Summer has finally set in at Chicago which means its time to don that hiking gear and get exploring. When I moved here, I set out finding out some cool options where we could go a for a hike and the name which constantly popped up in all my searches along with some amazing photographs was STARVED ROCK STATE PARK. So as soon as the climate warmed up a bit we simply had to go hiking there. Located in Utica IL, Starved Rock State park is a stunning stretch of land complete with natural canyons and waterfalls and makes for a great Day out Destination.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Starved Rock State Park was home to the Native Americans in late 1600’s.The name of the park is based on an old legend where two Native American tribes were fighting and the losing side took refuge atop a butte where they eventually starved themselves. Gradually, as the Europeans explored the United States of America, this area was occupied by the French.
In the late 19th Century this park was converted into a vacation resort and it was later acquired by the State of Illinois for a state park. This park has been subject to several archaeological studies and has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Stretched over a massive 2630 acres, this State Park has 18 canyons and is divided into 10 different trails so hikers can explore one canyon at a time. During Spring and Summer, you can also find waterfalls in 14 of these 18 canyons. The best time for waterfalls is after heavy rains and in early spring when the snow is melting. But even if you don’t get to view the waterfalls, the Park itself is gorgeous, the hikes are fun and its a wonderland for photographers. We visited it in Summer, but we are also looking forward to visit this place again in Fall for the Fall colors. Also if you love hiking in winters then a visit here to watch the frozen waterfalls is a must.
PLANNING THE HIKE
Hiking across the entire park will take seasoned hikers an entire day and if you want to leisurely explore it will take you at least 2 days. Entry to the park is free and they even welcome pets. I would suggest that you reach the park early and grab a map from their Visitors Center. The also have some great volunteers who would be happy to assist you with the best route to take and with any other suggestions which you may have.
What we did was, we reached the park at about 10:30 am, geared up with lots of water, sandwiches and trail-mix, grabbed a map and started with our hike.
We started our hike from the highest point of the Park located near the visitors center i.e. the Lovers Leap Overlook. It is just 5 minutes from the visitors center, gives a good start to your hike. You also get a scenic view of the Illinois River, Plum Island and Leopold Island.
Descending from the Lovers Leap Overlook we proceeded to the French Canyon, one of the most photographed canyon in Starved rock. We visited after 2 days of rainfall so we were lucky to catch the waterfalls but that also meant a slightly slippery hike. The French Canyon is definitely worth the visit when you come here. If you are planning a one day hike in Starved Rock it is difficult to cover all the canyons. But French Canyon is something you shouldn’t miss.
The trail map shows you routes to reach various canyons through the River-Trail and the Interconnecting Bluff Trail. We hiked from the French Canyon through the Pontiac Canyon and Wildcat Canyon on Bluff trail. The trail routes are marked throughout the park, and if you don’t want to get lost, you simply have to stick on the paved hiking routes. Places where it is unsafe to hike are also marked on the trail, so we have to keep a watch for them.
We checked out the Wildcat Canyon from the top and we wanted to hike down for another look at the waterfall but we lost our way and ended up on the River Trail instead 😛 So we decided to move towards LaSalle Canyon, which another long but enjoyable hike on the river trail.
The La Salle Canyon is more fun during the waterfall. It was also the most crowded of the canyons we visited. This is a perfect spot to rest and grab a bite (provided you find a good spot to rest..when we visited we couldnt find an empty spot) .
You can walk under the waterfalls and also dip in the reflecting pool in which the water flows into.
We turned back from this canyon and hiked our way out, because most of the day was over and we were famished 😛 Next time around we do intend to camp out at Starved Rock and complete hiking the entire path.
Till then, here are some tips for the first time hikers –
- Always carry lots of water with you, it is essential to stay hydrated during the hikes.
- pack a bag of hiking friendly foods like nuts, energy bars, small sandwiches. Don’t pack elaborate meals as you may have to eat on the go.
- Wear comfortable hiking gear and sturdy shoes, the climbs and descends get challenging.
- Carry an extra pair of clothes in your car just in case you want to freshen up after the hike
- Apply loads of sunscreen
- Use the map and signs posted along the trail
- Finally, please do not litter the Parks, like they say at Starved Rock “Leave no trace, take only memories and leave only footprints”