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To say that this winter in Illinois has been strange would be a grave understatement. It started mild, but on November 25 (just after Thanksgiving) we had a sudden temperature drop and a blizzard. Then on December 1 we had a tornado outbreak. It has been mild ever since, but threats of snow storms either than never happened or still to come.
Despite the weirdness of the weather, I took advantage of this time of the year’s family gathering tendencies and the mildness and took to hiking at Starved Rock. It is 98 miles from Chicago, 62 miles from Bloomington-Normal, and 64 miles from Peoria, right along the southern bank of the Illinois River. It is a wonderful day trip if you live or are visiting those cities, or a splendid weekend getaway for any family or couple. I have always enjoyed that place, and I am surprised with myself that it took me this long to devote an article to it.
History of the Park
Legend tells that the park got its name from a battle in the 1760’s between two Native American tribes : the Illinois and the Ottawa. A brave from the Illinois tribe stabbed Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe. The Illinois fled and hid behind a rock, but then starved to death.
The area surrounding this rock was purchased from the Federal government by Daniel Hunt in 1895. Over time the ownership passed to the State of Illinois who made it into a recreational state park. Then the current trails, campsites, and Lodge were built.
In 1965, the park was name a National Historic Landmark.
To See and Do
Both guided and self-guided hikes are available, and there is much to see. There are two main inter-looping trails: bluff and riverside, and trails in-between to connect them, for a total of 13 miles of hike-able trail. There, you can see the sandstone as it is ornamented by waterfalls by summer or icefalls by winter. The trails visit a number of canyons where the waterfalls flow into.
There are also a number of historical sights near the park to visit; such as the Hegeler-Carus Mansion, Reddick Mansion, the Spirit of Peoria paddleboat (which visits the park during the summer), and much more. There is also an indoor water park at nearby Grand Bear Resort.
We took the trails first to Starved Rock (the obvious namesake of the park), and overlooked Plum Island, a preserved island in the middle of the river where bald eagles will make their roost, and which is closed to public visitors.
Then we trekked over to Lover’s Leap, named for two lovers from rival Native American tribes who leapt to their deaths instead of spending their lives apart.
Then we hiked along the riverside. There we passed Starved Rock Lock and Dam, which allows for water travel between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes along the Illinois River, and we reached an overlook to have a panoramic view of the Illinois River.
From there, we went to Wildcat Canyon, one of the more popular canyons in the park, and for good reason. It is very pretty.
We ended our day back at the Lodge to have dinner, and then we drove back home.
I love this park. It brings back memories of childhood, of scouting, and family trips. Each season brings a different beauty to the park: spring brings everything back to life and a higher rate of waterfalls, summer brings vibrancy, fall brings fall colours and the eagles, and the winter brings snow and ice falls. I plan on going back during the summer, and again next winter for a couple days in the Lodge.