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Starved Rock hiking: 12 best Starved Rock trails you should do

Are you going to explore Starved Rock State Park? We have the best Starved rock trails right here! This article shares 12 marvelous trails in this beautiful state park, enough to spend an amazing weekend.

Starved Rock State Park was recently voted the number one attraction in Illinois, and it’s not difficult to see why. The park offers everything a nature lover could want.

There are over 13 miles of trails. Once you get tired of hiking the beautiful Starved Rock canyons you can go fishing and boating. In the winter it’s possible to go ice fishing or climb the majestic frozen waterfalls.

Starved Rock State Park is built around 18 canyons formed by different streams. Each canyon hides one or more waterfalls. To see the waterfalls in all their glory you must time your visit around spring or after heavy rainfall.

The streams are mainly fed by meltwater and many of them dry up completely in the summer. Others turn into an almost unnoticeable creek.

You can also visit the park during the winter months to see the frozen falls. We advise bringing ice cleats as some trails contain steep uphill and downhill sections, as well as some flights of stairs, that can be icy and slippery.

We start this post with an overview of the 12 trails, followed by a short description of each hike.

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In a hurry, these are the best hikes at Starved Rock

Overview of the best Starved Rock hiking trails

Here’s a comparison table of Starved Rock’s best trails that we cover in this post. Read on for a short description of all the trails.

Best trails at Starved Rock

Distance Difficulty Route type Highlights
Starved Rock State Park in Illinois, a high-rated park with amazing trails Starved Rock and Sandstone Point overlook trail

4.3 miles

Moderate

Loop

The many vistas and the possibility to hike behind the LaSalle waterfalls.
Saint Louis Canyon Trail

3 miles

Easy to moderate

Out & back

The St. Louis falls, one of the highest in the park
Lover’s Leap Overlook trail

1.6 miles

Easy to moderate

Loop

The outlook point over the Illinois river
The colorful foliage in Autumn in Starved Rock State Park Illinois Canyon Trail

2 miles

Easy to moderate

Out & back

The river crossings, the wildflowers, and the waterfall at the far end of the canyon
French Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park French Canyon Trail

2 miles

moderate

Loop

A family-friendly hike to two beautiful canyons
The frozen Ottawa Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park in Illinois Ottawa Canyon Trail

1.9 miles

easy

Out & back

The walk behind the waterfall and the frozen waterfall in the winter
Wildcat canyon trail

2 miles

Moderate

Loop

The wildcat canyon, the highest canyon in the park.
LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Illinois LaSalle canyon trail

4 miles

moderate

Loop

The Wildcat canyon and the LaSalle canyon
Frozen Tonty Canyon in Starved Rock State Park, Illinois Tonty Canyon Trail

5 miles

moderate

Loop

Walk behind the LaSalle falls and enjoy Tonty canyon, the hidden gem of Starved Rock State Park.
Bald Eagle Eagle cliff overlook

1.6 miles

easy to moderate

Loop

The outlook point over the Illinois river
The Council Overhang in Starved Rock State Park Council overhang and Kaskaskia canyon trail

2.1 miles

easy

Out & back

The council overhang and the less-visited Kaskaskia Canyon
Starved Rock State Park is a great place to go hiking River Trail, Bluff Trail, and Illinois Canyon

9.3 miles

Moderate

Loop

Allround trail that shows many great parts of the park

Best Starved Rock State Park trails

Starved Rock State Park in Illinois, a high-rated park with amazing trails
The view from Starved Rock

Starved Rock and Sandstone Point overlook trail

  • Distance: 4.3 miles
  • Difficulty level: moderate
  • Time needed: 2h30 – 3h
  • Elevation gain: 338 ft.
  • Route type: Loop
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • When to go: All-year-round. Spring to see the LaSalle Waterfall at its best, or autumn for colorful foliage. Come early in the summer because the park can be super-crowded this season.
  • Highlights: The many vistas and the possibility to hike behind the LaSalle waterfalls.

Short description of the trail

This trail is a great option for first-time visitors to the park. It combines several nice vistas on the Illinois River and the park’s canyons.

The trail starts at the visitor center and leads through the woods as it follows the Bluff trail eastwards. It continues a little further to the east after it merges with the river trail to explore the impressive LaSalle canyon and waterfall. It’s possible to hike behind this waterfall!

