Starved Rock State Park is a premiere park in central Illinois that is located just south of I-80.
Starved Rock is an outstanding park with plenty of history, awesome waterfalls, and an excellent Lodge with great food! Once I discovered this place the wife and I used to make it an annual winter destination until Adventure Baby (name pending) put a temporary pause to it. I have yet been able to hike the park when it isn’t frozen, but it is definitely on the short list. When it comes to Midwest winter hikes, this place is amazing! During the early spring the park has around a dozen flowing waterfalls along a 12ish mile river trail. During the winter the main draw is 7 frozen waterfalls. Not only that, but the park also boasts eagle watching, and excellent restaurant (not to forget the fudge!). Let’s get to the hiking…
St Louis Canyon is always the first stop for icefall hunting. It is located on the far west border of the park and is typically a down and back hike from the vehicle. It is a tall waterfall that can create an impressive block of ice.
The path we followed was to hit up St Louis then drive to the far eastern side of the park and check out the falls at Ottawa Canyon, Kaskaskia Canyon, and Council Overhang where reportedly the Illini Indians conducted meetings.
After we competed out first day of hiking we had dinner at the lodge located on the grounds which was excellent!
The next morning we began our primary focus, hitting up the main attractions of Wildcat and LaSalle Canyons.
It was time to get serious… The first stop was French Canyon, a good sized fall that is super broad.
Next up was Wildcat Canyon. Wildcat is by far the best icefall in the park. This think is tall and can get super wide. The first time we were there the temps were warmer and we saw a father and son duo scouting the fall for a future climb. The next time we were there we saw climbers hitting up multiple falls.
After the 80 foot monster came Tonty Canyon which can be sporadic in its growth, luckily it had a good thickness when we hiked it
Next along the trail was LaSalle Canyon with its strong greenish hue.
This completed the tour of icefalls so we headed back to the namesake.
Starved Rock State Park is an excellent winter hike. As far as recommendations for gear and who can hike this; first I would say that as long as you can handle a good amount of stairs and maintain your balance on some uneven terrain, you should be able to see most of the falls since you can drive relatively close to them and park. St. Louis, Tonty and LaSalle Canyons would be more challenging since they all involve a longer walk to get to them. Now if you would like to hike from end to end, I would suggest you know your limits and monitor the temps appropriately.
Make sure you layer well so you can put on more layers during idle periods, and then peel them off as you heat up from hiking to prevent sweating that will freeze when you go idle again. On top of that, resist wearing materials made of cotton as the snow and water will be “attracted” to them, soak in and freeze. Instead try to wear clothing made of polyester and nylon materials. Most outdoor focused companies will generally make their clothing out of non-cotton material already. Waterproof boots are a must. A couple other nice items to bring are leg gaiters and shoe chains.
Leg gaiters are leggings normally made of nylon that cover the top of your boot and lower leg to help keep the environment out.
Shoe chains/ micro spikes/ Yaktrax and what ever else they are called are basically snow chains for your boots. They vary greatly by brand from simple coils, to chains, to sharp spikes with chains.
I would bring plenty of water and snacks and drink/eat often. It is very easy to dehydrate in the winter as your body will consume a little more with the increased effort of trudging through a snowy path, as well as trying to keep you warm. The importance of food is similar in that the extra effort will burn more calories, and the effort of eating and digestion will help to stoke your internal furnace keeping your body temp up. The worse you could do is dehydrate without eating and drop your core temp. You’ll have a miserable day of just wanting to get to the car or lodge for a warm bite. Of course as always, bring a map.
If you are looking to stay at the lodge or one of the cabins on site make sure to plan ahead as most of the accommodations are booked well over a year in advance. We always just stay in Oglesby which is a short distance down the road.
One thing about Starved Rock is that they know what they are, a tourist destination. They have many different activities available that change often, such as eagle watching tours, guided hikes, and more. I’d encourage anyone interested in the park to browse the main website and see if there is anything that interests you. I will fully recommend the lodge’s restaurant as we have never been disappointed in the food!
However, an important thing to note; if you want to stay at their lodge or the onsite cabins, they book fast and far out. Many of their rooms are book a year in advance! As such, we always stay in nearby Ogelsby. The best time of year for the ice falls is late January and early February, especially after there has been a lot of recent thawing and refreezing. Oh and the temps are below 20 to make sure everything is solid when you visit.