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Starved Rock travel tips: All you need to know!

Are you looking for the best Starved Rock travel tips? You have come to the right place.

Starved Rock State Park is the favorite park of many Illinoisans. Just an hour and a half drive from Chicago, it’s an ideal natural retreat to temporarily escape city life.

The park is often recognized as the state’s best. No doubt the wide range of activities are the basis of this success. You will be in for a thrill, regardless of the season you visit.

Being close to Chicago, Starved Rock is a favorite day trip of those living in the windy city. However, it is possible to make it a weekend or even a week if you have the time.

Here’s all you need to know to plan your nature escape to the beautiful Starved Rock area.

From water activities and hikes to wineries, breweries and the best hotels, we’ve got it all.

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In a hurry

If you don’t have the time to read the full post, read these articles and get a head start for your trip.

Some facts about Starved Rock

The park derives its name from a legendary battle between opposing Native American tribes.

The Illinois tribe sought refuge on the top of the great rock near the Illinois River.

The Potawatomi tribe surrounded the rock and killed all who tried to escape. They also thwarted all their plans to get fresh water from the river.

As a result all members of the Illinois tribe eventually starved, ever since this rock has been called Starved Rock.

The park was formed in 1911 and the first facilities were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. It covers 2630 acres.

LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Illinois
The LaSalle Canyon falls in Starved Rock

What you need to know

Getting there

Starved Rock State Park is in the Northwest of Illinois. The park borders the Illinois river and is located southwest of Chicago. The closest town is Oglesby.

Chicago to Starved Rock

Starved Rock is about a 1h30 minutes drive from Chicago.

From downtown, you follow the I-55 and I-80.

If you’re coming from a more easterly location east of Lake Michigan, make sure to keep an eye out for traffic updates. The Borman Expressway tends to get congested over holiday periods.

Indianapolis to Starved Rock

The trip from Indianapolis will take 3 hours and 40 minutes, about as long as it will take you to drive there from St. Louis.

If you plan on flying in you can fly to one of the above cities or you can look for flights to Peoria (PIA).

Peoria is located 1 hour and a half south of Starved Rock. The airport is served by American, United, and Allegiant. This is a small and efficient airport with all the necessary facilities.

Car rentals can be found in the baggage claim area.

Car rental

Cars can be rented in all airports around Starved Rock. A quick and easy way to compare prices is to use rentalcars.com.

We recently used Discover Cars for the first time.

Prices with Discover were half of those we were offered by Rentalcars. It may be worthwhile to compare both sites before you decide.

Check car rental prices and availability:

Rentalcars

Discover Cars

Starved Rock entrance fee

Wondering if the entrance to Starved Rock is free?

Yes, the entrance to Starved Rock State Park is free for everybody.

If you want to learn more about the history, geology, or ecosystem of the park you can also join one of the free guided tours.

Tours are organized by volunteers and therefore do not run every day. The schedule can be found on eventbrite.

Bluff Trail in Starved Rock State Park
The Bluff trail in Starved Rock with beautiful autumn foliage

Is Starved Rock open?

Starved Rock can be visited year-round, also in the winter. The park opens at 6:30 AM and closes at sunset.

Each time you visit the park it will be different, in the “Best Travel Time” section we describe what you can expect in the various seasons.

Is Starved Rock dog friendly?

Yes, dogs are welcome on all the trails as long as they are kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet.

When is the best time to visit Starved Rock?

Starved Rock can be visited year-round. To time your visit you should consider the activities that you’re planning on doing.

Here’s what to experience in the park over the various seasons.

Spring

Spring is an excellent season to visit the park.

This has all to do with the splendid waterfalls that can be found in the park.

Only a few of them are source fed which means you have the best chance of seeing them all right after heavy rains or in early spring, during the melt season.

Fishing is possible year-round and popular in both spring and summer. The type of fish that can be caught varies from season to season. You can check the reports to see what anglers have been catching.

A fishing license is required and there are limits on what can be caught.

Watersports tend to pick up towards the end of spring.

Nobody will stop you from launching your kayak in March but most people prefer to wait until the water has warmed up a little. Kayak and canoe rentals start around the end of April.

Spring is a good season to go hiking, fishing and the best time of year to see the waterfalls.

Day temperatures range from high forties degrees fahrenheit at the start of spring to high fifties by the end of spring. May and June are the wettest months, if you visit the park during these months you should bring appropriate gear to enjoy the outdoors.

Summer

Summer is the most popular season for Starved Rock State Park.

During this time of year, the park will be closed sometimes when it is overcrowded.

If that happens you can divert to Matthiessen State Park, the park is less popular but really worth a visit as well.

We should say that Matthiessen does not get the love that it deserves. Today it is a plan B for most people while both parks are really very much alike, Matthiessen is only smaller.

By the time that summer starts the water will have warmed up a little. Many visitors will flock to the river for kayaking, and rafting is also really popular in summer.

You can also expect to see much more people on the trails.

In summer you can come to hike, fish, raft, and kayak. Summers are hot and humid, the average daily temperature will be around 85° F.

Given the high humidity levels it may even feel warmer. That is why many seek the refreshment of the river.