From there it heads back to the start point, this time following the river shore. On the way back you pass several nice overlooks such as the Beehive and Eagle Cliff overlook.

Just before you’re back at the visitor center you can follow a path to the right that heads to the rock that gave this state park its name.

The outlook at the top of the rock is a great place to spot bald eagles in January and February.

Directions

Head to Starved Rock State Park and follow the signs for the visitor center. There are several parking lots near the visitor center.

To get to the park from Chicago, take the I-294 or I-355 south towards the I-55. Merge on I-55 south to I-80 and go west on I-80 for 45 miles until you reach exit #81 (Rt. 178, Utica).

Make a left and follow Rt. 178 for 3 miles to the south. You will then see signs for the park which will take you to the visitor center.

Where to start the hike

The hike starts from the visitor center.

What people are saying about this hike

A fun trail but busy on the weekends.

Well-maintained trail

Amazing during the winter. So calm and quiet. Just be safe cause it can get slippery in certain spots

Conclusion

This is a great hike to get a first impression of the park. You can explore this trail year-round, it will never fail to impress you.

The St. Louis Canyon waterfall in Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
The St. Louis Canyon waterfall is one of the most impressive in Starved Rock State Park.

Saint Louis Canyon

  • Distance: 3 miles (retour)
  • Difficulty level: easy to moderate (one major staircase when entering the Saint Louis canyon)
  • Time needed: 1h45 – 2h
  • Elevation gain: 232ft.
  • Route type: Out & back
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • When to go: All-year-round. The St. Louis falls are most beautiful in the spring and when frozen in the winter but they’re one of the few falls in the park to have water all-year-round.
  • Highlights: The St. Louis falls, one of the highest in the park

Short description of the trail

The St. Louis canyon is the westernmost canyon of the park. It is a favorite amongst hikers as it is one of the highest canyons in the park.

It also features a massive 80″ waterfall which is spring-fed. It is usually visible year-round but it is still more beautiful after a heavy downpour or when there is meltwater.

This hike starts from the visitor center and leads behind the hotel and across the bridge over the park’s entrance road. You will then pass some smaller canyons, Aurora, Sac, and Kickapoo, before arriving at St. Louis canyon.

In the canyon, you can see some big boulders and rubble from a major canyon wall collapse in 2004. This area is popular for kids to play in. During the spring it may also be possible to splash in the small lake at the bottom of the falls.

This is an out and back trail, you return the same way.

Those who are less able can park their car at the Saint Louis Canyon parking area for a shorter hike (1.2 miles) without any major staircases.

Directions

Head to Starved Rock State Park and follow the signs for the visitor center. There are several parking lots near the visitor center.

The short hike starts at the Saint Louis Canyon Parking area.  This parking is located off of Rt. 178.

Coming from the visitor center make a left when you reach the intersection with Rt. 178.  The parking lot will be on your left.

Where to start the hike

The hike starts from the visitor center.

What people are saying about this hike

Nice even trail. Worth the trip for the end.

The waterfall at the end is fantastic

Conclusion

These falls are a must-see if you visit Starved Rock State Park. Most hikers agree that this is the best canyon in the park.

Along the way you can stop at the Kickapoo, Sac and Aurora canyon.

Pelicans seen from the river overlooks in Starved Rock State Park
Pelicans seen from the Lover’s Leap Overlook

Lover’s Leap Overlook Trail

  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Difficulty level: easy to moderate (one major staircase)
  • Time needed: 1h
  • Elevation gain: 19 ft
  • Route type: Loop
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • When to go: All-year-round. In January and February to spot bald eagles.
  • Highlights: The outlook point over the Illinois river

Short description of the trail

This short trail leads to two beautiful overlooks. If you have the time we recommend a small detour to also include the famous Starved Rock that gave this park its name.

All vistas are located at the edge of the mighty Illinois River.

This hike starts at the visitor center and follows a paved trail towards Jacob’s Ladder, a wooden staircase named after the common wildflowers found in this state.

Look out for these blue shaded as you climb the stairs, they bloom for a short period in the spring.

Native Americans used the roots of these flowers to treat colds and coughs.

