Starved Rock State Park Entrance Sign

Where is Starved Rock State Park?

Starved Rock State Park is in the northwestern part of Illinois, in LaSalle County. It’s about a 2-hour drive southwest from Chicago. Though hilly and forested itself, the park is surrounded by rural farmland. The park sits on the Illinois River, which can be seen from its higher elevations. The Visitor Center is the best place to start because it has a large adjacent parking lot and is centrally located. 

How Big is Starved Rock State Park?

Starved Rock US State Park is 2,630 acres, or 6.6 square miles. The park includes 13 miles of combined trails. Located entirely within the State of Illinois, Starved Rock contains several high bluffs, its highest point being 567 feet. Its lowest points are at the bottoms of its many canyons, which allow water to flow down them, past the riverbanks, and into the Illinois River. 

Twin Waterfalls Splashing Down Into Tonti Canyon at Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park Weather

Late spring and early summer are probably the best, and thus most popular, times to visit Starved Rock. Being in northern Illinois, the winters are quite cold and snowy, and for short summer stretches, the temperature can soar to the mid-nineties and above. On average though, spring through fall, the weather is very hospitable. That’s not to say you should avoid coming in the winter, though. This is because the park has unique offerings made possible by cold temperatures. Just be prepared with proper clothing and any necessary equipment. For instance, ice climbing is common at the park, as is photographing frozen waterfalls. While the usual animal residents, like deer, coyote, and fox are there in winter, eagles are relatively more abundant and easier to photograph during this season.

When did Starved Rock become a State Park?

The state purchased the land for Starved Rock in 1911 and made it a state park in 1912. Its name derives from Native American legend pertaining to injustice and retribution. Specifically, it refers to a member of the Peoria tribe killing Chief Pontiac in the 1760’s, while he was in southern Illinois negotiating with French explorers.

Autumn Sunrise Shining on Wooden Hiking Trail in Starved Rock State Park Illinois

Things to do in Starved Rock State Park

Whether you like rough outdoor adventures or calm, scenic ones, there is something for everyone at Starved Rock. Read on for Our National Park Visitors Guide list and short description of things to see and do at this state park.

  1. Canyons: Throughout the park there are sandstone canyons varying in size and feel. St. Louis Canyon, LaSalle Canyon, and French Canyon are some of the most popular for hiking and photographing, but there are 15 more, like Basswood, and Kickapoo (named for an area tribe).
  2. Waterfalls: Summer’s dry canyons turn to waterfalls during the wetter months, freezing over in winter and creating a feast for the eyes regardless of season. Surrounded by colorful foliage in autumn, or gushing waters in the rainy spring, you’ll definitely want to see the largest fall-- St. Louis Canyon.
  3. Overlooks: Lover’s Leap, Eagle Cliff Overlook, and Beehive Overlook offer amazing views of the Illinois river and nearby terrain and foliage. The surroundings are lovely when golden and orange during fall, but also covered in fresh snow with a bright blue winter sky.
  4. Campgrounds: There are over 100 Class A campsites here with reservations taken year-round. However, ensure your preference doesn’t coincide with a deer hunting period, during which camping is not permitted. There is a devoted area for youth groups, and “glampers” will enjoy the electricity and plumbing provided.
  5. The Illinois River: The Illinois River is not only pretty to view from above, it’s a convenient location to enjoy fishing for catfish, bass, walleye, and other species. Take a ride in a paddlewheel boat, rent a canoe, or bring your own kayak to oar your way down this pretty waterway.
  6. Flora: Starved rock is predominantly a forested valley filled with oak, cedar, and pine. These trees are lush and green in warm months, brilliant and fiery in the fall. The pines are often topped with snow during winter. In spring, a variety of shrubs and flowers sprout colorfully, attracting birds like scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, and more.
  7. Wildlife: A variety of birds dwell in Starved Rock State Park, especially during migration. From smaller birds like cedar waxwings to hawks and eagles, a diverse range of flyers can be spotted here. Look for beavers and wood ducks in the water, and deer, fox, and squirrel in the forest.
  8. Geology: Starved Rock was created when Ice Age glaciers melted and moved across the area, leaving canyons of sandstone in its wake. This material is relatively rare in much of the United States, and its soft texture carves easily. For this reason, there are interesting etched and sculpted sides of the canyons and bluffs.
  9. Activities: According to the season, the park offers a diversity of activities from birdwatching to ice climbing. Personal equipment is required for advanced endeavors, while rentals are available for common activities like canoeing. You can hunt, fish, snowshoe, cross-country ski, or boat here, to name just a few pastimes. It’s also a great place for a picnic.
  10. Hiking Trails: There are 13 miles of trails at Starved Rock, where hiking is a central activity. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but bikes are not. You can use your driver’s license to rent a leash at the visitor’s center. Stay on the path to avoid poison ivy and enjoy lots of ups and downs. 

