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8 best Starved Rock waterfalls you have to see

Where are the waterfalls at Starved Rock? Are you looking for the best Starved rock waterfalls? Don’t worry. We have you covered. This article shares 8 of the best waterfalls the park has to offer.

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 13 miles of trails, beautiful lakes, fishing, ice fishing, boating, and an array of seasonal waterfalls.

Starved Rock State Park is built around 18 canyons formed by different streams. You can see waterfalls in each of these canyons but you must time your visit well.

Many of the streams dry up completely and others turn into an almost unnoticeable creek. To see these ephemeral falls in all their glory you should time your visit around thaw, in early spring, when the meltwater makes them more dramatic.

For a truly rare spectacle, you should take a hike in winter and see if you can spot one of the frozen plunges that hang in cascades of little icicles. The sandstone bluffs are a beautiful site whether the water is flowing or not.

This post shares 8 of the best waterfalls the park has to offer.

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Overview of the best waterfalls at Starved Rock, Illinois

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

Best Waterfalls in Starved Rock

Where Height Highlights
Kaskaskia Canyon, a beautiful canyon in Starved Rock State Park Kaskaskia Falls

Further along the trail and past the council overhang

15′

Peaceful waterfall as it’s further along the trail than most visitors like to travel

LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Illinois LaSalle Canyon Falls

Located at the end of LaSalle Canyon Trail, 2 miles from the visitor center

25′

This waterfall is the most likely to have water right into summer, and you can walk behind the falls

St Louis Canyon Falls

Located just 1.5 miles from the visitor center

80′

This is one of the highest waterfalls in the park, it is spring fed which means it is more likely to have water than others. In the winter you can see icicles

French Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park French Canyon Falls

Closest to the visitor center at just 0,4 miles

45′

A mild hike suited for the whole family rewarded with an impressive towering fall

Wildcat Canyon Falls

1 mile from the visitor center

80′

A beautiful waterfall in a dramatic canyon

The frozen Ottawa Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park in Illinois Ottawa Canyon Falls

4 miles from the visitor center

45′

Dramatic plunge, a frozen waterfall in winter, and the ability to walk behind the fall depending on the conditions

Aurora Canyon Fall seen from atop Aurora canyon Falls

Closest to the visitor center at just 0,2 miles

10′

This is a less-visited waterfall that is located so close to the visitor center that it can be easily combined with any of the other falls that we cover in this post

Frozen Tonty Canyon in Starved Rock State Park, Illinois Tonty canyon falls

Located 1.9 miles from the visitor center (2.5 miles as long as the Tonti bridge is closed)

60′

Tonti Canyon is dramatic and boasts not one but two waterfalls

Best Starved rock state park waterfalls

Kaskaskia Canyon, a beautiful canyon in Starved Rock State Park
The Kaskaskia waterfall is a beautiful waterfall at the east end of the park.

Kaskaskia Falls

  • Where: Further along with the trail past the Council Overhang, 4 miles from the visitor center.
  • Height: 20’
  • Highlights: Peaceful waterfall as it’s further along the trail than most visitors like to travel
  • Best time for pics: Spring or after a heavy rain
  • Price: Free

Short description of the waterfall

This 20′ waterfall is picturesque although less dramatic and not as high as some others; it is still worth visiting. Depending on the weather water mary run into early June.

It is named after a former Indian tribe that used to live across the Illinois River.

An advantage of this fall is that it is less-visited than others.

The trail takes you past 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 and a good place to take a break.

How to get there

You can follow the riverside trail from the visitor center to get to Kaskaskia falls ( 4 miles one way), but you can also drive part of the way and park in the waterfall canyon’s designated area.

The parking lot is located on the eastern edge of the park off of State Route 71.

From this parking lot it’s only a 0.5 miles hike to the waterfall.

Conclusion

Kaskaskia falls are a great visit for those looking for a quieter experience and a bit of peace.

Kaskaskia falls are located further along the trail. Most people start their visit at the visitor center and don’t make it this far.

LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Illinois
LaSalle Canyon. You can walk behind the falls to continue to Tonty Canyon.

