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.
Make the most out of your visit!
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. Daddy quickly hiked back to the main parking lot to retrieve the car and picked the children and I up at another location. Our route is marked in yellow.
Parking and Accommodations
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. The parking lot at the Visitor Center on a weekday in mid May was already half full.
One thing that makes Starved Rock State Park 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.
Hiking and the Illinois River
Starved Rock State Park is big and you just can’t fit everything into one day. We ended up only seeing about half of what I had wanted to see. Trails are well-marked in some locations and confusing in others. Make sure to bring a map.
Park preservation is important in Illinois and there are several posted rules to be aware of. Wooded board walks make hiking easier and help to keep everyone on the trail.
The park is abundant with wildlife and we were completely entertained by this little groundhog who munched his way along the trail as we ascended a steep set of stairs. The kids had fun counting over a dozen gray squirrels. We also saw a variety of birds and a water snake.
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.
The Canyons and the ease of accessibility to them is a main draw for Starved Rock State Park. The easy parking and walking paths attract a lot of visitors. While we found the canyons to be beautiful and flowing after spring rains, our family personally enjoyed the canyons at Matthiessen State Park better. You can read our full review of that park here.
No matter which state park in the area you visit or where you lodge, your family is bound to have a good time and make memories.