Red Haw State Park

Red Haw google mapRed Haw State Park is located in south central Iowa, down by Chariton.

I visited the park with my wife and daughter in early October of 2017. We had originally planned for a multi-park tour, but weather started to move in by the time we got to our second park, and we didn’t want to risk CJ out in it.

DSC_5096Since it was going to be a longer day, we left the house when it was still dark. This allowed CJ a little more time in her PJ’s as she continued sleeping during the drive out. This also ended up allowing her a little more bink time than we normally let her have. Typically it’s only allowed for naps and bedtime, but since she had little choice but to tag along we caved to her smiles.

CJP_5759Now as for the park itself, the day started out a bit chilly, but beautiful. Nice bright sky, and I was out with the wife and baby. It was gonna be a good hike.

Red Haw trail map route.jpgWe parked at one of the shelters on the northern portion of the park (Red Star). There was a small beach with a lily pad filled inlet next to it. We had to walk around the inlet toward the north before we found the official trailhead.

For the most part the trail was a mowed grassy path, not my favorite as I prefer dirt, but it appeared well maintained. There were a good number of paint markings at the beginning and at the end of the trail, suggesting there was a 5k, as well as a middle school and high school cross country race held there. So Red Haw must be a pretty busy place for the locals.

The trail is a 4 mile loop around the lake. We stuck to the trails running along the shoreline for the duration of the hike. The east shore is where most of the interesting things we found were. First off, I got to introduce my wife to a locust tree. Now I will admit, that while I was familiar with the tree, I had only recently learned what kind of tree it was. Locust trees are hard to miss, they are covered in long, sharp thorns that will rip you up if you aren’t paying attention.

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The other thing I got to show her is what we always called spider balls. Not actually sure how much truth there is to it, but I was always told that they have magical powers to scare away spiders. lol. Basically a moth ball for spiders.

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We eventually made it to the center of the park where we took a quick bio break at the handy bathrooms (Blue Star). This is the best view of the lake being that it is the most elevated point overlooking the lake. From there it was a quick walk to the westernmost point in the park where the campgrounds are (Green Star). This was also the busiest part of the park with a good number of trailers and boat launches.

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There was a quick road walk across a bridge before the brief return back to the car. Overall we really enjoyed our hike at Red Haw State Park. It wasn’t very challenging, which was fine by me with baby girl on my back.

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At 4 miles of flat trail, this hike should be accessible to almost anyone. Even though there are very few offshoot trails, I would recommend carrying a map with you to at least track your progress. It is always a good idea to consider water and snacks as well. I can’t determine your level of fitness, only you will know what you need in that department.

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If you’re looking for a short hike in south central Iowa, Red Haw State Park might just be up your alley. It isn’t overly challenging, and should be accessible to almost anyone.

As always, don’t forget to pop over to YouTube and check out the video! You won’t be sad, there’s a lot of baby girl cuteness, I promise.

So I hope you get out there, and enjoy your walk.

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Ouray Perimeter Trail, CO

CJP_4638The Colorado Adventure: Day 4, part 1

The fourth day of our adventure was a hike around the Ouray Perimeter which turned out bittersweet for me. The hike was awesome, but I screwed up and didn’t pay attention to my camera settings before we set out. Every shot I had was completely underexposed to the point that everything was unusable. Luckily, I got a couple shots the day before when we arrived in town, I did take some pictures with my phone for Instagram, and my wife was my second shooter to help enhance the story and her shots turned out. So there are pictures! Let’s start at the beginning as we will continue to do for the 2017 Family Vacation.