LaSalle Canyon Falls

  • Where: Located at the end of LaSalle Canyon Trail, 2 miles from the visitor center
  • Height: 25′
  • Highlights: This waterfall is the most likely to have water right into summer, and you can walk behind the falls
  • Best time for pics: Spring or after heavy rain. Winter to see the icefall.
  • Price: Free

Short description of the waterfall

LaSalle waterfall is the most likely waterfall in the park to have water year-round.

In the summer months, the flow is reduced to a fraction of what can be seen in the spring but it is strange for this waterfall to dry up completely as most other waterfalls in the park do.

This makes it a favorite with park visitors.

Another unique aspect of the falls is that visitors can walk behind them. The trail that leads behind the waterfall takes you to Tonty canyon. Just follow the sign that reads “TO BOATS”.

This plunge varies in width depending on the season but is always beautiful.

How to get there

The Falls are around 2 miles from the visitor center (one way).

It’s also possible to park your car at the Parkman’s Plain trailhead. From there it’s only half a mile to the waterfall.

If you use the out and back river trail that starts at the visitor center you will pass several other beautiful canyons as well as the Illinois Dam.

This trail is very beautiful in the spring as well as in the autumn and we certainly recommend starting your hike at the visitor center if you have the time.

Read Also:

If you are looking for more great Starved Rock hikes, click here.

The trail is moderate and suitable for dogs, but they must be kept on a leash.

Conclusion

LaSalle Canyon Falls are a great visit and offer a good chance of getting to walk behind a waterfall.

They are only two miles from the visitor center, and those who are less comfortable hitting the trail can start from the Parkman’s Plain trailhead.

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.

St Louis Canyon Falls

  • Where: Located just 1.5 miles from the visitor center
  • Height: 80′
  • Highlights – This is one of the highest waterfalls in the park, it is spring fed which means it is more likely to have water than others. In the winter you can see icicles.
  • Best time for pics: Spring or after heavy rain. Winter to see the icicles.
  • Price: Free

Short description of the waterfall

The St. Louis Canyon falls is one of Starved Rock State Park’s big waterfalls and a favorite among visitors.

The falls are a massive 80′ high, and it is the only waterfall in the park that is spring-fed, so it keeps flowing longer, as in longer than the other falls, but not all year long. It is still at its best after rainfall or when snow is melting.

One of the canyon walls collapsed in 2004 and has left an area of natural sand and rubble on the canyon floor, including some really big boulders. This area is popular for kids to play in.

You can access the waterfall from below, but there is no top lookout point.

How to get there

These falls can be accessed along the 1.5 miles trail from the visitor center.

For a shorter hike you can park your car at the St Louis Canyon car park. This parking lot is located just south of the park entrance on Route 178. It’s 0.6 miles from the canyon and the hike should take approx. 10-15 minutes.

Be warned that no matter where you start there will be a steep staircase climb involved to enter the canyon.

Conclusion

The St. Louis Canyon falls is a must-see when visiting Starved Rock State Park. They are a real demonstration of nature at work.

They can be quite busy in high season and because of the steep staircase, they are less suited to hikers who are less able-bodied.

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

French Canyon Falls

  • Where: 0.4 miles from the visitor center
  • Height: 45′
  • Highlights: A mild hike suited for the whole family rewarded with an impressive towering fall
  • Best time for pics: Spring or after a heavy rain
  • Price: Free

Short description of the waterfall

The French Canyon falls is the one located closest to the visitor center. It’s only 0.4 miles from the visitor center.

The Starved Rock to French Canyon trail, which also takes you to the lookout point atop the eponymous rock is 0.7 miles one-way.

This trail is, like most in the park, very well maintained.

As it is one of the most beautiful falls in the park, and the closest to the visitor center, is it heavily trafficked in high season. Come early if you want to see the waterfall without crowds.

To see the waterfall from below you will have to get your feet wet. Where you enter the canyon you have to walk a short while in the creek.

We would definitely recommend wearing waterproof hiking shoes. Here is an overview of the best lightweight waterproof hiking shoes.

Kids love sliding down the mini-falls at the entrance of the canyon.

The best time to see the waterfall is in spring, when the snow melts. It will also be more beautiful after heavy rainfall.

