Thanks to Covid, I haven’t been on a plane in almost a year but, as always, there are silver linings. This year made our family look in our own backyard for fun places to visit and who knew there were so many! One of our now favorite places to visit is Starved Rock National Park.
Starved Rock is located on the south shore of the Illinois river just under two hours from Chicago. This 2600+acre National Park showcases dramatic sandstone caverns, lush forests, and twenty hiking trails ranging from beginner to experienced hikers. The views over the Illinos River alone make the park a must see. The park is best known for its fascinating rock formations, primarily St. Peter sandstone, laid down in a huge shallow inland sea more than 425 million years ago and later brought to the surface.
You can make a day trip out of your visit to Starved Rock or stay at one of the several campgrounds in the park. If you do want to camp be sure to check out my post on must-have camping gear. The park is busiest during Spring, Summer and early Fall. I recommend going in Fall because then you get the added bonus seeing all the lovely autumn leaves changing colors. The cooler temps are nice to have when hiking, too. It also wasn’t nearly as busy as summer days.
Some things you need to know before you go:
Basic Info: Admission is free and so is parking!
They start turning people away once the parking lots are full to help maintain safe social distancing guidelines.
There is one main parking lot and one overflow parking lot, both are pretty large.
The park is open at 6 am and closes at dusk. Hiking the trails at night is forbidden.
Get there early because it gets VERY busy, especially in summer.
Dogs are allowed, but must be on leashes at all times.
Masks are required when social distancing is not possible. Luckily it wasn’t too busy so we only wore our masks if we were in a crowded area and unable to distance ourselves.
Wear hiking boots or some sort of shoes with grip. The sandstone in some areas is very worn and you can slip easily if you don’t have proper shoes.
Wear water proof shoes or shoes you don’t mind getting wet. If you want to see the waterfall in French Canyon, you have to walk through some wet areas to get there.
It’s best to go in Fall after some rain so the waterfall area is full of water.
Expect to spend several hours here if you want to take full advantage of the trails. If you don’t have a lot of time, I suggest walking the French Canyon, Eagle Cliff or Starved Rock trails for the best views.
Do NOT bring a stroller. You will not be able to use it on any of the trails. Wear your little one if you can in a wrap or a carrier.
There are A LOT of stairs on all of the trails. A LOT. Be prepared.
My 6-year-old made it almost seven miles of the trails, so it’s kid-friendly and doable for smaller kids. Toddlers might not make it far.
We brought some sandwiches and stopped along one of the trails to have a picnic and we loved it. I highly recommend bringing extra snacks and lots of water for the trails. There are no water fountains, etc. along the paths.
Check the website before you go as they close periodically for upkeep and/or for stay-at-home orders during Covid.
The last tip – take lots of pictures!
Starved Rock is definitely a place we will return and may even plan a camping weekend there. Walking through the trails is good for the soul. Fresh air and green space was just what we needed and I know you’ll love it too!
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[…] Starved Rock. Our family was here in the Fall and it’s one of my favorite places to go. Sometimes you need wide-open spaces and fresh air. It’s a little over two hours of a drive from downtown Chicago. There are almost a dozen hiking trails and you’re surrounded by the grand beauty of nature. I’ve read it’s even more beautiful in winter with layers of white snow on the ground and ice sculptures hanging from all the caverns. Those sites alone would be enough to garner a day trip out to Starved Rock. […]