If you’re new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

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Ouray GoogleOur third stop on our adventure was to the tiny town of Ouray in the southwestern corner of the state. I had heard of the town before, but vaguely knew anything about it. When the Less Junk, More Journey channel featured a hike there, I knew it had to go on the list. The town is nestled in the mountains at around 8,000 feet of elevation, which allows you to look in any direction and be rewarded with an amazing view. The above shot was from the front door of our hotel room, the shots below were from the back balcony (the bridge is part of the trail).CJP_4633

CJP_4629For its size, the town was intensely busy. The main street was packed with people checking out the shops, mostly tourist trap souvenir stores and a couple candy shops. There were a few places to eat, although I’ll add that they know what they are, where they are, and charge accordingly… There was one grocery store in town that was more of your traditional country store with a limited inventory. It was quite warm the day we got there and I went to get some water for us only to find that they were sold out of pretty much everything liquid and they had no ice. So we rationed what water we had in our Camelbaks as we were intending on refilling in town and the hotel water… didn’t feel right. However, the humming birds thought the water was pretty sweet…

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The perimeter hike was harder to research than I anticipated. There were tons of sources quoting that it was a 5 mile loop. However, no one had any maps to back that up. There was a lot of that, 5 miles, no proof. Even once we got to town and looked around all I found was a map on a pamphlet from the visitor center that revealed the trail wasn’t completely finished, but there were plans. What we found was a trail that was 75% complete, but still worth every ounce of sweat to experience it.

Ouray RouteOne thing I like about the trail is that you can start it at pretty much any point you want. There are access points all around the circumference of the town. We decided to start our hike from the visitor center at the northern edge of town. We parked the Jeep in the parking lot for the hot spring fed pool, strapped on our packs and headed across the street to the trailhead where we were greeted with an immediate steep switchback climb to the trail overlooking the town.

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I think the reason you jump straight into a climb is so that when you take a moment to catch your breath… you get to soak in the view of the sleeping town below. The trail itself is what I envisioned a trail would be like in the Colorado mountains, worn and rough and potentially dangerous. At certain points the trail is only a couple feet wide and the edge of it is a sheer drop-off into a scree field that would tear you up.

DSC_4618The northeast portion of the trail is the most attractive and pleasing in my opinion. On one side you have the view overlooking the town, with a gray rock of the mountain climbing above you on the other. All smiles the whole way. Then at the northeastern “corner” you come across a waterfall (green star) that we noticed from town. This was a bit sketchy as finding the route to base in order to pick up the next section of trail took a few minutes. We eventually got to the bottom and found the older kids who had disappeared down the trail on their own.

What we thought was Titan and Odessa waiting for us to catch up, turned out to be them just not knowing where to go from there. At the base of the waterfall is an access point to the trail. I went over the route with everyone the night before and they remembered there was a road walk near the fall. So using their smart goat-thinkers, they waited to verify if that was the road walk or not, it was not.

DSC_4646The next section from the falls to the southeast “corner” was a nice wooded section through pines. This is one of the sections that has a road walk. It once again starts out with a switchback climb to get back up to the trail level. After a little bit it comes to a road and the sign is kind of confusing. It appears to point northeast, so we started to walk the road uphill, but it didn’t feel right. So I broke out the pamphlet and compass and turned us around. We should have been heading the other way downhill. Luckily I didn’t let us get too far and we got back on track.

DSC_4652The temps started to feel a bit chilly and CJ was getting a little crabby. So Momma came up with the idea to put her jacket on and then take my rain jacket to wrap her legs up with it. It was just enough to get the wind off of her and let her body heat increase enough to bring out the gabby baby-girl I know and love. It was some good Momma goat-thinkin’. Once again the older kids pushed on ahead further, at least this time we got to catch glances of them now and then.

This section wound through a couple campsites and ultimately came to a conclusion with a steep uphill hike on a service road (red star). Momma and I had to take a break after that climb, so glad for the trekking poles.

CJP_4718After we recovered from the climb and snacked on Clif Bars, we continued on our way. The next portion brought back those views we were first presented with. It was pretty open, rocky, and full of scrub brush. Here is where the trail gives you an option to take the shortcut straight toward the bridge from earlier, or you can wind a little further south. We chose to take the shortcut route, which was a rugged, rocky decent that taxed the knees a bit. It eventually terminated at a road (blue star) that headed back up towards the trail to the bridge and tunnel.

