Description - *This information was provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources*
Experience the fun of outdoor adventure at Starved Rock State Park. Whether you enjoy hiking along the nature trails or viewing the many spectacular overlooks along the Illinois River, recreational opportunities abound. From picnicking to fishing to boating, from horseback riding to camping to enjoying winter sports, there’s so much to do that you’ll come back again and again.
The backdrop for your activities are 18 canyons formed by glacial meltwater and stream erosion. They slice dramatically through tree-covered, sandstone bluffs for four miles at Starved Rock State Park, which is located along the south side of the Illinois River, one mile south of Utica and midway between the cities of LaSalle-Peru and Ottawa.
The park is best known for its fascinating rock formations, primarily St. Peter sandstone, laid down in a huge shallow inland sea more than 425 million years ago and later brought to the surface.
While the areas along the river and its tributaries still are predominantly forested, much of the area is a flat, gently rolling plain. The upland prairies were created during an intensive warming period several thousand years after the melting of the glaciers. The Illinois River Valley in the Starved Rock area is a major contrast to the flatland. The valley was formed by a series of floods as glacial meltwater broke through moraines, sending torrents of water surging across the land and deeply eroding the sandstone and other sedimentary rocks.
During early spring, when the end of winter thaw is occurring and rains are frequent, sparkling waterfalls are found at the heads of all 18 canyons, and vertical walls of moss-covered stone create a setting of natural geologic beauty uncommon in Illinois. Some of the longer-lasting waterfalls are found in French, LaSalle and St. Louis canyons.
Waterfalls, rivers and streams can undercut a cliff, creating overhangs in the sandstone, like Council Overhang at the east end of the park. Other sights can be seen from the bluffs themselves, which provide vantage points for enjoying spectacular vistas. The porous sandstone bluffs allow water to soak quickly through, only to collect in greater quantities on the slopes below. The resulting lush vegetation supports an abundant wildlife and bird population, including woodchucks, moles, vireos and catbirds. Wood ducks that nest in hollow trees occasionally can be seen paddling along the river’s edge. Evidence of beavers and muskrats can be seen as you walk along the River Trail.
Black oak, red cedar and white oak, as well as white pine and white cedar, grow on the drier, sandy bluff tops. Yellowbellied sapsuckers drill parallel rows of small holes on cedar trees and return to feed on sap and small insects. Serviceberry and northern honeysuckle--shrubs that prefer a well-drained area--attract scarlet tangers and cedar waxwings.
Farther away from the bluffs, red oaks and hickories predominate in deeper soils. Typical plants characteristic of the forest floor include the American witch hazel, black huckleberry and bracken fern. Nuthatches and chickadees feed on nuts, seeds and insects found in the bark of trees. Raccoons and flying squirrels spend many hours searching for and gathering berries and nuts.
At the forest edge, bright blue indigo buntings flit through the wild crab apple and plum trees that skirt the former glacial till prairie, while cottontail rabbits scamper through the bluestem and Indian grasses. In the sandy prairie soil, prickly pear cactus grows alongside lead plant, compass plant and rattlesnake master. White-tailed deer come to munch on the sumac, and red-tailed hawks soar overhead in search of voles and field mice.
Throughout spring and summer, wildflowers are as plentiful and varied as they are beautiful. Included in the floral array are colorful lichens and mosses, marsh marigolds, wild iris, trillium and Dutchman’s breeches, plus purple-flowered spiderworts, nodding or orange columbine and the magenta blooms of shooting star.
The poison ivy plant is found in all areas of the park. Its greenish-white berries provide an important food source for birds.
- Lodging -
Situated on a high bluff just southwest of the rock itself is the stone and log lodge built in part by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The lodge has been refurbished, but still reflects the peaceful atmosphere of yesteryear. A new hotel wing has been added and features a registration lobby, an indoor swimming pool, children’s pool, whirlpool, saunas and an outdoor sunning patio.
The lodge offers 72 luxury hotel rooms and 22 comfortable cabin rooms. The original Great Room is furnished with decorative rugs and art and is centered around a massive stone fireplace.
