I consider myself a nature enthusiast. Exploring cities is fun and I have many fabulous cities on my bucket list. But it is out in nature where I am the most content. Perhaps that is why last Saturday we found ourselves visiting our second state park in a month. No camping for us this time- just a day trip to Starved Rock State Park.
About Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park is located near the small town of Utica, in north-central Illinois. If driving from Chicago, it is close to a two hour drive southwest so you can expect to make it an all day trip.
It is an old Native American legend that gave Starved Rock its name. Legend has it that Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe was killed by a member of the Illinois tribe. As a result, the Ottawa tribe retaliated, chasing the remaining Illini onto a high rock where they were cut off from all resources. The Illini refused to surrender and, on the verge of starvation, was conquered by the Ottawa and all perished.
Starved Rock has over 12 miles of hiking trails of varying lengths and skill levels. Located on the bank of the Illinois River, you also have the option of taking a boat or trolley tour if you book in advance. Reservations can be made on the website. You also have the option of participating in guided hikes. These can also be reserved online.
The Visitor’s Center is located just off the main parking lot. Here is where you will find maps of the hiking trails and general information about the park. Also in the Visitor’s Center is an exhibit where you can learn about the development of the area as well as the Native American history and the French traders and missionaries who also inhabited the area in the 1600s.
Housed in the same building as the Visitor’s Center is Trailhead Snacks. Here you can buy food and souvenirs. You can expect to find the usual concessions foods like hamburgers, hot dogs, and nachos. In my opinion, the food is overpriced and not very good. I recommend saving your money and packing a lunch of your own. A picnic area is located on the patio right outside the shop. Adjacent to the Visitor’s Center is a large grassy field perfect for picnics and large group activities along the Illinois River.
Lover’s Leap Hiking Trail
Like I mentioned above, Starved Rock consists of over 12 miles of hiking trails. We picked two that were doable for Ladybug and even Buddy insisted on doing a fair amount of walking. Both trails were less than a mile up and not too difficult.
The first trail we tried was Lover’s Leap which then continued on .1 miles further to Eagle Cliff. In total, these two points are .8 miles up, mostly on a boardwalk. Aside from the incline and some stairs, this is an easy hike for adults. Even Buddy walked for quite a bit of this trail and insisted on climbing up most of the stairs himself. It was slow going but we made it and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the Illinois River.
The name Lover’s Leap stems from another Native American legend involving a maiden who fell in love with a warrior. When she experienced heartbreak, she jumped off the cliff and fell to her death, thus giving the lookout point its name.
French Canyon Hiking Trail
After our lunch, we decided to hike one more trail. We picked the French Canyon trail and we are so glad we did. The French Canyon trail spans just .4 miles and ends in a gorge. This trail leads through a narrow canyon and the uneven steps and wet ground from the waterfall create enough of a challenge for adults to make it interesting, while still being doable for kids. Because of the dry season, there wasn’t much of a waterfall at the end of the canyon, though the wetness of the ground and rock wall made it evident that during some parts of the year, there is at least some kind of a waterfall. No matter, with the sun shining down into the canyon and the interesting rock formations, French Canyon is still a beautiful spot, despite the lack of a waterfall.
Keep in mind that Starved Rock State park is a popular tourist spot in Illinois so if you plan to go on a Saturday, it will be busy. I recommend going on a weekday if you wish to minimize crowds. Starved Rock is completely free to use the trails, making it an excellent budget friendly day trip from Chicago. If a good dose of nature is what you’re looking for, you’ll find it at Starved Rock State Park.