DSC_4704There was a short road walk that crossed a bridge and gave us a view of another waterfall that fed into a small river. Unfortunately the pictures of the actual river didn’t turn out. It had some pretty violent rapids in it though. It wasn’t long before we reached the bridge crossing the gap over that fast flowing river.CJP_4763

DSC_4722The neat part about the bridge (purple star) is that you cross over into a tunnel through the mountain. The ceiling is pretty low, so we put the sunshade up that comes with the Osprey Poco Plus child carrier to help inform me when the ceiling was getting too low and could bonk CJ in the melon. Definitely, wanted to protect her from that.

We passed through the tunnel without incident and emerged into the daylight on the other side. It was only a hundred yards or so until the trail met up with a dirt road (orange star) and our off road journey was done. From that point on the dirt turned into pavement and it was a road walk back to the car. This is one of the areas they said they had plans to expand in the future, funds just weren’t there yet.

DSC_4710In the end the hike came out to 6 miles after taking the shortcut. We all super enjoyed the experience, and after looking through the brochure we discovered there is a pretty good sized network of trails surrounding the town. So we may have to return for an extended period of time to do some more exploring!

DSC_4602From there we drove straight to Mesa Verde National Park. So until next time, get out there and go for a walk!

Hanging Lake Park, CO

The Colorado Adventure: Day 3

DSC_4452In 2015 we were traveling back to Iowa from my wife’s family reunion in Idaho, on a route through Colorado, because I made the route and wanted to see Colorado. Along the way she saw the road sign for Hanging Lake, looked it up on her phone, and said she wanted to come back and check it out. Then a little over a year later we start watching a YouTube channel that visited the park, and she excitedly remembered it and said that it had to go on the list. Even though that is the true beginning to this hike, let’s start at the beginning as we will continue to do for the 2017 Family Vacation.

If you’re new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

DSC_4483Hanging Lake GoogleOur second stop on our journey was at Hanging Lake Park, just off the interstate in northwesterly Colorado. Hanging Lake is this not-so hidden little gem that is challenging and in-demand. The parking lot is small, only holding roughly a couple dozen vehicles. I read up and learned that it fills up quick and doesn’t take long to form a line all the way out to the off-ramp. If you get there at a bad time the rangers will actually turn you away. As we were leaving there was a ranger at the entrance holding everyone up, and as he saw us exiting he pointed to the next car to let them in. The line went on for quite a while, but there was room for a good number more that day. Shortly after our visit I read somewhere that the park service is considering requiring permits to limit the number of visitors per day and help the parking situation starting as early as next year (2018).

(This is all they have for parking.)Hanging Lake parking

Being forewarned of the parking situation we once again left the hotel just before dawn. When we arrived our preparedness worked again. We were one of the first visitors of the day, but there were only a few parking spots left already! The sun was barely cresting the horizon and this place was almost full.

DSC_4467The hike itself is pretty short overall, only about 1.2 miles from the parking lot to the lake. That’s the length… the vertical gain is a around 2,000 feet in that 1.2 miles! It’s a butt-kicker for sure. The state of Iowa only has roughly 1,200 of gain from the lowest point in Keokuk to the highest point at Hawkeye Point. In fact I just did a 20 mile hike up at Yellow River State Forest in the northeast corner and only had a total of 2,200 feet over that 20 miles. This was a climb, with a toddler on my back no less, but totally worth it!

DSC_4455The trail starts off as this nicely paved path that traces along the river. The kids were in a brighter mood and started farting around with the trekking poles. Like the great parents that we are… we decided it was a good idea to take pictures instead of the, ya know, safer alternative of telling them to stop.

