Frivolous Friday: Starved Rock State Park

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care about that may not have serious implications for atheism or social justice. Any day is a good day to write about whatever the heck we’re interested in (hey, we put “culture” in our tagline for a reason), but we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun. Enjoy!

Spouse and I went for a little trip and hike at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois for our wedding anniversary. We didn’t camp this time, since we wanted to relax for our anniversary and we wanted access to a hot tub, but we did spend Sunday in the park exploring it.

Starved Rock is the most popular park in Illinois, possibly because it is an oasis of interesting geology in an otherwise exceedingly flat landscape. The park lays along the Illinois river, and contains several beautiful canyons and small waterfalls as well as tall bluffs overlooking the river. These features were eroded by the repeated flooding associated with glacial melting in the last ice age in an event called the Kankakee Torrent. The rock exposed in these bluffs and canyons is fairly soft sandstone.

Starved Rock itself, a big section of bluff along the river, isn’t all that impressive to see from inside the park itself. We climbed the long set of stairs, expecting to see something more impressive, but the view of the Illinois River wasn’t actually worth the climb. On the other hand, our short hike to Wildcat Canyon was definitely worth it, with nice views of French Canyon on the way, and lovely scenery. Most of the hike had tree cover and the trails are well maintained given how much use they get.

Speaking of use of the park, it was PACKED. I wouldn’t visit again on a holiday weekend. We luckily got there early enough to find parking in the overflow lot, and get a good amount of our hiking in before it was too busy, but by early afternoon they closed the gates to the park because they were at capacity. I don’t blame them, as by then the hiking trails were completely packed with people. I plan to go back and explore a lot more of the park, but it will need to be at a less popular time.

We had a picnic lunch using my favorite camp stove under one of the big trees near the Visitor Center. We watched people catch two big fish in the river while we relaxed in the shade. Others nearby grilled, played volleyball and catch, and generally had fun.

Not feeling up to a second hike, especially in crowded conditions, we headed back to overflow parking (up a huge flight of stairs on the way) and into the nearby town of Utica. While Utica was also full of holiday travelers, we did enjoy some ice cream and a wander through a few adorable antique stores before heading back to our hotel.

I look forward to going back to Starved Rock State Park when it will be less crowded, and to exploring other Illinois State Parks. Starved Rock is open year-round so maybe it will be a good place to get some winter hiking in this year. Mostly it was lovely getting to spend a few days out of the city with my amazing spouse.

Frivolous Friday: Starved Rock State Park

4 thoughts on “Frivolous Friday: Starved Rock State Park

  1. 1

    I tried going to Starved Rock two years ago. Unfortunately a tornado went through the previous night and most of the park was shut down. Their website didn’t say anything about it so the two hour drive there and back was wasted. I did manage to snag a few pictures though.

  2. 2

    I visited Starved Rock last year after a gap of more than 20 years. It was quite packed, like your experience, but the scenery was every bit as beautiful as I remembered. I am not in as good of shape as when I was a teenager, so I didn’t get to see as much of the park as I would have liked. IIRC, we only got as far as French Canyon and then turned back because I was overheating and out of water.

    The setting is so iconic that I once set part of a post-apocalyptic roleplaying game in the canyons of Starved Rock.

    1. 2.1

      We luckily got the needed water amount correct for the hike and lunch. I’ve got the stamina for decent length hikes (I walk a LOT in my daily life) but there is definitely a lot of vertical work at Starved Rock that is more challenging than my usual day to day work so I felt it. I could probably have done another short hike in the afternoon if it wasn’t so busy, and if Spouse had shoes that worked better for them.

  3. 3

    Spouse (that is, yours) told me you guys were at Starved Rock and I wanted to sound like I knew what it was so I google mapped it, but didn’t zoom out very far. Thought it was in Canada because of Ottawa. Hilarity ensued.

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