Interpretive panels at the lookouts will teach you a lot more about the Indian tribes that used to live here. Lover’s Leap, the first lookout you will pass, is so-called after two young Native Americans who are rumored to have thrown themselves in the river because of their forbidden love.

The Eagle Cliff overlook is just a little further. Both feature beautiful views of the river and the Starved Rock dam. You can spot white pelicans and during January and February, you should be able to see bald eagles as well.

From here it is back to the visitor center. Just before you’re at the visitor center you can follow a path to the right that heads to the Starved Rock, another name inspired by a historical event that took place centuries ago. An old Indian tribe has suffered starvation on this rock after they were trapped there by another tribe.

Directions

Head to Starved Rock State Park and follow the signs for the visitor center. There are several parking lots near the visitor center.

Where to start the hike

The hike starts from the visitor center.

What people are saying about this hike

Nice combination of paved, dirt, sand, and a lot of boardwalks. Very picturesque but extremely crowded.

Busy on a sunny day but nice views across the water. Most of the trial is on a boardwalk so very easy!

Conclusion

This is a short but beautiful hike full of history. Many interpretive panels will give you some insight into what happened here centuries ago and how this park got its name.

The overlooks provide amazing views on the mighty Illinois river and excellent opportunities for bird watching.

The colorful foliage in Autumn in Starved Rock State Park
Colorful fall foliage in Illinois Canyon

Illinois Canyon Trail

  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Difficulty level: easy to moderate (no major staircases)
  • Time needed: 1h
  • Elevation gain: 45 ft
  • Route type: Out & back
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • When to go: All-year-round. In the spring to see the wildflowers and to experience a more beautiful waterfall.
  • Highlights: The river crossings, the wildflowers, and the waterfall at the far end of the canyon

Short description of the waterfall

This short trail starts at the entrance of the Illinois Canyon and slingers along the creek until you reach the top of the canyon with the waterfall.

The trail can be muddy and depending on when you visit the water level of the creek may vary. If you want to see the waterfall in full action you will need to wear waterproof hiking shoes as you will likely get your feet wet crossing the creek.

With the right gear, the river crossings are fun and the trail is a favorite amongst families with young children.

Spring also turns the canyon into a colorful palette of wildflowers. You can see blue, pink, and lavender Virginia bluebells all over the canyon.

The waterfall is one of the smaller in the park but the trail is still worthwhile, also partly because it is less trafficked than others in the park.

Directions

Head to Starved Rock State Park but ignore the signs for the visitor center.

To get to the park from Chicago, take the I-294 or I-355 south towards the I-55. Merge on I-55 south to I-80 and go west on I-80 for 45 miles until you reach exit #81 (Rt. 178, Utica).

Make a left and follow Rt. 178 to the south until the intersection with Rt. 71. make a left and drive eastwards towards Ottawa. Follow this road for 4.4 miles. The parking lot is on your right.

Where to start the hike

The hike starts from the Illinois Canyon parking lot.

What people are saying about this hike

This is probably my second favorite canyon in the park.

Nice short one. Waterfall was just trickling but nice hike overall. Good one for kids.

Conclusion

This is a great family-friendly hike that allows you to escape the crowds that can flood the other areas of the park.

French Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park
The French Canyon waterfall.

French Canyon trail

  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Difficulty level: moderate
  • Time needed: 1.5 h
  • Elevation gain: 245 ft
  • Route type: Loop
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • When to go: All-year-round. In the spring to see the wildflowers and to experience a more beautiful waterfall.
  • Highlights: A family-friendly hike to two beautiful canyons

Short description of the trail

This short but rewarding loop starts at the visitor center. You head east on the Campanula trail, named after one of the state’s colorful wildflowers.

Keep your eyes open as you will see many wildflowers if you hike this trail in the spring.

The French canyon is only 0.4 miles from the visitor center. You may get your feet wet entering the canyon. At the entrance, you will need to walk in toeholds in the creek bed. Depending on the water level, waterproof hiking shoes are recommended.

Kids love to play in these mini-falls at the entrance of the canyon.

Next up is the wildcat canyon. This is the deepest canyon at 90 feet and there is an 80-feet high waterfall. There are 2 overlooks at the top of the canyon and this trail will take you down to the canyon bottom from where you have another good view of the falls.