However, this path is not specifically for Hanging Lake. This path is an exercise path that just happens to go past the trailhead for Hanging Lake. You only get the bliss of this smooth path for the first .2 miles of your 1.2 mile hike. Once you exit the path you are immediately set upon by this jagged slope of rock that informs you this climb is for real.

While the steepness of the climb doesn’t relent often, the surface of the trail does smooth out so you can enjoy your surroundings more easily. The majority of the trail runs alongside the fast flowing creek created by the overflowing waters from Hanging Lake. This little steady stream of water has mini waterfalls of its own that creates this rushing sound your entire journey.

CJP_4522Cheryl being your standard waterfall enthusiast, had to stop and get pictures every time we came across any white water. While it slowed her and me down a bit, I didn’t mind since I was carrying some extra weight and appreciated the breather (Titan and Odessa just kept charging forward). I got several “good job dad,” and once I crossed paths with another toddler carrying dad, we gave each other a knowing smile and nod. lol.

The scenery during the entire hike was simply amazing and helped to detract from the strain of the effort. Here are a few shots to help you see just how much the trails crams into only 1 mile:

After all of that, you make it to the top and are greeted with an open view of the valley you just hiked up.CJP_4565

 

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In truth you only have one spot to see this view before you are back in the trees. Unfortunately, this little spot is part of the last few feet of the trail as well. So you do need to be quick with your camera as people do want to pass by. Everyone we encounter were very nice and and even offered to take our “selfie” for us.

Part of that could also be that at this point in the trail more often than not the people we encountered pulled their little groups off to the side to make way for the huffing and puffing dad, and smile at the cute baby enjoying the ride.

Finally we get to see what all of the effort was for, Hanging Lake!DSC_4525

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The lake is surrounded by a nice walkway made of deck boards with warnings not to stray from the path. Not only that, but there were plenty of benches! Oh yeah, and we caught up to Titan and Odessa who had been chillin’ at the top for a bit. They have a somewhat large platform that puts you right in the center of the lake to make room for all of us that want to get our photos. There were a good number of people trying to get photos, but for the most part everyone was very courteous. They snuck up to the railing, took their photo, and stepped back to make room for the next person. Ahem, I was actually the one taking my time.. but I only felt a little bad about it. My whole plan once we got to the top was to take a long exposure of the falls to get the smoothed out surface look with the white streams of water from the falls. I set my tripod up and proceeded to take several exposures; one to make sure I got it right, and two… remember I said the platform was made of deck boards. Well deck boards vibrate when people walk on them and it was just enough to cause camera shake during the long exposure to ruin the image. Eventually I did get what I was after though:CJP_4555

DSC_4540After we figured we spent enough time at the lake we went back to the entrance of the platform where another steep trail heads up and behind the lake so you can check out the source of the water; Spouting Rock.

IMG_3888Spouting Rock is a large  waterfall that is spewing tons of water with some powerful force. It doesn’t just trickle over the edge, but projects the water like someone turned on a hose at full force. CJ didn’t quite know what to think of this loud shower.CJP_4560

Eventually we had to start making our way back down the trail and move on. Even on the way down new sights crossed our camera lenses that had a smiling and praising this little hike. Once the sun was above the mountains the trail seemed to brighten up (both literally and figuratively).

As we neared the bottom of the hike and the paved trail back to the car we were given one last scenic shot with trail disappearing into the trees and sun shining on the river and mountains:DSC_4577

Of course when you’re in Colorado with your family, it isn’t hard to find a scenic view around any corner.

Here are the rest of the photos from the hike and I hope you have a great walk!

Pikes Peak State Park (Iowa)


DSC03106Pikes Peak MapPikes Peak State Park
is located on the southern outskirts of McGregor in northeast Iowa.

