Starved Rock State Park offers oodles of natural beauty, just a short drive from Chicago – with 13 miles of scenic hiking trails winding through 18 canyons, and numerous tree-lined bluffs.
Best known for its fascinating rock formations and panoramic views, the park also has a number of waterfalls – the best time to visit those is in the spring, after heavy rain, while the water flow is high. Visit year-round for varying views throughout the seasons – including the ice falls in winter.
Located on the south bank of the Illinois River, Starved Rock State Park (178 Rte 71, North Utica IL) is just over an hour and half drive from Chicago, in Utica, IL.
Amazingly, entrance to the park is free of charge – which means some weekends it does get quite crowded in some parts (particularly the shorter trails and closer to the main entrance). Head to a trail further away and you’ll be alone with nature in no time.
There are a number of activities as well – though hiking seems to be the most preferred. Hiking shoes are recommended and keep in mind there can be a lot stairs on the way up to certain look-out points (but the views are worth every step!). It can get pretty muddy too, especially in the spring, so come dressed prepared to get dirty.
Some of the most popular/favorite trails are those leading to Wildcat Canyon, Illinois Canyon and French Canyon.
Guided hiking tours are now available – or you can plan your own hikes of varying lengths – from a few minutes, to a couple of hours. Keep in mind that hikers must stay on the marked trails.
Starved Rock’s “sister” park, Matthiessen Park, is just a 5 minute drive away, and though it’s much smaller, it also has a number of spectacular trails.
There are ample campgrounds to stay a night or two – or visitors can stay on-site at The Lodge, which offers 69 hotel rooms and 21 cabin rooms. House boats are also available for rental.
On the water, there are boat rentals including ski boats, cruises and paddle boat tours, canoe and jet ski rentals. There are whitewater rafting tours, and canoe and kayak rentals on the nearby Big Vermillion River.
The park also offers seasonal hunting and fishing.
The unique habitat of the park is home to a variety of wildlife and plants, including over 200 wildflowers.
The Visitors Center has indoor interactive displays, hiking maps, and a gift shop which sells amazing fresh fudge.
For more information, check out the park’s official website at starvedrockstatepark.org.
Consider combining this day or overnight trip to Starved Rock Park with a wine-tasting experience at nearby August Hill Winery, also in Utica.
Follow @mirabelvega on twitter for updates from this author.