By Fuzzy Monkey
Photo Album – Starved Rock Photo Album
Illinois Starved Rock State Park is one of the State parks in LaSalle County. Located in Utica, IL (LaSalle County). The Illinois Department of Natural Resources or DNR designates 5 distinguished regions in Illinois. Starved Rock is located in the Northwest Region Number 1. The park is a large 2,700 acres.
Starved Rock contains just over 13 miles of hiking trail. Some highlights of the park include the many canyons. Seasonal waterfalls fill the canyons and are a major attraction to the park. The main river trail leads visitors to all the canyons and if you’re not found of hiking every section of the trail visitors can park close to just about every canyon to minimize any lengthly walking. Stopping at the visitors center is a must as there are free maps of the trails that guide you through the park.
The trails are labeled according to the name of the canyon they are named after. The self guided map list 16 separate trails. All distances are measured one way from the visitors center. When planning your hike remember to double the milage. For example a round trip hike to St Louis Canyon from the visitors center would be 3 miles. (1.5 mi out and then 1.5 mi back to the visitors center)
The St Louis Canyon trail is 1.5 miles one way. The trailhead leaves from the visitors center and heads in a westerly direction. This is the farthest canyon west of the visitors center. Visitors will pass Aurora Canyon, Sac Canyon, Kickapoo Canyon. The waterfall is seasonal in the St. Louis Canyon. Sac Canyon and Kickapoo Canyon are not marked although there are trails leading from the main trail.
Starved Rock is .03 miles one way. Its also one of the busiest trails as it leads visitors to a nice overlook. The trail itself is paved closest to the visitors center. The trail then climbs a bunch of stairs up to an overlook. Elaborate deck-work and boardwalk brings visitors past a memorial flag and beautiful views of the Illinois River.
French Canyon is .04 miles one way. Another popular route that is close to the visitors center and lodge. The trail can be accessed by a loop that connects Pontiac Canyon and Wildcat Canyon.
Lover’s Leap is .07 miles one way. Lover’s Leap trail is also on the Eagle Cliff Overlook looped trail.
Eagle Cliff Overlook is .08 miles one way. Eagle Cliff has elaborate deck-work and plenty of benches for visitors to rest and take in the views of the Illinois River.
Beehive Overlook is .09 miles one way. Beehive is another great overlook with benches and interpretative signs for visitors to enjoy.
Wildcat Canyon is 1.0 mile one way. Wildcat Canyon can be observed from two separate overlooks, one on either side of the canyon. Seasonal waterfalls make this an attractive destination for visitors.
Sandstone Point is 1.3 miles one way. Another observation point and great views of the Illinois river can be had from Sandstone Point.
Tonty Canyon is 1.9 miles one way. Seasonal waterfalls makes Tonty Canyon another popular destination for visitors.
LaSalle Canyon is 2.0 miles one way. The trail to LaSalle Canyon is also the same trail to Tonty Canyon. Both Canyons can be accessed from the main river trail.
Parkmans’s Plain is 2.5 miles one way. This trail leads to the parking long and restrooms.
Hennepin Canyon is 3.1 miles one way. Another lookout awaits visitors to Hennepin Canyon.
Ottawa Canyon is 3.9 miles one way. Ottawa canyon and trail branches off from the main river trail. The trailheads is also the junction to Council Overhang and Kaskaskia Canyon.
Council Overhang is 4.0 miles one way. Council Overhang is a large cave like indentation into the wall of the canyon. Some dated brick wall is evidence of the use of this area.
Kaskaskia Canyon is 4.00 miles one way. Access to this canyon can be found at the junction to Council Overhang and Ottawa Canyon.
Illinois Canyon is 4.7 miles one way. The farthest canyon from the visitors center Illinois Canyon is another popular destination for visitors. Another canyon popular for its seasonal waterfalls.
Fuzzy Monkey’s advise on hiking Illinois’ Starved Rock State Park.
My visit to Starved Rock was during the summer 2011 (September 10-11th,). I enjoyed my Starved Rock visit and hike. Since our visit was late in the summer the mosquitoes and bugs were non existent. As far as the weather goes it was a pleasant time to visit the park. The only drawback to visiting this late in the season is the lack of waterfalls in the canyons. Just about all the photos you see of Starved Rock are of the spectacular waterfalls and canyons and I was hoping to get some pictures of them. I missed this during my visit but in return had pleasant temperatures, and wonderful views of the area.
