Starved Rock Camping – Top 10 Activities
Written by: Quintin Bentley Crevling
Starved Rock State Park is the most beautiful park in the state of Illinois.
The park has 18 canyons which are the central features that draw people en mass to the banks of the frigid Illinois river. This awe inspiring topography is the product of glacial melting that occurred 19,000 years ago, known as the Kankakee torrent. The flood eroded beautiful Sandstone canyons into the hillside that reach up to 80 feet in height.
This park has become known as an outdoorsmans playfield.
Starved Rock has many activities ranging from leisurely boat tours to rigorous ice climbing. Below are the top 10 activities you can do while you visit the park.
10 Trolley Tours
Starved Rock offers many family friendly activities, and one of the most popular is the trolley tours. The park tours include: eagle watching, waterfalls, canyons, fall colors tour, and christmas lights. You can also rent out your own 26 seat trolley for intimate gatherings.
9 Boat Tours
You can enjoy various tours on the popular Illinois river while riding in the majestic Belle of the Rock – an ornate paddle boat. The park offers land and tour packages that include rides on the trolley, lunch at the lodge, and an hour long ride on the river.
I absolutely must recommend all couples take the romantic dinner cruise that ends the night aboard the paddle boat. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to take in the scenery along the picturesque Illinois river.
Since the park opened it’s gates in 1911, weary adventurers have continued to rest their heads in the park’s 133 space campground.
The camp has made some modernizations over the years, installing flushable toilets, power outlets, and warm showers.
The campground was placed in a grassy field that makes it easy for campers to pitch tents, and makes comfortable ground to sleep on.
The Illinois river has great fishing holes throughout the Starved Rock area. The river is full of multiple species of fish including but not limited to: largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, sauger, catfish, and walleye.
The fish are so plentiful that the state has issued minimum length requirements of 12 inches for several species.
6 Cross Country Skiing
The park is open 12 months a year and offers a vast playground for cross country skiing. You can ski the heavily trafficked hiking paths along the river, or ski further south into the connecting Matthiessen state park and explore the 4,000 acre territory.
You will not be permitted to swim in the Illinois river due to strong currents from the lock and dam that lays almost dead center in the middle of the park. However, kayaking is strongly encouraged.
The parks canyons offer 14 beautiful waterfalls and there is no better way to take in their splendor than up close and personal in your kayak!
4 Ice Climbing
The parks temperatures fall below freezing 4 months of the year and experience heavy snowfall. Many of the waterfalls freeze over during these months, leaving behind gorgeous ice pillars that you absolutely can’t miss.
If you want to ice climb, you will need to call the park rangers ahead of time and let them know where you will be.
Out of the parks 18 canyons, 14 have waterfalls.
I strongly recommend visiting 3 of the waterfalls: Wildcat, Tonty, and Kaskaskia.
Wildcat has a slow, yet steady, stream with the highest drop off in the park. Tonty has a considerable waterfall and can be enjoyed while you take respite in the shade underneath the trees. My personal favorite is Kaskaskia, which requires a 4 mile hike in and is deep enough to wade into.
Tonty can be viewed here at the 10:10 mark.
2 Eagle Watching
During the winter months, thousands of bald eagles migrate to the park following their seasonal food supplies.
The eagles’ favorite place in the park is near the locks and dam where you can watch them feast on fish.
It is truly breathtaking to watch flocks of our national bird make their great migration from Canada.
Starved rock is home to the number one rated hike in the state.
This 4.4 mile hike starts at the parking lot near the lodge.
You will hike inland to French canyon and continue along the path for just over 2 miles until you reach Lonetree canyon, where you will find Sandstone point overlook. This will be the the far end of your loop. When you have had your fill of the view, you will hike towards the river and follow it back to the parking lot.
Along the way you will pass through 9 of the park’s 18 attractions.