If the waterfall flows too hard it will become a little treacherous to enter the canyon. In that case you can still see it from above.

During winter this waterfall freezes. If you decide to hike to this frozen Starved Rock waterfall, we advise you to bring ice cleats as the entrance of the canyon will be very slippery and certain other parts of the trail may be icy as well.

How to get there

These falls are close to the visitor center. The direct out-and-back trail from the visitor center is 0.4 miles one-way.

You can also combine them with other parts of the park such as the viewpoint on top of the starved rock sandstone butte. This would lengthen the trail to 0.7 miles one-way.

Or you can hike a loop which takes you first to French Canyon and follows the Bluff trail to Wildcat Canyon to return along the river where you have nice viewpoints at Beehive, Eagle Cliff and Lover’s leap. This loop is 2 miles.

There’re endless combinations for beautiful hikes in Starved rock, you can be creative.

Conclusion

As said above, French Canyon is close to the visitor center, so it’s usually a little busy.

As one of Starved Rocks’ big waterfalls, it draws attention. The hike to this beautiful canyon is suitable for hikers of all ages and kids will love to play in the mini-falls at the entrance of the canyon.

The Wildcat Canyon Falls are one of the highest in Starved Rock State Park
The Wildcat Canyon Falls are one of the highest in Starved Rock State Park

Wildcat Canyon Falls

  • Where: Located 1 mile the visitor center
  • Height: 80′
  • Highlights: This is a beautiful waterfall in a dramatic canyon. It is worth a visit any time of the year.
  • Best time for pics: Spring or after heavy rain. In winter to see the icefall.
  • Price: Free

Short description of the waterfall

These falls are one of the tallest in the park. It is located in the Wildcat canyon which is the deepest canyon in the park.

The waterfall can be seen from atop as well as from inside the canyon. There are two overlooks at the top of the canyon and there is a staircase that leads to the bottom.

Don’t get too close to the rim of the canyon and take care when descending the stairs. The steps can become very slippery.

People have fallen to their deaths here.

At the bottom of the stairs you will need to cross the creek to get to the falls.

The falls are also impressive when frozen and this is also one of only three spots in the park where ice climbing is allowed.

If you want to climb the icefall you will need to register at the visitor center first.  There they  will tell you which falls are safe to climb.

The waterfall tends to be at its fullest in springtime and will slow to a trickle in summer but the impressive icefall makes the canyon worth visiting year-round.

How to get there

The hike to the Wildcat Canyon Falls is a 2-mile loop. At the visitor center start by following the bluff trail. You will arrive at the top of the Wildcat canyon where you can take the stairs down to the bottom.

To get back to the visitor center you can follow the river trail.

It is also possible to combine French Canyon and Wildcat Canyon. To do so follow signs for the Campanula trail at the visitor center.

Conclusion

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

The hike is a little more demanding than the one to the French Canyon but it is still one that classifies as a good family outing.

They are relatively close to the visitor center and therefore they tend 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 Falls

  • Where: At the far east end of the park, about 4 miles from the visitor center one-way
  • Height: 45′
  • Highlights: Dramatic plunge, a frozen waterfall in winter, and the ability to walk behind the fall depending on the conditions
  • Best time for pics: Spring or after heavy rain. Winter for a frozen plunge
  • Price: Free

Short description of the falls

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

Ottowa Canyon is about the same size in depth and in height as the French canyon.

Compared with its neighbor Kaskaskia Canyon, this canyon is deeper but the waterfall has less water.

The falls are still dramatic nonetheless, and as the trail is accessible year-round, if you visit in winter you might just see a frozen waterfall, how cool is that.

Make sure to walk behind the falls if possible as the view is spectacular.

You used to be able to climb to the rim of this canyon but the stairs have been removed after they were damaged by a tree.

How to get there

You can follow the riverside trail from the visitor center to get to Ottowa Canyon falls ( 3.9 miles one way), but you can also drive part of the way and park in the canyon’s designated parking lot.

This parking lot is located on the eastern edge of the park off of State Route 71.

From this parking lot it’s only a 0.5 miles hike to the waterfall.

