Exploring the Waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park
Looking for an incredible day hike near Chicago? Check out the waterfall at Starved Rock State Park and trade the city for some time on the hiking trails.


When talking about Illinois, “canyons” generally don’t pop into the conversation. It is, after all, the Prairie State. But less than two hours from Chicago, you’ll find not only canyons, but impressive rock formations, wooded hiking trails, waterfalls and scenic lookouts atop sandstone bluffs. lasalle canyonStarved Rock State Park is the go-to place for outdoor adventure in the state, attracting more than 2 million visitors a year. And it’s about as different from the flat urban landscape of Chicago as you can get. The park features 18 canyons that were formed by melting glaciers, which precipitated a series of floods that sent rushing water across the land and eroding the sandstone and other rocks in the area. In the spring—or after a big rain—Starved Rock features an even more impressive show, with waterfalls of varying sizes emerging in 14 of the 18 canyons. The French, LaSalle, and St. Louis Canyons have the largest, which also tend to last the longest and are often still going strong through the summer. But if you’re interested in seeing waterfalls, spring is the time to visit the park. In the spring—or after a big rain—Starved Rock features an even more impressive show, with waterfalls of varying sizes emerging in 14 of the 18 canyons. The French, LaSalle, and St. Louis Canyons have the largest, which also tend to last the longest and are often still going strong through the summer. But if you’re interested in seeing waterfalls, spring is the time to visit the park. lasalle canyon water Located on the Illinois River, Starved Rock has boating, fishing, and picnicking aplenty, and the bluffs overlooking the river are popular spots for sightseeing. If you want to explore the falls, you have to work a little bit—they're only accessible via hiking trails. In total the park features 13 miles of trails, which offer some excellent variety in terms of terrain and difficulty. You can find a trail map here. The trails are open all year, and the park has become increasingly popular in the winter, where a large population of bald eagles can be seen feeding in the Illinois River. Trails are well marked, with yellow dots indicating that you are moving away from the visitor’s center, white dots marking that you’re heading back toward it. starved rock dome You don’t have to hike too far to start exploring some of the park’s highlights. French Canyon is less than half a mile from the visitor’s center. The farthest hike is to the Illinois Canyon, which is 4.7 miles away, but there are additional parking spots throughout the park if you want to explore the further reaches without an especially long hike.Guided hikes are available to help highlight the best spots in the park and teach about the geological formation of the area. The “take a hike and lunch” program is run out of the visitor’s center from April to November. The farther you get from the visitor’s center, the more natural and rugged the trails become. Guided hikes are available to help highlight the best spots in the park and teach about the geological formation of the area. The “take a hike and lunch” program is run out of the visitor’s center from April to November. The farther you get from the visitor’s center, the more natural and rugged the trails become. Tonty and LaSalle canyons, about two miles from the visitor’s center, offer some more challenging trails. Be on the lookout for wildlife along the way. You’ll find white-tail deer, badgers, beavers, coyote, and fox. In the canyons, frogs, salamanders, turtles, and snakes will often make an appearance. And in addition to the bald eagles in the winter, a huge variety of birds make the park home, including owls, heron, and wild turkey. starved rock waterfallsIf you want to stay the night, the park’s historic lodge was built in part by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It now offers 72 luxury rooms and 22 cabin rooms—and they go quickly. The lodge features a swimming pool, restaurant, and great room with a massive stone fireplace. Even if you’re not staying there, it’s worth a peek in. There are 129 premium campsites in the park, with reservations accepted and highly recommended. The park charges $25/night per site, and $35/night on holiday weekends. Each campsite has electricity and a grill pit, and there are two buildings with showers and flush toilets. See the campground map here. For hikers, you won’t find better trails in the state. Go in the spring for the wildflowers and waterfalls. Go in the fall for the colors. Go in the winter to see the eagles. You really can’t go wrong. For hikers, you won’t find better trails in the state. Go in the spring for the wildflowers and waterfalls. Go in the fall for the colors. Go in the winter to see the eagles. You really can’t go wrong.

DETAILS

The park is located in Utica, Ill., just south of I-80 and east of I-39. The main park and picnic areas are open from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Camping areas are obviously open 24 hours, but the gates are open from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. You can read more about the park here.


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