Now the air needs to be cleared, this is THE Pikes Peak. Not that little hill in Colorado that gets all of the fame… Pikes pic

Zeb-PikeThe story is that in 1805 Lieutenant Zebulon Pike was sent to the region to survey for a military fort to be built on the northern Mississippi River. He chose the location where our Pikes Peak is now, but the government later decided to build on the Wisconsin side by Prairie du Chien. Then in 1806, newly promoted Captain Pike took another expedition through Colorado and attempted (but failed) to summit what was then known as El Capitan. It was long after Pike’s death that the mountain was refered to as Pike’s High Peak, then later shortened and officially renamed to Pikes Peak. So you see, first come first serve. After all, we have trees to go with our snow. I mean, what do you do with all of that gorgeous view anyway? /wink

DSC03114So Pikes Peak State Park is one of the most visited and photographed parks in Iowa. It consists of two units, linked by a connecting trail. The northern portion which is the lesser traveled, consists of most of the more rugged hiking trails; whereas the southern portion is the most visited with the overlook and the small waterfall whose trails are short and highly maintained.

DSC03183One of the biggest attractions of Pikes Peak State Park are the fall colors that cover the area in late September. The entire northeast of Iowa has a lot visitors around that time of year, with some making it a long weekend to drive through all of the parks in the surrounding area, such as Yellow River State Forest, to see the colors.

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There are a few different ways to hike Pikes Peak. You can break it up and just hike the north, south, or the whole thing; varying which trails you want to take and make your hike as long or as short as you want.

If you choose to hike just the north unit, you can drive through the south part of McGregor and park in the northeast corner. It is a pretty steep climb up to Point Ann on the Point Ann Trail (blue), then you can hook up with Horn Hollow Trail (maroon), and finish on Chinquapin Ridge Trail (green) in order to create your shortest loop of about 3.5-4 miles. You can also stay on the Point Ann Trail until it connects to the Chinquapin Ridge Trail, or use the Bluebird Trail as a connector, for a 5-6 mile loop.

DSC02098The trails are thickly wooded with very well maintained crushed rock trails that weave through the ravines. The scenery is great and I’ve never had a bad hike there, even when a light rain kicked off a bit after we had just started down the trail. This is in the drift-less zone of Iowa (where the glaciers didn’t smooth it out during the ice age), so expect some good climbs and descents in this area.

DSC02036Point Ann is the northernmost point and offers a nice view of the Mississippi River. The only other place in the north unit you get river views will be along the eastern ridge-lines of the Chinquapin Ridge Trail.

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If you are just looking to hike the southern unit, the most common thing to do is to park in the lot (orange star), then walk the 100 feet to the overlook (red star) where you can view the river and Wyalusing State Park across the river in Wisconsin; then hike the Bridal Veil Trail (yellow) to the falls. This trail is very built up being paved until you are almost to the Crow’s Nest, where it turns into a wooden path all the way to the Bridal Veil Falls (green star). There are some stairs, but otherwise this .75-1 mile down and back is fairly easy. On the return you could also pop onto Myotis Trail (yellow dash) if you wanted to shorten it a bit and walk on some dirt.

DSC03117You can also put together a loop by leaving the parking lot and heading west along the Weeping Rock Trail (purple), choosing to break off of on either the West Hickory Ridge (light blue), or the East Hickory Ridge Trails (green), and then taking the Bridal Veil Trail back to the parking lot for a roughly 1.5-2 mile loop. While there isn’t as much climbing and descent in the southern unit, there is still a decent little ravine running down the center to get the legs burning a little bit.

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If you are looking to cover some ground and want to hike the whole park, here is my 9.7 mile route I enjoy (red). I park in the south lot (orange star) and jump on Weeping Rock (purple). Where it connects with Chinquapin Ridge (green) you’ll find the ranger’s home and the original concession stand that was restored and relocated (blue star).

DSC03140Then I take the Point Ann (blue), to Horn Hollow (maroon), to Chinquapin route for the north; and then the West Hickory (light blue) to Bridal Veil (yellow) route for the south. Altogether it is a good amount of hills that will often leave you ready for the adventure beverage waiting for you at home.

