A Little Time and a Keyboard: Family Hike at Starved Rock

Family Hike at Starved Rock

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Bluff with overlook at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois

Much of Northeastern Illinois is flat. So, the geological formations yielding bluffs and canyons at Starved Rock State Park in Utica provide a unique diversion. The gorgeous weather last weekend yielded us the perfect time for an escape to the natural wonder.

Family gathering at Starved Rock in Illinois

The drive to Starved Rock from the Chicago area can range from 1 hour to 2 hours depending on suburb. We are about 1.5 hours so can make a visit a day trip. However, I highly recommend arriving early especially on weekends. Starved Rock contains a magnificent picnic area nestled on the Illinois River that quickly fills up with gatherings.

From the parking lot, a quick visit to the Visitor Center helps orient yourself. Displays in the museum lay out the history of the area. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of prehistoric cultures. The Kaskaskia maintained a large settlement in the area. The French including Jolliet and Marquette explored the area. Explorers with LaSalle ultimately constructed a fort atop one of the buttes.

Artifacts from French explorers at the Starved Rock Visitor's Center
Artifacts from French explorers
The Visitor Center also has some exhibits on the geology of the area and flora and fauna. Be sure to take advantage of the restrooms before heading out for your hike. If you are in need of a snack, there is snack shop. Before heading out, grab a map. Trails are marked but the map is very helpful in navigating. Behind the Visitor Center you will find a hummingbird/butterfly garden. We didn't see any hummingbirds nor butterflies there on this visit but have in the past.

Wooden Stairs at Starved Rock

As you can imagine, a visit to Starved Rock does require a bit of climbing. There are plenty of stairs, most of which are easily manageable. Some of the staircases have areas where you can sit and rest on a bench in between flights.

Sandstone Cliff at Starved Rock

The blending of lush flora and the St. Peter Sandstone is soothing. Picturesque outcrops stir inspiration. A number of canyons are home to lovely waterfalls depending on rain fall. There have been times that we have visited and not discovered any waterfalls. Other times, they seem to be everywhere. On this visit, we did discover a lovely one.

Waterfall at Starved Rock

Trails provide a variety of vantage points. Some allow you to walk up on the bluffs. Others allow you to walk on the canyon floor. Yet others incorporate magnificent views of the locks. What a magical place!

Locks at Starved Rock

While adventuring, be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife. We saw quite a few birds including cedar waxwings and pelicans. If you are looking for wildlife, it is helpful to keep as quiet as possible so you do not scare them off. The cedar waxwings let us get surprisingly close.

Cedar Waxwings at Starved Rock

We did spend two hours hiking around Starved Rock. There are so many trails, you can make an entire weekend adventure out of it. Other outdoor activities are available including boat rentals for nice excursions on the Illinois River. Nearby Matthiessen State Park provides another natural escape. Starved Rock is easily one of our favorite treasures in Illinois--definitely one not to be missed!

Things to know:

  • Bring plenty of water and snacks; you may be hiking away.
  • Trails are marked, but a map will add reinforcement as you navigate. Plus, it will give you an idea of how far you walked thereby helping you determine when you need to turn back.
  • The waterfalls do depend on the rain fall. 
  • Bring a bag to collect your garbage. There is a point beyond which there aren't any trash receptacles, so you will want something to store your garbage in until you finish your hike. 
  • Wear sunscreen and consider bug repellent. The preserve was not too buggy during this visit but has been buggy on other visits.