Adventures in Illinois: Starved Rock State Park

View from up on the Starved Rock bluff.

Jim and I played hooky today and drove down to Starved Rock State Park, near Utica, Illinois. We had both been there as kids, but only had hazy memories of it. The first surprise is how quickly we got there–from our breakfast in Geneva to arriving at Starved Rock, it took under an hour and a half. It was a beautiful day, with fluffy clouds and gentle breezes. There is no entrance fee at the park, and we parked and walked through the Visitor’s Center to get oriented. Something about us must have screamed “clueless greenhorns,” and a park guide handed us directions for the easy trails.

French Canyon. In the spring, there is a roaring waterfall here.

Hundreds of millions of years ago, this area used to be a shallow, sandy sea populated with creatures such as trilobites. The land rose and the sea disappeared, and thousands of years ago glacial meltwaters rushed through in torrents, carving up the sandstone. So now there are eighteen canyons to explore.

Along the trail.
Jim looking at the locks on the Illinois River.

Clutching our map, we hiked along a trail and began the climb up to the Rock. This is a steep climb up many, many stairs, and is not for the faint of heart. But the view was worth it.

There is a lot of poison ivy here, as a groundcover, a shrub, and a vine. We were easily persuaded to stay on the path!

Spectacular rock formations!

The waterfalls flow in spring and early summer or after heavy rains. It was still amazing to see these rock formation, waterfalls or no.

I loved seeing the ferns growing right out of little niches in the rocks.

Our view as we ate lunch.

We hiked to the Lodge, and had a delicious hamburger on a patio overlooking the valley below.

At the Visitor's Center, looking through the fish tank to some dioramas.

On our way out we stopped at the Visitor’s Center, where you will find a treasure trove of books on Illinois natural history. Determined to learn to identify oaks, I purchased “Forest Trees of Illinois,” as well as “Some Plant Galls of Illinois,” a real bestseller, I’m sure.

White snakeroot.

In flower at the Park were goldenrods and white snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum).

Beautiful downtown Utica.

It was a great visit and we plan to go again in January when eagles congregate in the lock area of the Illinois River. There are a lot of Something for (almost) Nothing factors here–close to home, free admission, mind-blowing scenery, and inexpensive eating options, among them. It’s also good to break out of the Chicago area and see the rest of Illinois!

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2 thoughts on “Adventures in Illinois: Starved Rock State Park

  1. Beautiful scenery! The rock formations remind me of what I learned about rock formations like that in Missouri – I think it was at Johnson’s Shut Ins. The lichens on the rocks are incredibly old and grow REAAALLLLY slow. Like a centimeter in 10 years or so. And the snakeroot! Gorgeous but scary aggressive! I’ve been seeing the white snakeroot, but also a lilac colored plant that looks like snakeroot. Do you know what it is? I don’t get a good look because I’m driving. Guess I need to slow down and WALK, right?

  2. There are rock formations in Missouri called Johnson’s Shut Ins? That’s an interesting name! The snakeroot was everywhere at Starved Rock, but it was the poison ivy that was scary–I’ve never seen so much.

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