Frozen Waterfall with Person Climbing it in Tonty Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Illinois

When to go to Starved Rock Park The park is open throughout the year and there are many activities to pursue at each season. Go in spring for gushing waterfalls, winter for ice climbing and eagle spotting, fall for hiking and viewing foliage, and summer for camping, boating, and seeing the canyons. Capture great images on your camera all year long. In northern Illinois, rain is plentiful in spring and sudden in summer. In case some unexpected moisture ruins your outdoor experience, head inside and take in the extensive Native American exhibit. It’s educational, but fun. Displays are filled with interesting information for adults and life-like figures, illustrations, and maps, for children.

Must-Have things to bring to Starved Rock

There are some basic items you’ll want to bring to Starved Rock.  The proper gear, food, and safety supplies are essential. Read on for a quick discussion of these.  These are List of Parks suggestions:

  1. Water: Water is available for purchase at the park, but to save money, byob! Be sure to take an extra bottle or two during summer months. The high temperatures and the inclines of the valley will make you sweat, and thus lose water.
  2. Food/Snacks: You can buy concessions at Starved Rock State Park, or even have a gourmet meal nearby, but bring a bit of protein and energy with you, in case your activity takes longer than expected or drains you. Trail mix, nuts, and an apple or pear should suffice unless you plan to camp overnight.
  3. Park Maps: Download maps to your phone ahead of your trip and stock up on trail maps at the visitor’s center. With 13 miles of trails you don’t want to get lost in the extremes of winter or summer. Don’t rely entirely on your phone for maps—service could be spotty in this rural area, or something else unforeseen could interfere.
  4. Hiking shoes: Trails are long and sometimes inclined, so you’ll need arch support and protection. There are bugs and poison ivy at the park and having your ankles exposed leaves them vulnerable to these nuisances.
  5. Proper Outerwear: Rain is common throughout spring and much of summer, but a lightweight plastic poncho is cheap and effective. It can keep you from being uncomfortable and soggy all day long! Extreme cold is common in winter, so watch for frostbite warnings and know the signs. Keep skin completely covered in the cold winter months.
  6. Sun Protection: Protect against sun with glasses and sunblock, as not all areas are shaded. This part of the state is rarely dangerously hot, but it is possible, so heed any warnings about temperature. Consider especially your young and older companions.
  7. Binoculars: Bring binoculars to help you spy the diverse wildlife. Rare birds such as eagles often perch for long periods, but high and distantly. Getting a magnified view makes all the difference.
  8. Bug repellent, hydrocortisone cream: Bug spray is more a matter of comfort than safety given the insects common to the area. However, mosquitos, spiders, and ants can spoil a good hiking trip. Especially if you have any allergies, bring insect repellent and the allergy medicines you use. Hydrocortisone creme may come in handy for bug bites or poison ivy. If you forget any of these types of items the gift shop has a small selection.
  9. Camera: No matter the season, the views are spectacular at Starved Rock and the diversity of animal life really excites folks. For many, this may be their only opportunity to photograph an eagle, deer, or flowing waterfall. 

Fallen Trees in Kaskaskia Canyon in Starved Rock State Park

Where to stay in Starved Rock State Park

There are 2-3 hotel chains in the Utica area which offer an alternative to camping at Starved Rock. Within a few miles, or about a 15-minute drive through the local cornfields and farms, you can find a hotel. If you do your homework ahead of time, there are some more personal options, such as B&B’s available. 

Food Nearby Starved Rock

What if you don’t consider a speared hotdog and campfire-roasted s’mores dinner and dessert? Then Utica is for you! It has a thriving, albeit small downtown, with a winery, gourmet fare, and microbrews. A quaint little strip in town offers a nice stroll and an opportunity to sample the local vino. Stop for a meal or a drink at August Hill Winery, a fantastic eatery as well. They feature live acoustic music and a patio for al fresco dining.

Camper Parked in Starved Rock State Park During Summer

Airports near Starved Rock State Park

There are 3 airports within a 2-hour drive of the park. West of Starved Rock in Moline is Quad City International Airport. Traveling northeast from the park you’ll hit Midway Airport on Chicago’s south side. Continuing a bit further north is O’Hare International airport on the northwest side of the city. Each airport has its pros and cons. For instance, O’Hare has the most flights to the most cities, due to its size. Also due to size though, it takes much longer to maneuver through traffic, get through security, and go to your gate. Therefore, the other airports are preferable. In general, Starved Rock is a state park that folks drive to.

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