A Visitor’s Guide to Starved Rock State Park in Illinois

A Visitor’s Guide to Starved Rock State Park in Illinois

With approximately 2.4 million visitors per year, Starved Rock State Park’s 18 sandstone canyons and 14 waterfalls should not be missed by anybody visiting Illinois. We hiked the park last summer, so keep reading to learn how to make the most of your visit to this lovely 2,630-acre state park.

Why Starved Rock State Park Is Famous

Starved Rock State Park features breathtaking waterfalls and sandstone canyons. The Visitor Center or the historic Starved Rock Lodge are both within a 2-mile trek of many of the views

Stay at the resort or one of its cottages to take in the breathtaking views of the Illinois River. You can hike the Bluff Trail for a spectacular perspective of the rock formations or the River Trail to explore the canyons itself.

Where The Name Starved Rock Came From

The park’s name is derived from a folklore, according to the park guards. According to mythology, the Ottawa and Pottawatomi were at odds with the Illiniwek, who were forced back to make a stand at Starved Rock. The other tribes encircled the location, waiting for them to run our food.

Where Starved Rock State Park Is Located

Starved Rock State Park is four miles south of Interstate 80 (tolls) on IL-178 S/E, only 95 miles from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

The park is located on the Illinois River’s south bank, near the lock and dam. Plum Island, located above the dam, may be home to bald eagles throughout the fall and winter months.

How Far Is Starved Rock From Chicago?

Starved Rock State Park is located 95 miles southeast of Chicago, 56 miles east of Joliet, and 106 miles north of Evanston.

When Is the Best Time to Visit Starved Rock State Park?

Monday through Thursday are the ideal days to visit Starved Rock State Park. The park will be visited by 2.4 million visitors in 2021.

From June to late October, the Park Rangers frequently close the park entrance by 10:00 a.m. when the parking lots are full. They frequently reopen by 3 p.m., when the throngs begin to decrease.

The Best Time Of Year To Visit Starved Rock

People travel to Starved Rock State Park in October to view the stunning fall colours. April and May are ideal months to visit because the water runs over the waterfalls until June. Summer is an excellent season to enjoy the many hiking routes.

Day Visiting Starved Rock State Park

On weekends, plan to arrive by 9 a.m. to secure a parking spot. Arrive early on weekends to enjoy a full day in the park.

Except for beaches, all visits to Illinois state parks are free. The Starved Rock Lodge offers carryout lunches, snacks, and drinks. Start your day at the Visitor Center, where you can get trail maps, hiking tours, and restrooms.

Parking At Starved Rock


The primary parking lots are located near the Visitor Center and the resort. These larger lots are ideal for RVs and campers. The lodge guests have their own gated parking lot. As the parking lots fill up, Rangers will close them. There is no charge for parking.

Parking is available in one of three lots on the park’s east side, right past the Kaskaskia Canyon and Council Overhang formations.

What Is There To Do At Starved Rock?

Hiking trails into and around the canyons draw visitors to Starved Rock. French Canyon is only a half-mile from the Visitor Center, making it ideal for the whole family.

You may camp right next to the park, kayak the river, fish, and explore Matthiessen State Park, which is 2 miles south and has 11 miles of horseback riding trails.

Kayaking At Starved Rock

You can take a kayak cruise to see the Starved Rock sandstone cliffs. Kayaking along the Illinois River below the cliffs is a popular summer and fall activity. Some trips stop in the park for lunch.

Many visitors bring their own kayaks for a self-guided tour of Plum Island’s sandstone peaks. Alternatively, you can cast a line from your kayak and fish the river.

Camping At Starved Rock

The Starved Rock Campground allows you to camp in your RV or tent. Reservations are required and can be made up to 6 months in advance. The campground has 129 Class-A premium sites, each with a concrete pad, picnic table, electric hookup, enough for an RV or two tents, and a fire pit with a metal cook grill.

The campsite charges a site fee, which is greater during holiday weekends and requires a two-night stay.

Hiking At Starved Rock State Park

In the park, you can hike to 18 various canyon and rock highlights. The majority of the waterfalls will be in full flow from March through June. Some of the streams that feed the waterfalls dry up in July. The park features two river viewpoints accessible via stairways from the paths.

The Starved Rock Overlooks

Lover’s Leap Overlook provides the best view of the original Starved Rock protrusion. In the winter, Eagle Cliff Overlook provides an excellent view of bald eagles swooping above Plum Island in the river. The Illinois River may be seen from three different viewpoints: Beehive Overlook, Oak Canyon Overlook, and Hennepin Overlook.

Easy-Moderate Hikes From The Visitor Center

Hikes from the Visitor Center are simple to walk on flat terrain. Because they are less than 3 miles roundtrip, many hikers consider these to be easy treks. However, because the majority of the paths have steps at some point, others characterize the walks as intermediate.

French Canyon Path

The French Canyon hike should be at the top of any hiking itinerary for a family. On a 2-mile loop, the canyon is only 0.4 mile from the Visitor Center. The signs are simple to understand. The 45-foot-high spring-fed cascade runs all year.