Depending on the time of the year it may be necessary to wade through the creek.

It’s advised to wear waterproof hiking shoes.

Conclusion

Ottawa Canyon falls are a fantastic year-round adventure. They can be accessed easily regardless of the season and have a breathtaking view.

The trail is suitable for hikers of all ages and abilities, and the waterfall is a frozen spectacle in winter.

Aurora Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park seen from atop
The Aurora Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park are small but pretty.

Aurora Canyon Falls

  • Where: Located 0.2 miles to the west of the visitor center
  • Height: Two-tiered fall with the lower fall being 10′
  • Highlights: This is a less-visited waterfall that is located so close to the visitor center that it can be easily combined with any of the other falls that we cover in this post.
  • Best time for pics: Spring or after a heavy rain
  • Price: Free

Short description of the falls

Aurora Canyon falls is situated just 0.2 miles from the visitor center. They’re so close that you will actually hear the water falling from the moment you hit the trail.

This trail and waterfall are often quieter than the other trails at Starved Rock State Park because they are located at the western side of the park. The trailhead is at the opposite side of the visitor center, behind the lodge.

There are very few stairs leading to the Aurora canyon.

The trail takes you to the top of the fall and the only real significant staircase is the one that leads down into the canyon if you also want to see the interior canyon view.

The falls are a two-tiered plunge, and the lower drop is only 10′ tall.

How to get there

The trailhead is located behind the Starved Rock lodge.

You should follow the brown signs, for the Bluff trail, in the direction of the St. Louis Canyon. You start by crossing a wooden bridge over the park road.

Once over the bridge, you are already close.

Conclusion

Aurora Canyon falls are at the western side of the park, and therefore they are usually a little more peaceful.

The canyon trail isn’t very long and the falls although less dramatic than some of the others at starved rock are still worth a visit.

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

Tonty Canyon Falls

  • Where: Located 1.9 miles from the visitor center (2.5 miles as long as the Tonti bridge is closed)
  • Height: 60’
  • Highlights: Tonti canyon is dramatic and boasts not one but two waterfalls
  • Best time for pics: Spring with the snowmelt or after a heavy rain
  • Price: Free

Short description of the falls

The falls at Tonti Canyon will take your breath away.

The towering canyon walls are 60 – 70 foot high, and the lead wall sits behind one of the falls.

Tonti is one of the bigger waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park and is truly a magnificent spectacle.

What makes it truly unique is that you get to see not one, but two large waterfalls.

The streams that feed these two falls dry up relatively quickly. If you want to see them are their best you must visit the canyon in spring when the snow melts or after heavy downpour. Nothing about this canyon and these falls are disappointing. 

It’s best to pack some water shoes for accessing this canyon as the entrance and large parts of the canyon are flooded if the water is flowing.

How to get there

It used to be possible to access the Tonty canyon by using the Tonty bridge from the river trail. This bridge was damaged in 2018 and is closed since then, it is unclear if it will ever reopen.

This means that the canyon can now only be reached through the trail from La Salle that runs behind the falls. It’s a spectacular path and the Tonty canyon is absolutely worth the detour.

Because of the detour the canyon is also quieter as usual which only adds to the charm.

Conclusion

The Tonty falls are a real spectacle to behold. The canyon itself is towering and dramatic, and the dual falls flowing into the base are truly unique.

Water Shoes are a must for proper exploration if the water is flowing.

Nothing about this canyon will disappoint.

Visit in spring for the best results.

Fungi on a tree in Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park is also very beautiful in the autumn.

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. If you are looking for hotels or the best towns to stay near Starved Rock, click here.

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.

Waterfall in Sac Canyon Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Another beautiful waterfall in Starved Rock State Park

Tips for visiting Starved Rock State Park

If you are looking for more Starved Rock travel tips, click here.

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, each with their own waterfall.

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. Visitors can hike the 13 miles of trails, rent canoes or go fishing. In the winter some of the falls are open to experienced ice climbers.

Also in the winter bird spotters can see bald eagles from the top of Starved Rock.

Not sure with waterfall is your favorite? See them again in this web story about Starved Rock State Park.

When will you visit Starved Rock State Park?

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