DSC02073When it comes to recommending gear for your hike at Pikes Peak State Park, it all depends on what you want to do. If you only want to do the overlook and falls, then you don’t need to worry about taking anything, except maybe some bug spray. Just stay on the constructed paths and enjoy the views. Similarly, if you just want to check out the southern loop, I would advise making sure you use a map so you don’t accidentally head toward the north unit.

If you want to knock out the north loop I would say you should bring your food, water and your map. In addition, you might want to put a jacket in your pack for potential weather changes and a first aid kit as the terrain is a little more rugged. Now if you desire to hike the entire 9.7 mile route, expect a 3.5-4 hour hike. So make sure you have plenty of water and calories to keep you going. Of course the same suggestion of putting a jacket, bug spray, and first aid in your pack. You should also make sure you definitely have your map for this hike. There are a lot of options for you to take so you’ll need the map to help keep you on your planned route.

DSC02051Now while Iowa’s Pikes Peak State Park may be the lesser known little sister to Colorado’s name stealing mountain, she is still one of my favorite parks to visit. My wife and I try to make it an annual visit to check out the leaves. During summer visits we like to sneak into McGregor afterward and have lunch at the marina bar and grill; just your standard short order food, but it is nice to eat out on the deck on the edge of the river.

Pikes Peak is a great place to spend a day out on the trails, and I hope you get the chance to enjoy it soon.

DSC03161Thanks for reading!

Quechee Gorge, VT

dsc04230That’s right, Vermont! Work sent me and a partner to New Hampshire for a couple weeks back in 2014. We had the weekend off so we did a whirlwind tour of all the northeastern state, and the Quechee Gorge was our stop in Vermont.

quecheeThe gorge is centrally located on the eastern border of Vermont.  Now Quechee Gorge is not a backwoods hike, but rather a pretty popular tourist and kayak destination just outside Quechee, VT and Quechee State Park. The location is built up with touristy “corner stores” selling plenty of snacks and souveniors, antique shops and hotels all along the main road that bisecs the gorge.

quechee-3In total we hiked about 3 miles in down and back fashion starting from the visitor area. There is one trail that travels along the flowing Ottauquechee River. We first hiked north from the road (red trail) on a nicely groomed path toward Dewey’s Pond. dsc04280North of an interesting dam (#1), the trail seperated the river and the pond, appearing to terminate at a parking area. This strip of land had a good variety of flowers helping to increase the pleasure of the stroll. The river was interesting in that at this point it was glass smooth, but it didn’t remain that way.

dsc04264As we returned south the river takes on a drastic change as it crosses the dam (#1) and enters the gorge. I wonder if the kayakers start their run around here? The waters here were rough with what looked to be a good amount of white water.

dsc04231There is a nice bridge (#2) that offers a great view that really lets you see just how deep the gorge is. Pretty impressive I will admit. From there we continued along the very well groomed trail to where the river empties out of the gorge, and the presumed finish to the kayak run (#3). Here the waters were super clear and calm before turning back into turbulent waters. There were quite a few people hanging out in the shallow rapids to include a handfull of kayaykers that may have been hanging out in the slow moving water after a run. dsc04253From there we returned back to the visitor area for a couple snacks and to browse the souveniers.

A very easy little walk for just about anyone. If for whatever reason you are in the northeastern US and looking for a simple distraction, or were on a multi-state tour like we were, Quechee Gorge is definitely worth squeezing in. It only take a couple hours of casual walking, and if it is a beautiful day like the one we got, you’ll wish it was longer.

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Starved Rock State Park (in winter)


Starved Rock State Park  is a premiere park in central Illinois that is located just south of I-80.starved-google-map

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 the baby girl 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, an excellent restaurant, and let’s not forget the fudge!. Let’s get to the hiking…

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While there is a network of trails connecting everything together, I like to section the park off into 3 areas during the winter. The first is St Louis on the western edge, then the core four falls of French, Wildcat, Tonty, and LaSalle in the center, with the eastern edge being the third section with Kasakakia and Ottawa. Our normal itinerary is to drive over from Iowa, hit the outlier falls, eat at the lodge, overnight in Oglesby, then return for the core four after breakfast, and head home.

