Need a getaway from the city? Starved Rock State Park is one the most popular hiking destinations outside of Chicago. Situated along the Illinois River, the park has 13 miles of trails that take you past towering trees, deep canyons, and trickling waterfalls. The area has a lot more to offer than just hiking though!
This past weekend we met up with my family to spend 3 nights at the nearby campground. We spent time hiking, bike riding, and exploring the nearby town of Utica.
Hiking at Starved Rock
A trip to Starved Rock wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t hit the trails! Between Friday night and Saturday morning, we hiked almost half of the trails – from the parking lot closest to LaSalle Canyon to Starved Rock and the Lodge (map available here) and back again.
Starting from the parking lot, the trail guides you to a winding set of stairs that lead down to the Illinois River. Take a left at the bottom to head towards Starved Rock and the more popular canyons. The trail follows the Illinois River most of the way, with paths that split off into the canyons. Be prepared for lots of stairs as you make your way in and out!
Our favorite canyons were LaSalle and Tonty. LaSalle has the most active waterfall – you can walk behind it to get to continue on the trail.
After LaSalle you’ll find the Tonty bridge – keep going past it all the way to the end, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most beautiful canyons! There wasn’t much water flowing while we were there, but I’m told that Tonty has a double waterfall after heavy rains.
Don’t be alarmed by the “Tonty Bridge Closed” sign at the start of the trail. While I’m sure you’re probably not technically supposed to do this…for the adventurous, a log has been placed across the water to walk across when it’s low. Out of the 5 of us, no one fell in. 🙂
Tips for enjoying the park
- Summer is a popular time for hiking at Starved Rock – start your hikes earlier or later in the day to avoid crowds. Or consider a visit during the Winter – the frozen waterfalls are beautiful!
- Take water! We forgot ours. Rookie mistake.
- The trails cover a variety of terrain including sand and potentially mud, depending on recent weather. Wear proper, comfortable shoes – hiking boots, tennis shoes or hiking sandals are all great options.
- Help protect the trails! There are no trash cans in the woods so plan on carrying out any trash from snacks or water bottles. Stay on marked trails as much as possible to help preserve natural resources.
Camping at Starved Rock (and other options)
The campground at Starved Rock is located a couple of miles from the trailhead. There are 129 sites with electricity available for reservation online for $25 / night ($35 for holidays). There’s a single bathroom with showers at the start of each loop, as well as pit toilets scattered throughout and a camp store that sells ice and firewood (cash only).
The campground has 2 loops of sites. The East loop of campsites is very heavily wooded except for a few sites at the start of the loop. Most looked to have a fair amount of privacy. The West loop is much more open and probably easier for anyone with a RV or camper.
If you’re not into camping, check out the Starved Rock Lodge. They have rooms available in the lodge, or you can rent a nearby cabin that includes a wood-burning fireplace! My parents stayed in a cabin over the winter and enjoyed the experience. They were steps from the lodge (I hear they have a good brunch – reservations recommended!) and the start of the trails.
Additional Things To Do Near Starved Rock
- Hike, run or bike along the I&M Canal Trail – a 61 mile gravel & paved path that runs along a canal. We did a 10 mile run from North Utica to Locks #14 & 15, the final locks on the canal. The LaSalle Canal Boat is docked there, a mule-pulled boat that offers rides throughout the week.
- Drive into North Utica and grab dinner or a drink along Mill Street. There are several restaurants on the block, as well as an ice cream shop and the August Hill Winery Tasting Room. Check out their patio in the back for live music. You could also make a stop at Tangled Roots Brewing.
- Listen to live music on the patio at the Starved Rock Lodge.
- To watch the operation of the lock and dam along the Illinois River, visit the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center.
- Complete the 5 miles of hiking at Matthiessen State Park.
Hiking at Starved Rock is a great way to explore Illinois. Less than two hours from Chicago, drive there for the day or spend a whole weekend exploring everything the area has to offer. What other hikes near Chicago do you enjoy? We’d love to hear your recommendations!