We arrived on a Saturday, and it was mostly cloudy with some sun. Sunday turned out to be more sunny and a much better day for taking pictures. The hiking was easy to moderately difficult. Starved Rock is gear towards weekend visitors and recreation as apposed to get out into nature type of hike. One drawback to visiting during the weekend were the crowds we encountered. Taking pictures with people in them was difficult but not impossible. If you’re not in a hurry and really shouldn’t be when visiting then just wait for people to pass and setup for your pictures.
My gear included shorts and long steve dress shirt during my hike. I carried my water, food and personal items in a camelback backpack. I did not bring hiking poles and did not see anyone else on the trail with them. My footwear included my light hiker shoes and merino wool socks. All of my equipment was adequate for this type of hike. There is not much else needed to enjoy the area. The trails are well loved and easy to follow. The terrain is varied according to what sections you’re on. Close to the visitors center and lodge they are wide and paved. The river trail, which follows closely to the Illinois river, is wide and crushed stone. Because of the topology visitors are forced to climb lengthly staircases and follow boardwalk with handrails in some sections. This is to minimize the impact to the surround area and to make accessing sections of the park easier. I found the milage to be a little misleading. For instance the milage to Council Overhang and Kaskaskia Canyon are both listed as 4.0 miles on the self guided map, even though when looking at the map and in reality Kaskaskia Canyon is farther down the trail. The following describes my experience hiking each section.
St. Louis Canyon – Nice well groomed trail from the visitors center to St. Louis Canyon. There are sections of the trail that have been repaired with boardwalk. Visitors will also encounter staircases along this section of trail. Two other canyons Sac Canyon and Kickapoo Canyon are also along the way to St. Louis Canyon. Although they are not labeled there are side trails that lead off from the main trail. St. Louis Canyon also had a little water running when I visited. There is also another parking lot near the trailhead for St. Louis Canyon. If you’re not into hiking from the visitors center you can drive down Route 178 and park.
Starved Rock – What the park is named after, this is a well used and popular destination and trail. Its hard for a long distance hiker to call this a trail. The actual trail itself is paved for a portion and the rest is stairs and boardwalk. It’s geared for weekend visitors and not your milage hungry hikers. Its more of a touristy and cute hike than anything. I still enjoyed the views from the overlook at the top.
French Canyon – We did not end up hiking to French Canyon. I guess this means I’ll have to re-visit the park.
Lover’s Leap – Another overlook I did not visit.
Eagle Cliff – Great views and lots of deck-work make up Eagle Cliff. There are three platforms from which visitors can view the mighty Illinois River. Great views and an easy stroll from the visitors center. Eagle Cliff overlook also has interpretative signs to delight the visitors. This is another busy overlook and it took patience to get the pictures I wanted because of the crowds.
Beehive Overlook – Another great overlook of the Illinois River. The setting is closely related to the Eagle Cliff.
Wildcat Canyon – Wildcat is a deep canyon. Visitors have two overlook platforms to enjoy the canyon. The trail that leads to both is wood deck and easy to walk. Some stairs add to the variety around wildcat canyon. Since there was not waterfall my visit was quick.
Sandstone Point – Another overlook with views of the Illinois River. Sandstone Point is sort of a middle of any parking lot so it appears visitors were minimal. Its also part of a larger loop in the park. Sandstone was a nice chance to get away from the crowds.
Tonty Canyon – We did not hike to Tonty Canyon
LaSalle Canyon- A very nice large canyon. There was a small crowd there when we visited. LaSalle Canyon is also another very wide canyon with towering walls surrounding you as you walk into the canyon. I enjoyed this canyon and the surrounding canyon walls.
Parkmans’s Plain – Did not hike this.
Hennepin Canyon – Another nice deep canyon close to the road. The road is not visible but the road noise is when visiting Hennepin Canyon.
Ottawa Canyon – Another nice wide entrance to Ottawa Canyon with tall canyon walls and formations.
Council Overhang – This is an interesting cave like feature just off the trail. Council Overhang has tall ceilings and sandy floor. I did also notice an older brick wall that is evidence this was used for something in the past.
Kaskaskia Canyon – This was one of the only canyons we visited that had any sizable running water in the canyon. Since the water was low we were able to walk right up to the falling water and take pictures from behind the falling water. Neat Canyon and one of my favorites in the park.
Illinois Canyon – We visited Illinois Canyon first thing in the morning and were delighted with great sunshine rays glowing through the morning dew. This made for a really cool ambience during our morning hike. There was also a small amount of water running into the pool at the base of this canyon.
We visited during the weekend and encountered light to heavy crowds. Hikers can find a free self guided map at the visitors center. Another tip is to hike before the visitors center opens to avoid the crowds. Staff is also available to answer questions at the visitors center.