Thunderstorms are frequent during hot summer days.

Towards the end of summer the temperatures become more pleasant and September is one of the better months to visit the park. The month has many bright sunny days and little rainfall.

Autumn

The fall colors make starved rock awestruckingly beautiful in autumn. They’re the absolute crowd pleaser this season.

Water activities are also still possible. Kayak rentals usually run until the end of October.

Autumn is less humid but temperatures drop fast once the season sets in.

In October average daily temperatures still range around 65°F, in November this is below 50°F, and once December starts this is a mere 35°F.

You should dress in layers when visiting in autumn as the temperatures also drop quickly once the sun sets. Night time temperatures can be well below the freezing point.

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

Winter

January is the coldest month in the park and the best time to come snowshoeing. You should expect temperatures to stay below the freezing point.

January is together with February the best month to spot bald eagles who come to winter in the area. The state park rangers organize an annual eagle watch weekend at the end of January.

Winter is also a great time to see the frozen falls and those with experience can venture to climb these icefalls. Cross-country skiing is not possible in Starved Rock but can be done in nearby Matthiessen State Park.

The whole of winter is cold with temperatures only getting above zero by mid February.

Winter days can be cold but it almost never rains so this is still a pleasant season to visit the park.

Starved Rock activities

What you can do in the Starved Rock area is very diverse and ranges from leisurely wine tasting to heart-pumping skydiving and all kinds of activities in between.

Below we highlight some much sought-after Starved Rock activities.

For more, see this full list of things to do in Starved Rock.

Hiking at Starved Rock

Starved Rock has an extended trail system. The paths wind through the different canyons to the east and west of the visitor center. In total 13 miles of trails can be explored.

Which trails at Starved Rock have waterfalls

All of the canyons have been formed by glacial meltwater and all of them showcase beautiful waterfalls. The waterfalls are fed by run-off and many of them are only visible in the melting season or after a downpour.

We made a selection of the best Starved Rock trails here.

Fungus in Starved Rock State Park in Autumn
Hiking at Starved Rock in autumn

Biking at Starved Rock

The trails in Starved Rock are narrow and often lead along the edge of the canyons.

They’re not designed for biking.

If you have a mountain bike you can go to nearby Matthiessen State Park which has 9 miles of multi-use (equestrian/biking) trails.

Another beautiful option would be to plot a trip along the I&M canal.

Eagle Watching at Starved Rock

Eagle’s can be spotted in January and February at Starved Rock State Park.

They catch their preys in the open water by the dam and can be seen from the viewing points at Starved Rock, Lover’s Leap Overlook, and Eagle Cliff Overlook.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagles can be spotted in January and February

Fishing at Starved Rock

Starved Rock is ideal for fishing. The stretch on the Illinois river between Starved rock and Henry is recognized as one of the best by anglers.

The Starved Rock boat ramp is located at the west end of the park.

If you don’t have your own boat you can go on a full or half-day guided fishing excursion. These guides know the best spots and will share tips to help you become a better angler.

See more info and prices
Fishing excursion

Read Also:

See here for more info about fishing and a full list of things to do in and around Starved Rock.

Kayaking at Starved Rock

Kayaking is a great way to cool down during the hot and humid summer months. You can launch your kayak from the Lone Point Shelter boat ramp in the park. If you don’t have your own gear you can rent it.

For more see here.

Swimming at Starved Rock

It is not allowed to swim in the Illinois river. The river has strong currents and powerful undertows.

Depending on the season some pools can be found in the park. Water-proof hiking gear is recommended as you may need to wade through the water but the pools are not large and deep enough to allow for swimming.

The water quality of these pools may also be a concern. There have been years when a lot of algae grew in these pools.

Starved Rock boat tours

Various boat tours on the Illinois River are available.

You can take a day cruise on the historic Spirit of Peoria. Originally built in 1988 it is one of the first paddlewheelers to navigate the Illinois river. It offers cruises between Peoria and Starved Rock.

The Starved Rock lodge runs short 1-hour tours that will show Starved Rock from the water.

Equally popular is the LaSalle Canal boat, a trip on the I&M canal on a mule-pulled canal boat. A replica from the original “Volunteer” that used to sail between Chicago and LaSalle in 1840.

great dog-friendly cabin near Starved Rock
There are many charming accommodations near Starved Rock (Photo credits VRBO)

Where to stay near Starved Rock

There’s a variety of accommodation options in the close proximity of Starved Rock State Park.

You will find charming B&B’s, a selection of basic hotels, the Starved Rock waterpark, and of course the history-rich Starved Rock Lodge.

There are also numerous quaint cabins that sleep up to 9 people. These may be ideal if you’re traveling with a larger group.

Read the below articles to learn more about all these options and to find hotels and cabins near Starved Rock.

Camping at Starved Rock

The Starved Rock State Park Campground is a Class-A Premium campsite. It has room for 129 campsites, all of which have a picnic table, fire pit and electric hook-up. There a 2 shower houses and 2 kids playgrounds.

Reservations can be made 6 months out until 3 days in advance. Walk ins are also possible.

Read Also:

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