If you visit the park in the winter you may be able to see ice climbers make their way up the impressive icefall.

From here the trail follows the river shore back towards the visitor center. You will pass the Beehive, Eagle Cliff, and Lover’s Leap lookouts which all offer one-of-a-kind views on the Illinois River.

Directions

Head to Starved Rock State Park and follow the signs for the visitor center. There are several parking lots near the visitor center.

Where to start the hike

The hike starts from the visitor center.

What people are saying about this hike

Great, short hike and one of the better canyons in the park.

Great trail. Bring your spikes in the winter.

Conclusion

The French Canyon and Wildcat Canyon falls are worth a visit all year round.

The hike is a little more demanding but it is still one that classifies as a good family outing.

French Canyon is close to the visitor center and therefore it tends to get busy in the high season.

The frozen Ottawa Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park in Illinois
The frozen Ottawa Canyon Falls. Picture by Tom Gill. (Photo Licence)

Ottawa Canyon Trail

  • Distance: 1.9 miles
  • Difficulty level: easy
  • Time needed: 1.5 h
  • Elevation gain: 101 ft
  • Route type: Out & back
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • When to go: All-year-round. In the spring to see the wildflowers and to experience a more beautiful waterfall.
  • Highlights: The walk behind the waterfall and the frozen waterfall in the winter

Short description of the falls

The Ottawa Canyon is located next to the Kaskaskia canyon, at the far east end of the park.

If you have the time and the condition you can start this hike at the visitor center but most people start at the Ottawa and Kaskaskia Canyon parking lot off of State Route 71. This is also where we will start.

This trail takes you both inside the Ottawa and the Kaskaskia canyon. Both canyons are less-visited, probably because they’re further from the visitor center.

On your way to the canyons you pass the Council overhang. This is a deep Cave recess that is about 50’ high and due to the walls being tarnished black as if by smoke, it is rumored to have been the site of Native council meetings and religious gatherings.

It is an impressive sight.

The Ottawa Canyon is about the same size in depth and in height as the French canyon. It has a nice wide waterfall which is a favorite of many visitors to the park. This waterfall is one of the few that is open to ice climbing almost every winter.

Its neighbor, Kaskaskia Canyon, is deeper but features are smaller waterfall. It is named after a Native American Tribe that used to live across the river in the 1600s.

Directions

Head to Starved Rock State Park but ignore the signs for the visitor center.

To get to the park from Chicago, take the I-294 or I-355 south towards the I-55. Merge on I-55 south to I-80 and go west on I-80 for 45 miles until you reach exit #81 (Rt. 178, Utica).

Make a left and follow Rt. 178 to the south until the intersection with Rt. 71. make a left and drive eastwards towards Ottawa. Follow this road for 4.1 miles. The parking lot is on your right.

Where to start the hike

The hike starts from the Ottawa and Kaskaskia Canyon parking lot.

It is also possible to start the hike at the visitor center. Ottawa Canyon is located 3.9 miles from the visitor center (one-way). If you start from the visitor center instead of the parking lot it would add approx. 7 miles in total.

What people are saying about this hike

Very scenic cliffs and waterfall.

Easy, quick and a lovely set of canyons.

Conclusion

These canyons are great for those looking for a quieter and more peaceful experience.

The Wildcat canyon fall is one the highest in the park
The Wildcat canyon fall is one the highest in the park.

Wildcat Canyon Trail

  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Difficulty level: moderate
  • Time needed: 1.5 h
  • Elevation gain: 245ft
  • Route type: Loop
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • When to go: All-year-round but best in the spring or after heavy rainfall to see the 80′ high waterfall. (or in the winter to see the frozen falls)
  • Highlights: The wildcat canyon, the highest canyon in the park.

Short description of the trail

The Wildcat canyon is the highest canyon in the park. It is located about 1 mile eastwards from the visitor center and can be seen by hiking a beautiful 2-mile loop.

You start by following the Bluff trail which leads along the majestic Bluff’s edge. You will pass right next to the French canyon. If you haven’t visited this canyon before it may be worth making the small detour and pop into this gorge.

Arriving at the Wildcat Canyon you can enjoy 2 impressive overlooks, one at either side of the canyon, before following the stairs to the bottom of the canyon.

