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Things to see at Starved Rock
Starved Rock State Park in Illinois is a great place to spend a relaxing day along the Illinois River or stay at the Starved Rock Lodge if you want to stay overnight. The park is located in Utica, which is about 90 miles west of downtown Chicago. It is the most popular of all of the state parks in Illinois. One of the benefits is that there is no entrance fee to get into the park. My family and I usually take a few trips out there every year to hike and walk along the river. The area in and around the park is very beautiful and is a stark contrast to much of the rest of Illinois, flat and farmland.
Starved Rock State Park
Overview of Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park consists of 18 canyons, numerous waterfalls, and over 2,600 acres of forestland. The canyon walls were formed by layered sandstone. The waterfalls in the park are more impressive in the spring or after a big rain. In the summer months, they slow to a trickle, but it is still worth it to hike in the canyons and take in the unique sandstone cliffs.
Hiking in Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock has over 13 miles of hiking trails that lead to various canyons. Most of the hiking trails are well defined and easy to follow. Some of them even have sections that are built out of wood. There are a few places where you have to really be careful as you hike because the trail is either rock or runs right along a canyon edge. It is important to keep your kids close to you when you are in these areas. Dogs are also permitted in the park, but must be kept on a leash. I want to touch on my three favorite spots, but by no means in this an exhaustive list.
St. Louis Canyon
St. Louis Canyon is my favorite canyon to hike to. The sandstone cliffs are absolutely amazing. The cliffs tower on both sides as you hike closer to the falls. It is an easy hike from the parking area near the canyon, which can be accessed by taking the first road south of the main entrance. It is a good idea to arrive at this parking area early as it is small and fills up fast. Take an easy on the entrance road as it is narrow and full of pot holes. You can also hike to this canyon from the main parking area, but it is a much further hike, though beautiful on either a nice summer or fall day.
Wildcat Canyon is the largest canyon in the park at 125 feet. The unique thing that I like at this canyon is that you can see it from the top and hike down into the canyon. If you are coming from French Canyon, you will hike right to the top of Wildcat Canyon. Stay to your right and you will be able to take some stairs down into the canyon. Depending on how wet it has been, you can hike easily to the base of the waterfall. If it has been wet, the hike can get very muddy about halfway through the canyon. This canyon is well worth seeing. The canyon is about 1 mile from the visitor’s center.
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Eagle Cliff Overlook
The Eagle Cliff overlook is overlooks the Illinois River and has wonderful views of the colorful leaves in the fall. In the winter months, this is a great place to come to watch for bald eagles. In the spring and summer, it is a great place to watch barges and other boats travel through the locks that are attached to the dam below. This is also a great place to watch sunsets and sunrises.
Wildlife in Starved Rock State Park
When thinking about Illinois, wildlife is far from the first thing that comes to mind, but Starved Rock has many different kinds of wildlife. It is home to different types of birds, mammals, reptiles, and fish.
Birding in Starved Rock State Park
Bird watching is a good place to start. In the winter months, the park is home to bald eagles that rely on open spots on the Illinois River to get through the winter. Pelicans can be found in and around the park in the spring. The park is also home to wild turkeys, pheasants, herons, owls, and woodpeckers and more. Bring a pair of binoculars and maybe a bird guide and you are ready to see how many different types of birds you can find.
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Mammals and Fish in Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock is home to beavers, coyotes, white-tailed deer, fox, river otters, badgers, and many other small mammals. You best chance at seeing many of these animals is either early in the morning or late in the evening. If you hike near the bases of the different falls, you are likely to see small fish and other amphibious life in the shallow water. Fishing is allowed on the Illinois River, but not the shallow ponds near the base of the falls.
Starved Rock is a lot of fun. There are also designated picnic areas near the parking areas for you to have a picnic. Third parties near the visitor’s center offers boat rides on the Illinois River. There is also a boat ramp if you would like to take your own boat out.