The restaurant is open seven days a week and offers many house specialties. It can accommodate up to 250 people for banquets. The lodge’s conference area can accommodate up to 200 with four smaller meeting rooms also available.
Horseback Riding and Equestrian Camping-
There are equestrian trails and an equestrian campground along Illinois Route 178. Horse rentals are available on weekends in April and November and Wednesday through Sunday from May through October on Route 71, a half-mile west of Illinois Route 178.
There is a large campground in the south of the park, with 133 Class A-Premium campsites, 100 of them reservable, complete with electricity, showers and flush toilets, a separate youth group camping area and a children’s playground. Permits may be obtained from the park office or at the permit booth in the campground area. Seven campsites are accessible for people with disabilities. Alcohol is prohibited in the campground. NEW - There is a new camp store open in the campground this year. The store will sell fire wood, ice, soda, and other camping supplies.
Recreation - Hiking-
Exploring the majestic bluffs and canyons is the park’s primary attraction, and there are 13 miles of well-marked trails to help you enjoy them.
The trails are open all year, but hikers are urged to exercise extreme caution and to stay on official trails. To keep you oriented, trail maps are located at all trail access points, intersections and points of interest. There are colored posts along the trails, corresponding to colors on the maps, and letter symbols on the trail brochure to further assist you. Finally, yellow dots on trees or posts indicate that you are moving away from the lodge or visitor center, and white dots mean you are returning.
Due to the park’s fragile ecosystem, camping is prohibited in unauthorized areas and all rock climbing, rappelling or scrambling off trails is prohibited. Biking is not allowed on the hiking trails. For your own safety, you must be off the trails by dark. Alcohol is prohibited on all trails.
Fishing and Boating-
Boats may be launched from the west end of the park. Also, paddlewheel boat rides are available.
Boats are not allowed within 600 feet of the dam, as strong currents and powerful undertows can be dangerous.
Catfish, bullhead, white bass, sauger, walleye, carp and crappie may be caught in the Illinois River.
**Under no circumstances should you attempt to wade or swim in the river, canyons or from any park shoreline.
Cross-country skiing can be enjoyed in the picnic area and at nearby Matthiessen State Park. Cross-country ski rentals are available at Matthiessen Dells Area on weekends December through March. Snowmobiling is not allowed anywhere at Starved Rock, but is allowed at the I & M Canal one mile to the north in Utica.
Developed picnic areas are available to the day visitor, with tables, drinking water and restroom facilities. Eight shelters are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Alcohol is prohibited January 1 through May 31 in the picnic area. Alcohol is always prohibited on the trails.
Climate - Illinois experiences four distinct seasons with varying weather throughout the year. Winter can be very cold. The highest humidity of the year occurs during this season averaging 70 to 75 percent. Average low temperatures in January dip to 20 degrees F with highs near 35 degrees F. Spring temperatures are mild with humidity below 70 percent. Temperatures during this season average between 32 and 50 degrees F. Summer is usually hot and humid in this Midwest state. Low temperatures remain in the low sixties with high temperatures near 90 degrees F. The highest rainfall of the year occurs during the summer months. Fall is an excellent time to visit the state with low humidity and rainfall and moderate temperatures.
I-39 southbound: South to I-80 east (exit #59). Go 2 miles to exit #81 (Rt. 178, Utica). Go south (right) 3 miles on Rt. 178 and follow the signs into the Park.
I-39 northbound: North to Exit #48 (Tonica exit). Go east (right) for approximately 5 miles to the T-intersection, which is Rt. 178. Go north (left) for approximately 5 miles and follow the signs into the Park.
I-80 Eastbound and Westbound: Get off at exit #81 (Rt.178, Utica). Go south 3 miles on Rt. 178 and follow the signs into the Park.
From the Chicago area: Take I-294 or I-355 south to I-55. Take I-55 south to I-80. Go west on I-80, 45 miles to Exit #81 (Rt. 178, Utica). Go south (left) 3 miles on Rt. 178 and follow the signs into the Park.