interior canyon trails of Tonty and LaSalle .
- Don’t forget your camera 😉
For the end I have to say our visit to Starved Rock State Park, together with two children, was enjoyable and exciting. It was a great surprise to see the pelicans in the river, and everything else that we have experienced. I hope you liked the photos and that you will have an opportunity to make your own.
Thank you for reading.