|Distance||5.5 miles roundtrip|
- Views of the Illinois River from Starved Rock and Lover's Leap
- Several waterfalls
- Exploring narrow canyons, including LaSalle Canyon
In my search for new Midwest hikes, I've been bombarded with pictures of Starved Rock State Park, and I'm glad that I finally hiked here! Located a bit over an hour and a half from Chicago, this is Illinois's most popular state park. Don't let the crowds deter you though, the sandstone canyons and abundant waterfalls and streams are a real treat, breaking the monotony of farms and prairie you pass on the drive. This particular route allows you to see almost all of the highlights in the park (save for a handful of canyons a drive away from the visitor center), so plan your trip now!
From the parking lot, walk towards the visitor center, then follow the signs for Starved Rock. Turn left at the intersection ahead, and then the trail turns sharply right. The trail slowly curls uphill until you reach a wooden walkway looping around the top of Starved Rock. You'll enjoy views of the Illinois River and dam as pictured below; in the winter, bald eagles like to fish in the unfrozen waters beneath the dam. Signs on the platform will share the legend that gave Starved Rock its name: a brutal story where the warring Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes trapped the rival Illini at the top of this butte until the Illini starved.
The next part of the hike is not well-depicted on the official park map linked at the bottom of the page and is hard to see on the map at the top of the page. In any case, you are only a half mile from the visitor center at this point and right by the lodge, so don't worry about getting too lost. Turn sharply right (almost a U-turn), and you'll see the bottom of French Canyon. If you miss this turn, you'll end up at a parking lot. Continue straight until you see a set of stairs and railings on your right. Go down the stairs and follow the narrow passage on solid rock into French Canyon. The trail dead-ends at the scene pictured below.
Though this is an extremely popular place to hike, it's a worthwhile visit for any nature lover living in or visiting Chicago. The scenery alone makes it one of the best places to hike in the Midwest! Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!
Dogs are allowed on leash. This hike is much too long and has too many stairs to be kid-friendly; for a shorter hike, consider hiking to Starved Rock or to French Canyon. You can hike in all four seasons here, giving you the opportunity to experience unique scenery year-round, with frozen waterfalls and bald eagles in the winter, changing colors in the fall, and wildflowers in the spring. Less than 2 hours from Chicago, this is the most popular state park in Illinois, so expect to see crowds of people on most weekends. Visit early in the morning, during the week, or when the weather is mediocre if you want to avoid people.
From Chicago, take Interstate 55 south to Interstate 80 west. Take the exit for Illinois Highway 178, then turn left. Continue straight through North Utica, then turn left to enter the park after crossing the river. Turn left into the main parking area near the visitor center -- if you start going uphill, you've gone too far.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
Parking is free! This parking lot is massive to handle the droves of people who come here from Chicago on weekends with nice weather. Water and flush toilets are available in the visitor center.