Take caution descending these stairs in the winter, they may get very icy and slippery.

Once at the bottom, depending on the amount of rainfall, you may need to get your feet wet to see the falls from close by.

To get back to the visitor center you now follow the river trail. Along the way, you will pass several beautiful vistas on the Illinois River.

We advise hiking the loop in the counter-clockwise direction, starting with the Bluff trail.    This takes you down, rather than up, the long and steep staircase of the Wildcat canyon.

Directions

Head to Starved Rock State Park and follow the signs for the visitor center. There are several parking lots near the visitor center.

Where to start the hike

The hike starts from the visitor center.

What people are saying about this hike

This experience – just seeing and standing in this canyon – would have made the entire trip (and all the stairs) worth it – but there is more to see.

Conclusion

This is a quick loop to the highest canyon in the park. The waterfall tends to be at its fullest in springtime and will slow to a trickle in summer, time your visit well!

LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Illinois.  One of the best trails in the park.
The LaSalle falls. This trail is one of the best in the park as you can hike behind the falls.

LaSalle Canyon Trail

  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Difficulty level: moderate
  • Time needed: 2h30 – 3h
  • Elevation gain: 245ft
  • Route type: Loop
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • When to go: All-year-round but best in the spring or after heavy rainfall to see the waterfalls. (or in the winter to see the frozen falls)
  • Highlights: The Wildcat canyon and the LaSalle canyon

Short description of the falls

LaSalle Canyon has some great aspects. For starters, it’s one of two canyons where you can walk behind the falls.

What makes it even better is that this waterfall is most likely to have water deep into the summer. It will be just a fraction of what can be seen in the spring but it is relatively rare for this waterfall to dry up completely.

To reach the canyon follow either the Bluff or Campanula from the visitor center to the Wildcat canyon. The latter is the shortest and easiest of the two. Take your time to take in the views from the two overlooks over Wildcat canyon before continuing on the Bluff trail towards Lonetree canyon.

This canyon is closed to visitors. Here you will descend the staircase and continue your way along the river trail until we see LaSalle on our right.

Heading back you can follow the river shore so that you can enjoy the many beautiful views of the Illinois River.

To halve the distance of this hike, park your car at the Parkman’s Plain trailhead.

Directions

Head to Starved Rock State Park and follow the signs for the visitor center. There are several parking lots near the visitor center.

If you want to start from Parkman’s Plain trailhead:

This parking lot is located off of Rt. 71.  Coming from the visitor center, make a left on Rt. 178 and follow this road until the intersection with Rt. 71. Make another left and drive eastwards towards Ottawa. Follow this road for 2.7 miles. The parking lot is on your left.

Where to start the hike

The hike starts from the visitor center.

What people are saying about this hike

This is my favorite canyon in the park, the trail is so fun and I love the waterfall at the end

Many great vantage and viewpoints. I’d love to do this hike in the late fall or winter.

Conclusion

Another beautiful canyon in a state park that doesn’t stop to amaze. The waterfall is a spectacular sight but if you’re going to visit in the spring or after heavy rainfall you better put on waterproof hiking gear as you will need to cross a few creeks.

Frozen Tonty Canyon in Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
The frozen Tonty canyon falls. This is one of the falls that is open to ice climbers.

Tonty Canyon Trail

  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Difficulty level: moderate
  • Time needed: +/- 3h
  • Elevation gain: 245ft
  • Route type: Loop
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • When to go: All-year-round but best in spring or after heavy rainfall to see the waterfalls. (or in the winter to see the frozen falls)
  • Highlights: Walk behind the LaSalle falls and enjoy Tonty canyon, the hidden gem of Starved Rock State Park.

Short description of the trail

Tonty canyon used to be more popular when it could still be reached by the Tonty bridge. This bridge was closed in 2018 and it is unclear if it will ever reopen. Don’t worry though, this is actually good news as this means that fewer people make it to the canyon and those who do can enjoy it in complete peacefulness.

The hike is similar to the LaSalle Canyon Trail. Once at this canyon continue your way behind the waterfall (there will a sign “TO BOATS”) and this will take you to the Tonty Canyon.

There’s just one way in and out so you will need to backtrack to LaSalle from where you can then follow the river trail back to the visitor center.

To shorten this hike you can park your car at the Parkman’s Plain trailhead.

