Family Trip to Starved Rock State Park in IL

Just a short four-hour drive from central Iowa across the eastern border of our state is a stunning natural wonder along the Heritage Corridor.  Take a Family Trip to Starved Rock State Park in Illinois and you’ll experience Northwoods themed lodging, unique Midwest history, waterfalls, sandstone canyons and bluffs, family fun, and more! 

Where To Stay

One thing that makes Starved Rock stand out is the great lodging options in the area. I am not sure of another place in the Midwest that offers lodging right inside of or next to a state park. If you know of a place, please share!

Starved Rock Hotel is inside the park and centers around the historic Great Hall which is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. There are several on-site dinning options for guests and hikers.

In addition, Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort and Waterpark is located directly across Route 178 and the start of the St. Louis Canyon trailhead. Our family chose to stay at Grizzly Jack’s and you can read our full review here

We chose Grizzly Jack’s because we knew the kids would love the indoor waterpark. However, during our visit the park was closed due to renovations and improvements. Check back with the hotel to follow the progress.

While we were not able to enjoy the water park, we did enjoy all the other amenities at the resort. 

Disclaimer: Our visit was hosted, however, all opinions expressed in this article are completely ours and based on our own family’s unique experience. 

Grizzly Jack’s offers a wide range of lodging options, including cabins and villas. The deluxe family suite was perfect for our family’s needs. This suite is large and spacious with room to spread out. We ate a couple easy meals in our room using the snack area.

Here’s a quick video walk through to show you all the details!


Grizzly Jack’s has recently come under new management, and staff are working at making improvements and updates throughout the resort. A few of these areas are the beautifully landscaped mini-golf, a brand new playground for kids, and outdoor dinning. Our family enjoyed these amenities. 

The State Parks

Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park has been noted as one of the top attractions in Illinois, and for good reason. Lodging accommodations, on-site amenities, and plenty of parking make it easy for everyone to access the 13 miles of trails and 16 points of interest.

Your first stop inside Starved Rock State Park should be to the Visitor Center. Critical trail and park information is available to help you make the most out of your visit. A small museum shares about the history of the area.

Trail maps are available for free. Points of interest are organized on the main trail map according to how many miles they are from the Visitor Center.  We did not take into account the extreme elevation changes in the area and wore out after two miles.


From the sheer volume of parking lots and overflow parking lots, we can tell that this state park gets BUSY on summer weekends. Heed the advice on Trip Advisor and come early in the morning, in the off-season, and on week days.

Lonetree Canyon in Starved Rock State Park, IL

Several stunning overlooks offer grand views of the Illinois River and a lock & dam. At first I was going skip these and just hit up the canyons but I am glad we didn’t. We even saw a tug boat pushing a barge up river through the lock & dam. 

Hiking along the lower trails near the river was fun and exciting. There is a different feel, temperature, smell, plant and animal life on these trails than on the upper level trails. For more pictures and information from our hike, click here

Matthiessen State Park

Stunning waterfalls and a unique creek path made our Family Hike in Matthiessen State Park perfect!

Matthiessen State Park is located along Route 178, just south of Starved Rock State Park and Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort. Easy parking is available along the south end of the park, however, we took the hard way which lead us to the north end of the park near Lake Shelter and the start of Lake Falls.

For complete directions, a map and more pictures of the park, click here.  Obtain a copy of the trail and parking map for Matthiessen State Park at the Visitor Center at Starved Rock State Park

There is a path and wooded stairs leading down into the canyon and along the stream edge by Lake Falls. Visitors can either take the stream trail along the edge of the water or hike on the crushed rock trail that goes around the canyons.

Lake Falls in Matthiessen State Park, IL


Several series of concrete stones and board walks lead along the stream bed. This area is not as easily accessible and therefore is less populated with visitors. 

Round stone creek path in Matthiessen State Park, IL


Continuing downstream from Lake Falls is the Giant’s Bathtub. Again, wooden stairs and round stone steps lead along the stream bed.

Giants Bathtub in Matthiessen State Park, IL

As the stream bed continues south, visitors will come to the “end”. A heavy metal gate prevents guests from trying to go down Cascade Falls for safety. Hikers can make their way up a set of wooden stairs onto the main path by the bridge. Follow the main path that is on the west side of the Canyon. Go south until you see another bridge and concrete stairway that will lead safely into the Canyon. (Labeled near Devil’s Paint Box on the map).