Wear waterproof boots/shoes because you will be strolling alongside the creek as you ascend the canyon. Closed-toe adventure sandals are also a good alternative in the summer. Children will enjoy playing in the canyon’s shallow water.

St. Louis Canyon Trail

One of our favorites was this 3-mile round-trip hike. As it climbs the bluff, the hike over numerous wood bridges and passes by some cool sandstone rock formations. You’ll pass through three other tiny canyons along the way: Aurora, Sac, and Kickapoo.

The trail then descends as you enter the canyon. St. Louis Canyon is the park’s largest canyon. The easy trail will take you lower and lower to the canyon floor. Soon, you’ll be surrounded by rock, with the stream gurgling at your feet.

St. Louis Canyon Waterfall

St. Louis Canyon’s stream allows you to step over the water to either side as the canyon opens up to the bowl. The 80-foot high spring-fed waterfall appears unexpectedly around a bend. You can stand right next to the plunge pool and watch the water splash down.

Wildcat Canyon Waterfall


Plan to start the moderate 2-mile hike to Wildcat Canyon waterfall on the Bluff Trail. At the 80-foot-high waterfall, you can stand on one of three lookouts. Then proceed down the stairs to see the falls from the bottom.

The Wildcat Canyon Waterfall is most beautiful in the spring, when the winter melt keeps the water cascading down the cliffside. This trail may be muddy and wet at the end, but it is well worth it.

If you are an avid hiker, you can do most of the trails in one day. Plan on bringing lots of water, wearing good hiking shoes, and dressing in layers. Hiking poles will help on the stairs and along the streams.

Parking And Hiking The East Side Of Starved Rock State Park

We chose to drive to the east side of the park on our last morning to see these sites on our way back to Michigan. Hiking from the nearby parking lots made Ottawa and Kaskaskia canyons easier to visit with a 2-mile loop (8-mile roundtrip from the Visitor Center) (8-mile roundtrip from the Visitor Center). The Ottawa Canyon Waterfall is beautiful and well worth seeing.

The Frozen Waterfalls

Some of the waterfalls are spring fed, so they flow year round. St. Louis, Ottawa, and LaSalle canyon waterfalls both freeze into spectacular icefalls in the winter.

Ice climbers and photographers flock to the park to see these magnificent ice falls. Bring ice cleats for your boots, as the stairs and the trails can be treacherous.

Starved Rock Lodge

Staying in the historic Starved Rock Lodge is the best way to enjoy the park. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corp built the lodge out of white pine timber.

Joseph F. Booted designed this lodge as well as many other historic buildings in Great Lakes state parks. It was declared a National Historic Registry building in 1985.

Staying At The Starved Rock Lodge

The lodge offers three stay options. To have the whole family together, one of the 16 cabins surrounding the lodge is a great choice. Or, stay in one of the 69 rooms in the lodge itself. All options have private bathrooms, flatscreen television, and free wifi.

We stayed in one of the original rooms in the older wing. It was clean and comfortable. We enjoyed a view of the woods. You can also choose a room in the newer, modern wing of the lodge.

Swimming At The Starved Rock Lodge

The Starved Rock Lodge includes an indoor swimming pool with a gated children’s swim area. You can enjoy one of two saunas and a steaming hot tub. You cannot swim in the waterfall plunge pools or in the river because of the current from the dam.

Dining At Starved Rock Lodge

We enjoyed a delicious burger and fries on the patio of the veranda outside the Backdoor Lounge. The view of the dam and the river below was spectacular. Other dining options include the Cafe, the Backdoor Lounge (order carry-out for your hike), and the Lodge Restaurant.

Starved Rock Lodge – The Lodge Restaurant

People come from miles away for Sunday brunch and special meals in the Lodge Restaurant’s Main Dining Room. The room has an amazing You can enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Reservations are recommended for lunch and dinner during the summer and fall. The Main Dining Room can host up to 200 people for a wedding or other celebration.

On our Sunday/Tuesday visit, we saw family reunions, a bridal party, and some type of retreat group staying in one of the large cabins.

Staying Outside Of Starved Rock

Small town Oglesby sits 6 miles from the state park and offers a few motels as well as the Great Bear Resort and Waterpark, where you can enjoy the waterslides and lazy river after a great day of park exploration.

The towns of Peru/La Salle to the west and Ottawa to the east offer more hotel and dining options. They are within 15 miles and 20 minutes by car.

The Most Popular Illinois State Park

Starved Rock State Park was the most visited Illinois state park until 2021. In 2021, 2. 6 million people got outside to enjoy the 100 miles of the paved pathway at Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park.

People have travelled to Starved Rock since 1904 when the park was reached by railroad and ferries travelling on the river.

Make A Visit To Starved Rock State Park

Put Starved Rock on our list of places to visit when travelling to Illinois. Hike the trails, kayak the river, or sit with a drink in hand on the lodge patio and soak in the beauty. Starved Rock State Park is not to be missed.

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