The full out-and-back trail from this parking lot is 3 miles.

Directions

Head to Starved Rock State Park and follow the signs for the visitor center. There are several parking lots near the visitor center.

See the previous trail for directions to the Parkman’s Plain trailhead.

Where to start the hike

The hike starts from the visitor center.

What people are saying about this hike

LaSalle waterfall is more beautiful, but I always find myself enjoying Tonty more. Fewer people at Tonty and the boxy walls at the very back just capture my attention.

Conclusion

Many visitors agree that Tonty canyon is the hidden gem of this park. Nothing about this canyon will disappoint. If you’re really lucky you will even see two waterfalls in the canyon. But to witness this you must time your visit in peak melting water season.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagles frequent the area in January and February

Eagle Cliff Overlook

  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Difficulty level: easy to moderate (one major staircase)
  • Time needed: 1h
  • Elevation gain: 19 ft
  • Route type: Loop
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • When to go: All-year-round. In January and February to spot bald eagles.
  • Highlights: The outlook point over the Illinois river

Short description of the trail

This short trail is similar to the Lover’s Leap overlook trail. Both lookout points are right next to each other and the two names are often used interchangeably.

Both overlooks offer gorgeous vistas of Starved Rock and the Illinois River. Be sure to bring your binoculars as they are great for bird watching. White pelicans can be spotted from the overlook in spring and fall and bald eagles frequent the area in January and February.

Did you know that over 200 other bird species, ranging from woodpeckers to owls, live and breed in the park? Amazing, right? This is no doubt one of the reasons that this park is the state’s most popular.

This hike starts at the visitor center. Drop in to learn more about the park, its history, and other things you can do while you’re there.

Check the Lover’s Leap section above to read more about this trail.

Directions

Head to Starved Rock State Park and follow the signs for the visitor center. There are several parking lots near the visitor center.

Where to start the hike

The hike starts from the visitor center.

What people are saying about this hike

Awesome view of the dam and surrounding environs; one of the larger overlooks, with multiple vantage points and even some seating. Not a terrible hike from the visitor’s center.

Extensive deck built to admire the river, watch for eagles and view Starved Rock from a distance so as to admire the beauty of the changing seasons. Eagle Cliff is a favorite of Starved Rock visitors and hikers.

Conclusion

This is one of the most popular short hikes in Starved Rock State Park. The overlooks provide great opportunities for bird watching.

If you have the time you can return using the Bluff Trail which will take you along the French Canyon.

The Council Overhang in Starved Rock State Park
The council overhang, an impressive alcove that played an important role in the lives of the tribes that used to live here.

Council overhang and Kaskaskia canyon trail

  • Distance: 2.1 miles
  • Difficulty level: easy
  • Time needed: 1.5 h
  • Elevation gain: 101 ft
  • Route type: Out & back
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • When to go: All-year-round. In the spring to see the wildflowers and to experience a more beautiful waterfall.
  • Highlights: The council overhang and the peaceful Kaskaskia Canyon

Short description of the trail

The Kaskaskia canyon is located at the far-east end of the park. It is the neighbor of Ottawa Canyon and it is named after a former native American tribe that used to live across the river.

Kaskaskia canyon is the deepest of the two but most visitors agree that Ottawa has the best waterfall.

Most people combine both gorges when they visit this section of the park but nothing stops you from just going into one.

The trail starts at the Ottawa and Kaskaskia Canyon parking lot. Before you arrive at the canyon you will pass the council overhang. An impressive alcove in the Ottawa Canyon wall played an important role in the life of the Native tribes that used to live here.

A little further the path forks, keep to the left to go into the Kaskaskia canyon, the right path leads to Ottawa canyon.

The Kaskaskia falls are not really high but are made extra picturesque thanks to some fallen tree trunks that got stuck. Hikers also love that this canyon, along with its neighbor Ottawa canyon, are less-visited.

Directions

Head to Starved Rock State Park but ignore the signs for the visitor center.

To get to the park from Chicago, take the I-294 or I-355 south towards the I-55. Merge on I-55 south to I-80 and go west on I-80 for 45 miles until you reach exit #81 (Rt. 178, Utica).