Always follow posted rules and signs. DO NOT try to access the canyon in any other way except for the designated paths. 

Bridge and stairway that leads down to Wishing Well in Matthiessen State Park, IL

Enjoy the Canyon!  This was by far our family’s favorite spot in both parks during our visit. Our visit was in the spring after heavy rains.

Canyon at Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park, IL


I&M Canal 

The I&M Canal is a unique part of Midwest history and a national historic area. Small towns all along the canal offer charming shops, history museums, and local dining. About ten minutes west of Starved Rock in the town of LaSalle is Lock 16 and I&M Canal Boat Rides. 


We unfortunately missed the departure for our boat ride by a few minutes, so we were not able to enjoy the canal experience from that perspective. We did, however, get to see the mule pulling the boat. The trail along the canal is open to the public and fishing off the bank is a popular pastime.  


Hidden Paradise Alpacas 

Hidden Paradise Alpacas is a small free petting zoo and gift shop run by former Chicago resident Mike and his wife Anna. Wanting to get away from the city, but not too far, they have created their own country paradise about 30 minutes west of Starved Rock and invite guests to enjoy the simple pleasures.

Mike happily showed us around the farm for about an hour. The children would have loved to stay longer. They were able to feed or pet all of the animals.  

We learned interesting facts about the different animals like the price of peacocks and when the alpacas get shorn. A few of the animals are rescues and it’s neat to hear their stories. The Tortoise in the video was a rescue and will grow to be around 200 pounds. 

This male peacock was trying to attract the attention of this female who seemed less than interested in his efforts.  

These guys are getting a hair cut in a week! 

The farm offers a small gift shop (cash or check only) with unique items. Our daughter loves this teddy bear made from baby alpaca wool. I swear it’s the softest thing I have ever felt. There are also hand-spun yarn, locally made items like handmade soaps, and alpaca apparel including warm socks for winter. 

A few notes about the farm. Admission is free but there are no restrooms. Hours are limited so check the website or Facebook for current availability.  Follow the driving directions offered by the farm, not necessarily the GPS, and don’t take the very big scary gravel hill on the north side of the farm. Come from the south on the very nice smooth paved roads.



Other Attractions

Our short getaway didn’t allow us the opportunity to explore all there is to do in the Starved Rock area. When you plan your family trip to Starved Rock State Park in IL, don’t forget to include zip lining with Zip Chicago, horseback riding, The Cowboy Experience and more at Cedar Creek Ranch, take a tour of The Weber House, a storybook Tudor cottage, or the Italianate historic Reddick Mansion. Each community also hosts their own unique historical museums and attractions. 

Continue on east through the Heritage Corridor area toward Chicago to find Canal Towns, Route 66, water parks, historic attractions, and outdoor adventures. Make sure you ask for the free, 100 page travel guide just for this area. 

Family Trip to Starved Rock State Park in IL


Family Trip to Starved Rock State Park in IL

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  1. Woohoo I just Google mapped it…being in East Iowa rather than central, it’s only 2hr 30 from me!! It looks awesome! Thanks for sharing!

    1. RIGHT! It’s that awesome Kylie. It’s like a little hidden gem that is really close to a ton of people on the east side of Iowa and from Chicago. If you go, I want to hear about your trip.

  2. Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks are some of our favorite on-the-spur-of-the-moment places to visit. You’re right about getting there early in the morning on in-season weekends. It gets very busy and is sometimes hard to find parking. We enjoy going in the winter, when crowds are fewer and the waterfalls are frozen.

    1. Connie, the frozen waterfalls look amazing!!! It really makes the area an all-season destination. I would totally love to see frozen waterfalls and then head back to a fireplace and hot tub at the resort.

  3. Loved following your family’s adventures in the Starved Rock area! So fun! We visited Starved Rock State Park for the first time a couple of months ago. Next time we are in the area, we want to check out Matthiessen… especially now that I’ve seen your pics in this post!

    1. Thanks April, The area was so big with so much to do that it was hard to summarize it all. I would love to see your pictures of Matthiessen when you go. I don’t think we experienced all of the park, so I am sure there is more to enjoy.

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