DSC03528.jpgSt Louis Canyon is always the first stop for icefall hunting since there is a parking area just off the main road from Utica. The road actually leads all the way down to the trailhead, but it is steep and they close it off in winter. So you have to park at the top of the hill and walk down to the trailhead. Once you are on the trail it follows a creek through the canyon that leads to the fall. It is a tall waterfall that can create an impressive block of ice, as the lovely Cheryl demonstrates. The hike through the canyon is one of the better hikes in the park.

We retraced our path back to the car so we could drive to the far eastern side of the park and check out Ottawa Canyon, Kaskaskia Canyon, and the Council Overhang where reportedly the Illini indians conducted meetings. The trails aren’t very long for this section of the park, so it’s a quick little trip to see the two falls if you’re running low on time and light. Ottawa can grow to be a pretty thick icefall that attracts climbers. In the picture below you can see some red rope at the base of the fall from a pair of climbers up top preparing to climb it.DSC03575.jpg

 

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Kaskakia is by far the smallest of the frozen falls. There is a little alcove behind it that you can crawl around, but otherwise, bring a model with you for some posing like I did. 😉 After we competed out first day of hiking we had dinner at the lodge located on the grounds which was excellent!

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The next morning we began our primary focus, hitting up the core icefalls.

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It was time to get serious… The first stop was French Canyon, a good-sized fall that is super broad. The trailhead is located at the southeast corner of the parking lot for the lodge. The descent can be a little tricky if there is a heavy snowfall and it gets packed down on the stairs. Mostly it makes it hard to get footing, so be aware of that.

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Next up was Wildcat Canyon. Wildcat is by far the best icefall in the park. This thing 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, and you can see one getting ready to start a climb below. Wildcat is around 80 feet tall and really grows to an incredible size. There are three vantage points for the fall, two overlooks, and one from below. You should check it out from both the top and bottom to really get an understanding of just how impressive it is. Pay attention to the stairs on the way down… because you’ll have to climb them on the way out!

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Don’t worry about that for now though, you get to hike to a couple other falls before you have to come back. After leaving Wildcat there is river walk for a bit that can at times be a little chilly if the wind is coming off the frozen river. Outside of winter the creek that leads from the Tonty and LaSalle canyons is flowing, meaning you have to take the long way to Tonty since the bridge is out (and has been for years). However, since it is winter when you are looking at icefalls the creek should be frozen. This allows you to take a shortcut and walk on the creek until you can get on the Tonty trail. Tonty Canyon feels like it is in the back corner of the canyon. It can be a bit sporadic in its growth. There are times I’ve seen it full, with climbers, like the photo below, and other times where there isn’t much formed. Its kind of a little guessing game as to what you get to see when you round the corner.

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From there the trail leads to LaSalle, which almost never disappoints. I’m not sure why, but it almost always seems to form with a hole in the center. You can kind of make out the remnants of the hole in the photo below. LaSalle is interesting in that as part of the trail you have to walk behind it. So this allows for some nice shots where you can sometimes get the greenish-blue color from the light seeping through.DSC03686.jpg

This completed the tour of icefalls, so we headed on back down what’s probably the best canyon trail in the park, to the namesake.

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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.

gaiterLeg 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 to 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. One recommendation, use a water bottle over a hydration bladder. The hoses on the bladder are more likely to freeze, preventing you from getting a drink. 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 thing 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 with the food!

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 have been consistently below 20 to make sure everything is solid when you visit.

This is a must visit location that I know I’ll enjoy returning to annually once again. Remember to watch the video on my YouTube channel to help entice you to visit!