Starved Rock State Park in located in Oglesby, Illinois, about an hour and a half southwest of downtown Chicago. Starved Rock State Park is comprised of 18 impressive canyons, abundant with massive cliff walls, stunning overlooks, and gushing waterfalls. This park provides many opportunities to hike, fish, boat, horseback ride, and even ice climb in the winter! You will find enough to fill your days here, in even the coldest of months! Below is a 2 day itinerary that will take you through almost every corner of the park😊
Entrance Fee: FREE
Lodging: There is one lodge, one campground, and one youth group camping area. Reservations for the campground can be made here- Starved Rock Campground. The Starved Rock Lodge offers traditional hotel rooms and log cabin rentals immediately next to the lodge. Reservations for the lodge can be made here- The Starved Rock Lodge. If you prefer to stay elsewhere, I highly recommend Grand Bear Resort at Starved Rock or the cabins next to Grand Bear. We went with a large group last time and the cabins sleep up to 16 and are lovely!
Dining: There are dining options at both the Visitor Center and Lodge. The Lodge Restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Café is open daily for breakfast and lunch. The Veranda is open seasonally for lunch and dinner, but it is outdoor dining so weather permitting. Trailheads Concessions is open daily in the Visitor Center from 10 -4 and offers snack, lunch, and dessert options. Onsite dining meus and hours can be found here- Starved Rock Dining. Off-site dining recommendations include Lodi Tap House (great dinner option) and Bruce and Ollie’s (great lunch and dessert!).
Must Know Before You Go:
1. Every trail has at least a small portion of the trail on the canyon rim or bluff. Please stay on marked trails and keep little ones close.
2. There is running water throughout most of the park making most trails extremely muddy and slippery. Hiking boots are highly recommended, especially in the winter and spring!
3. Pets are allowed in the park, on leash.
4. Wading and swimming in the water is prohibited.
Cell Service: Decent coverage near Visitor Center. Sporadic (1 bar) on trails and in the canyons.
2 Day Itinerary
Visitor Center- I would start your visit at the Starved Rock Visitor Center. It’s the place to pick up maps and they have several exhibits to check out! It will also be the closest restroom before heading out.
Starved Rock- If you head out the west side of the Visitor Center, head toward the water to start the trail to Starved Rock. Like almost every trail here, this one has plenty of stairs. The trail leads up a steep set of stairs to a boardwalk loop around Starved Rock and has amazing views of the Illinois River and dam. This entire trail is approximately 0.5 miles.
Lover’s Leap to French Canyon Loop- Follow signs from Starved Rock to Lover’s Leap to begin this next trail! If you go all the way to the Sandstone Point Overlook before swinging back around towards the Visitor Center, this loop will be approximately 4 miles roundtrip. On this route you will see Lover’s Leap, Eagle Cliff Overlook, Beehive Overlook, and Sandstone Point Overlook (my fave😊) before looping back around and heading through Basswood Canyon, Wildcat Canyon and French Canyon on your way back to the Visitor Center lot. We are waterfall junkies, so even though the overlooks are lovely, we absolutely loved the waterfalls of Wildcat and French Canyons. The Wildcat Canyon falls top at over 80 feet, and the 45-foot French Canyon falls require walking through running water and into a canyon slit to really observe the breathtaking cascades! This is a thrilling hike to say the least and one you won’t want to miss! There are several large sets of stairs and several sections that are on the canyon rim throughout this entire loop.
St. Louis Canyon- There two ways to see St. Louis Canyon. The first is to keep your car where its at and head west, towards Aurora Canyon. From the Visitor Center to St. Louis Canyon falls is 3 miles roundtrip. If you would like to cut a mile out of this hike, head to the St. Louis Canyon parking lot across from the Grand Bear Resort. Head down the roughly paved road about 0.4 miles until you get to a bridge. Cross the bridge and head southeast(right) into the canyon. The trail dead ends into the marvelous 80-foot falls! Both routes are lovely, so it just depends on how many more miles you’re looking to do today😊
Illinois Canyon- The Illinois Canyon Trail is the farthest trail for from the Visitor Center and has its own small parking lot. There are no restrooms at this trailhead, the closest restrooms are at the Kayak rental, about a half mile down the road. This trail was also the most difficult to follow. In the rainy season there will be several lovely, small waterfalls throughout the trail but take the trail to the very end- where the canyon dead ends before you turn around. It is absolutely beautiful, and the massive canyons walls are stunning. You will have to cross water three times on this trail, and in the spring the water will be pretty deep-past your ankles! If you take your time, it may be possible to get creative and cross without getting wet. The trail map said it was around 1 mile but if you go all the way to the end, it will be closer to 2 miles roundtrip. This trail is a favorite of ours and since it’s a little way from the other trails it is also not nearly as busy.
Council Overhang/Ottawa Canyon/Kaskaskia Canyon- You can either leave your car in the Illinois Canyon lot and take the small connector trail to this one or just move your car to this lot. Again, this trail can get very muddy and will have you crossing several sections of water so boots are highly recommended😊 I promise all the mud will be worth it when you get to these two magnificent waterfalls. After you cross the bridge, head left up the stairs to the impressive Council Overhang. After the Council Overhang, I recommend veering west(right), down Ottawa Canyon. Once you reach the end, you will be rewarded with a wonderful 45-foot waterfall you can walk behind! After checking out the falls, head back out towards the overhang and head south(right) into Kaskaskia Canyon. At the end of this canyon is another beautiful 20-foot waterfall and the turn around point to head back to the car! This entire route is approximately 1 mile in length.
Owl Canyon/Lasalle Canyon/Tonty Canyon- For the next stop I would park at the Parkman’s Plain lot. There are restrooms at this stop if needed before heading out on this 2.5-mile roundtrip trail. Your first canyon stop is Owl Canyon at the bottom of quite a few sets of stairs. Next, you’ll wind along the Illinois River before heading into LaSalle Canyon. When you get to the beautiful arched bridge, stay straight to continue into LaSalle Canyon. The LaSalle Canyon falls are my favorite falls in the entire park; however, you are on the canyon rim the entire time after the trail veers away from the river, so please keep little ones close. Once you have seen the falls, walk behind them to the other side of the canyon to continue to Tonty Canyon for more spectacular waterfall views! After visiting Tonty Canyon, head over the arched bridge and wind back along the river before heading up to your car!
Hope you had a wonderful adventure!