A super popular Illinois state park, Starved Rock has miles of hiking trails and lots of hidden caves and secret waterfalls. It’s worth a visit any time of year.
Explore Starved Rock State Park
The main area of Starved Rock State Park sits on the Illinois River. In this area you’ll find the visitors center as well as plenty of parking. There is a rustic lodge and conference center atop the hill.
Starved Rock is one of the most popular attractions in the whole state of Illinois, so that means it can get quite crowded, especially on holiday weekends. This main visitor area seems to be the busiest, with families picnicking, people fishing in the river and lots of folks strolling on the wooden walkways to the overlooks.
But head to the trailheads to the east along Highway 71 and you’ll likely find a lot more peace and quiet. You’ll also experience the incredible natural beauty of the area.
Melting glaciers washed away everything but the sandstone forming the beautiful canyons and gorges. The sandstone comes in shades of cream, orange, gold and red and contrasts beautifully with the leaves and the mosses.
Most walks are quite flat but can be muddy. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the many waterfalls and the lovely layers of sandstone!
Matthiessen State Park
After you’ve taken your time exploring Starved Rock State Park, head south on Route 178 to nearby Matthiessen State Park. The geology here is similar, and you’ll find forested paths and deep gorges with tall waterfalls. Walk the paths along the rim or head down the wooden stairs to the canyon floor where you can get your feet wet crossing the streams.
This area is wonderful to explore year round but especially beautiful in the autumn when the leaves are golden. The breeze loosens leaves from their branches and they flutter twinkling past the dark sandstone cliffs to the ground. It’s simply gorgeous! However, winter brings fascinating ice sculptures that would be an amazing sight to behold as well. In the spring, melting snows and rainfall means the waterfalls will be gushing.
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Then perhaps you’d also like to visit nearby Apostle Islands National Lakeshore or the waterfalls along the North Shore of Lake Superior.