Trail Running Project: Starved Rock State Park

This past weekend, the family headed over to Starved Rock State Park, near Utica, IL, approximately 1 1/2 hours from home base. Much of the trip is through flat, slightly undulating farm land, so the park is quite a surprise when approaching it over the river.

Munchkin (3): I liked climbing up and down. And I did like the canyons, looking at the waterfall. I liked the sand steps. I saw a waterfall, stairs, and an eagle. I liked jumping across the stream. I liked driving in the car. I liked walking and holding the stair railings.

Gai-gai (8): I loved going on a hike at Starved Rock State Park.  My family and I drove down to Starved Rock to hike.  The drive took an hour and a half, but it was worth it.   We were on the trails and ready to start hiking.  First we hiked to Starved Rock it had an overlook of the Illinois River.It was so beautiful!  Next we hiked to Eagle Cliff, Beehive, French Canyon, Lovers leap, and Wildcat Canyon. 

Overall I liked Wildcat Canyon the best because, before we left my mom said that there will probably be waterfalls and I wanted to see a waterfall, and there was a waterfall in Wildcat Canyon!  I noticed that the water from the waterfall was so cold that there was ice in some places instead of water!  There were a lot of steep hills, so it was a hard hike, but it was a lot of fun!

Tazer (10): My family went to Starved Rock and I enjoyed it. One of my favorite things was to see an eagle. I also liked seeing a 75 foot waterfall. The visitor center was nice and clean and the gift shop had cool rocks (polished), walking sticks, fudge, slingshots, and more. Some of the trails included: cement, wood, and dirt. I would recommend this place to everyone, but bring something to do on the long drive. Overall, this is now one of my favorite places to hike.

Starved Rock State Park is the major tourist attraction in north central Illinois. The Park is free to all visitors and parking is free also. The park attendance for 2010 was  over 2,000,000 people, but happily it wasn’t too crowded for us, as the day was cool and overcast. Our guess is that the bulk of visitors show up in the summer. [*We went winter camping here and can attest there are less people, though it certainly wasn’t empty in the canyons!]

The waterfalls and canyons are unexpected wonders, nestled within 2,630 acres of lush forests. Whether you choose the river trail or the bluff trail, you will enjoy spectacular views along the Illinois River. From picnicking to fishing to boating, from horseback riding to camping to enjoying winter sports, there’s so much to do that you’ll come back again.

The backdrop for activities are 18 canyons formed by glacial meltwater and stream erosion. They slice dramatically through tree-covered, sandstone bluffs for four miles at Starved Rock State Park, which is located along the south side of the Illinois River, one mile south of Utica and midway between the cities of LaSalle-Peru and Ottawa.

The park is best known for its fascinating rock formations, primarily St. Peter sandstone, laid down in a huge shallow inland sea more than 425 million years ago and later brought to the surface. Starved Rock State Park derives its name from a Native American legend of injustice and retribution.

In the 1760s, Pontiac, chief of the Ottawa tribe upriver from here, was slain by an Illiniwek while attending a tribal council in southern Illinois. According to the legend, during one of the battles that subsequently occurred to avenge his killing, a band of Illiniwek, under attack by a band of Potawatomi (allies of the Ottawa), sought refuge atop a 125-foot sandstone butte. The Ottawa and Potawatomi surrounded the bluff and held their ground until the hapless Illiniwek died of starvation- giving rise to the name “Starved Rock.”

Our hike began and ended at the Visitor Center, heading over to the river overlooks at Starved Rock, Eagle Cliff, and Beehive. We turned away from the river and entered Wildcat Canyon, which deadends at a beautiful tall waterfall.

Climbing one million and one steps, we headed up the bluff and over to French Canyon, which leads to the Starved Rock Lodge. During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the present day lodge out of white pine logs brought in from Indiana. These logs were recycled from train trestles that were torn down once the automobile became a more popular mode of transportation. Besides building the lodge, the CCC built many stairways, shelters, and bridges in the park.

Altogether, we walked for over 2 hours, which, when the group includes a 10, 8, and almost 4 year old, is nothing short of remarkable.  The best part of the outing? All three children are excited about hiking again in the near future and, more importantly, excited about camping. 

We’ll be back to Starved Rock, to hike as a family, maybe stay at the Lodge, or perhaps to try it out as a place for trail running. With approximately 13 miles of trails, quad-burning ascents and descents, and outstanding scenery, it seems a perfect place to train.

[*If  you’re familiar with Starved Rock and love it, we suggest driving down to Indiana’s Turkey Run, which features similar topography but with ladders!]

Nearby destinations:


21 thoughts on “Trail Running Project: Starved Rock State Park

  1. This looks like a wonderful place to take the kids hiking!! The photos are beautiful. Sounds like there's alot to see and do there. love the reviews from the kids 🙂

  2. I loved Starved Rock! We've been there twice, including the weekend we got engaged. 🙂 It gets very, very busy. Nearby Matheisson (not sure I spelled that right) is similarly beautiful and not quite as crowded.

  3. Love your kids' reports.
    What a cool place to visit. Maybe one of these days I'll have a chance to visit. I need a longer life, more free time and money. That's all.
    Funny, we used to live in Utica, NY.

  4. Great pics! And it was fun to read your kids take on the day! Awesome that they enjoyed it, looks like you will have some more hiking outings in your future!

  5. Gorgeous! Lovedthe kiddos reviews 🙂 it's hard trying to make my sisters go hiking (21+), so I can certainly appreciate 2-hrs of hiking with little ones.

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