Make a left and follow Rt. 178 to the south until the intersection with Rt. 71. make a left and drive eastwards towards Ottawa. Follow this road for 4.1 miles. The parking lot is on your right.

Where to start the hike

The hike starts from the Ottawa and Kaskaskia Canyon parking lot.

It is also possible to start the hike at the visitor center. Kaskaskia Canyon is located 4 miles from the visitor center (one-way). If you start from the visitor center instead of the parking lot it would add approx. 7 miles in total.

What people are saying about this hike

This was an easy hike and we had the canyon almost completely to ourselves in August.

Conclusion

Both Kaskaskia and Ottawa canyons are great for those looking for a quieter and more peaceful experience.

Starved Rock State Park is a great place to go hiking
The colorful Bluff trail in autumn.

River Trail, Bluff Trail, and Illinois Canyon

  • Distance: 9.3 miles
  • Difficulty level: moderate
  • Time needed: 5h – 5.5h
  • Elevation gain: 885 ft
  • Route type: Loop
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • When to go: All-year-round. In the spring to see the wildflowers and to experience a more beautiful waterfall. You can also visit in autumn for beautiful fall foliage.
  • Highlights: Allround trail that shows many great parts of the park

Short description of the trail

Illinois Canyon is the easternmost canyon in Starved Rock State Park. It’s a relatively small but very colorful canyon thanks to an abundance of wildflowers in spring.

This trail starts at the Illinois Canyon parking lot and leads along the river to the Eagle Cliff overlook from where it follows the bluff trail to make its way back.

The fast east section of the park is usually very quiet so you shouldn’t have any problems finding a parking spot. After you have taken a peek inside the Illinois gorge you can start following the river westwards. You will notice that the closer you get to the visitor center, the busier the trails get.

You will pass many canyons and can make small detours every once in while to explore them.

Directions

Head to Starved Rock State Park but ignore the signs for the visitor center.

To get to the park from Chicago, take the I-294 or I-355 south towards the I-55. Merge on I-55 south to I-80 and go west on I-80 for 45 miles until you reach exit #81 (Rt. 178, Utica).

Make a left and follow Rt. 178 to the south until the intersection with Rt. 71. make a left and drive eastwards towards Ottawa. Follow this road for 4.4 miles. The parking lot is on your right.

Where to start the hike

The hike starts from the Illinois Canyon parking lot.

What people are saying about this hike

This is a very nice and comfortable trail, with many opportunities to stop and explore the areas below and above the sandstone bluffs!

Conclusion

This trail combines the park’s lookouts along the Illinois River with many impressive canyons. It’s a nice mix of flat walks on your way in and bluffside on your way back.

Absolutely recommended as you will have seen large beautiful and scenic stretches of the park after hiking this trail.

How to get to Starved Rock

Starved Rock is about a 1,5-hour drive from Chicago. This makes it a great day trip, or even better, a weekend getaway.

There are also several cozy Starved Airbnb’s where you can your friends and family can spend the night.

Follow I-55S and I-80W until Exit 81 for IL-178. Drive South on IL-178 until you cross the Illinois River.

Starved Rock State Park is the first left after the river.

When to visit Starved Rock State Park

The park is beautiful all year long.

The falls are at their best in the spring when the snow is melting or in the winter when some of them are completely frozen over.

In autumn the fall foliage makes a visit worthwhile as well.

Summer is probably the least interesting season. The park is busier than in other seasons and most falls start to run dry.

Fungus in Starved Rock State Park in Autumn
One of many fungi in Starved Rock State Park in the fall

Tips for visiting Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park Opening hours

The park is daily open from 6:30 to sunset.

Opening hours of the visitor center vary by season and can be found here.

Conclusion

Starved Rock State Park is an impressive myriad of canyons, that can be explored by an extensive network of trails.

The park was voted as the top attraction of Illinoisans and for a good reason.

It’s worth a visit at any time of the year. Most locals visit the park at various times of the year, it never fails to amaze. The waterfalls are at their best in spring and autumn announces itself by transforming the woods into a colorful palette with all shades of green, yellow, and red.

In winter you can spot, and even climb, the frozen waterfalls, and bird spotters can head to the river overlooks to see bald eagles.

See these trails again in this web story about the best Starved Rock hikes

When will you visit Starved Rock State Park?

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