Cliffs overlooking rivers, stunning waterfalls, rushing rivers. None of this sounds like Illinois but you can experience them all, and tremendous natural beauty, just a few hours from Chicago at Starved Rock State Park.
One of our favorite family adventures when we don’t have time to head out of state is taking a trip to Starved Rock State Park. It isn’t too far a drive, but it feels like a world away when you’re hiking along the trails that lead you through towering trees to gorgeous waterfalls or the banks of the Illinois River. Starved Rock State Park is beautiful – you can tell that from this quick video of our hike along the St. Lawrence, Kickapoo, Sac and Aurora Canyons.
Often the waterfalls are only really going in the spring, but the heavy rain this year has them looking fabulous well into summer. We are far from hard core hikers, and appreciate that the trails at Starved Rock are well marked and not so challenging that we are overwhelmed but enough so to feel like we’ve had a work out. Keep in mind that there are a lot of stairs.
1. Wear good shoes.
I may have laughed a little hard at the guy asking at his friends to wait up, yelling, “Come on. Sandals, bro. My feet!” But there were a surprising number of people in flip flops or sandals who were struggling. Closed toes shoes that fit well are key to enjoying your time on the trails.
2. Bring water.
There are 13 miles of trails, and a surprising amount of stairs, which make those 13 miles feel even longer. You will get thirsty, and you’ll be glad to have something to keep you hydrated. Be kind to the nature that you’re enjoying and bring a reusable water bottle.
3. Protect yourself from the sun and bugs
There’s a lot of tree canopy that provides some shade, but you can still get burned. Bring the sunscreen, and toss in some insect repellant as well.
Although not what first comes to mind when you’re thinking of being outside in the Midwest in the summer, consider wearing light clothing that has long sleeves. Not only will help with sun, it’ll protect you from any poison ivy and mosquitoes looking for a free lunch, too.
4. Thinking about bringing a change of clothes.
People like to really play in the waterfalls and pools underneath them at Starved Rock. It’s fun. If it’s possible that you want to join in, you’ll want dry clothing and socks when you’re done. Hiking in wet pants is not fun.
5. Have an idea of the trails you want to hike.
Starved Rock is really big, and it’s a lot to do in one day, especially if you have little ones. (And by that, I mean it’s not something you want to do in one big chunk. Break it down into more manageable and therefore enjoyable hikes. Starved Rock also offers guided hikes – you can find the schedule here.
Have a plan in mind when you set out – pick a few trails that look good to you. Check this map before you go as you may want to adjust where you park based on what trails are calling your name on any given day.
If you’re looking for waterfalls at Starved Rock, the most scenic ones are found in St. Louis, French, Wildcat, Tonty, Ottawa and Kaskaskia canyons.
6. Consider making it an overnight.
There’s a lodge as well as cabins and campsites if you want to make your adventure last a few days.
7. Don’t forget Matthiessen State Park just down the road.
We went to Matthiessen State Park in June when flooding made Starved Rock impossible to get to, and it was just a few miles past Starved Rock but it was different. Unlike Starved Rock, there is no lodge or store here, and it is smaller, with 5 miles of trails. It is a gorgeous place to hike.
9. Take your time and take some deep breaths.
Don’t rush. There is so much beauty to discover and enjoy and if you’re speeding along, you may miss something interesting or even beautiful Remember that it’s okay to pick a smaller trail and take your time. It’s okay to pause for a few deep breaths, and let your senses go to town soaking up your surroundings.
10. Be safe.
I remember visiting a high school friend in the hospital after she took a very bad fall down a cliff at a park in Ohio with steep bluffs similar to those at Starved Rock. I remember her stepmom telling me that it took ours to pick all the debris out of her long, blonde hair and not knowing if the girl would be okay. It was scary.
Every single year there are news reports of kids severely injuring themselves because they ventured off the trail at Starved Rock. I know this isn’t makes me think it bears repeating. Follow the rules. Stay on the trails. Use your head, and you’ll have a safe and fun time soaking up a spectacular show put on by Mother Nature.
You May Also Like: Matthiessen State Park: Great family hiking destination near Starved Rock
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