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Things to do in Starved Rock: 12 best Starved Rock activities you shouldn’t miss

Looking for the best things to do in Starved Rock? You’ve came to the right place to learn all about the best Starved Rock activities.

Starved Rock park has been recognized as the best state park in Illinois. If you see this long list of amazing things that you can do in and around this beautiful domain you will surely understand why.

The park is an outdoor lovers paradise all-year round. There are marvelous trails to explore and you can take your adventures to the bordering Illinois river.

There’s no reason to stay away in the winter. The trails are excellent for snowshoeing and adrenaline junkies will find a challenge climbing the frozen waterfalls.

You can make a weekend of it and discover the region where you can go wine tasting, visit a brewery or explore neighboring Matthiessen State Park. Click here if you are looking for a place to stay near Starved Rock.

Here’s an overview of 11 things to do at Starved Rock, read on to learn more about these fun activities.

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Overview of fun things to do in Starved Rock

Here’s a comparison table of all the Starved Rock attractions. Read on below the table for more information about these fun activities.

Best things to do at Starved Rock

Highlights
The Council Overhang in Starved Rock State Park Go hiking

With over 13 miles of trails, Starved Rock is a hiker’s paradise.

Go chasing waterfalls

The chance of seeing some amazing waterfalls. Especially if you are visiting in early spring.

Go canoeing, kayaking or rafting

The chance of having some water fun.

Go fishing

The Illinois River and Vermillion River offer plenty of opportunities for fishing. You could also join a guided fishing tour.

Go snowshoeing or ice climbing

During winter, Starved Rock changes into a winter wonderland. Enjoy activities such as snowshoeing or ice climbing.

Bald Eagle Spot Bald Eagles

The chances of seeing Bald Eagles in Starved Rock during winter.

Explore Matthiessen State Park

Enjoy a more off-the-beaten-path experience while exploring the beautiful Matthiessen State Park.

Visit a winery

After a day of hiking, visit a winery and relax while enjoying a glass of wine

Visit a brewery

Visit a craft brewery and taste award-winning beers.

Visit a museum

Combine nature and culture by visiting a museum.

William Reddick Mansion Stroll or bike around Ottawa

Explore the charming downtown area of Ottawa and keep an eye out for colorful murals that can be seen at different places throughout town.

Go skydiving

See Starved Rock from above and have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Council Overhang in Starved Rock State Park
Hiking is one of the best activities you can do in Starved Rock

What to do in Starved Rock

Hiking in Starved Rock State Park

Let’s start with the obvious, a great way to escape the everyday grind is to explore Starved Rock State Park on foot. The park has over 13 miles of trails. You can follow the Illinois river bank or you can stay inside the woods. Regardless of your choice, the hikes are beautiful and lead to impressive canyons.

Except for some flights of stairs you encounter when entering and leaving certain canyons, the trails are mostly flat and can be enjoyed by the whole family.

The icing on the cake are the waterfalls that can be found in the canyons.

Tips for hiking Starved Rock State Park

  • It’s best to wear proper hiking shoes. Most trails are very well-maintained but they are still trails in the woods. Only a small fraction is paved.
  • To enter some canyons you may need to wade through a river. Wear waterproof hiking shoes or bring an extra pair. You will sometimes need to get a little wet for the best views.
  • We advise you to wear hiking leggings and bring trekking poles with you. For an overview of cheap trekking poles, click here. If you are looking for lightweight trekking poles, check out this post.
  • Stop by the visitor center to check the trail conditions. Sometimes trails are closed because of falling rocks or other hazardous situations.
  • Don’t forget to bring water and snacks.
Chasing waterfalls is one of the best things to do in Starved Rock
The beautiful St Louis Canyon Falls

Chasing waterfalls

If you’re in Starved Rock you can’t miss the beautiful waterfalls. They’re literally everywhere. The park has 18 canyons, each formed by a different stream, and they all hide a waterfall. Some are as high as 80 foot but even the smaller ones are truly wonderful.

It’s relatively easy to map a route that takes you past some of the best falls the park has to offer. Pick up a copy of the trail map or  download the PDF on your phone. 

The French canyon falls are close to the visitor center and beloved by kids who can play in the mini-falls at the entrance of the canyon.

Ottawa canyon is a little further out but worth the extra miles because it is the only place in the park where you can walk behind the waterfall.

Just know that many of these falls dry up completely in the summer. To see them in all their glory you should plan your visit in early spring when the meltwater boosts the flow.

Kaskaskia Canyon, a beautiful canyon in Starved Rock State Park
Kaskaskia Canyon

Canoeing, kayaking, and rafting

In the summer there may be no water in the falls, but that does not mean that there should be no water fun.

The Illinois river that borders the park offers endless opportunities for family fun and to cool down during balmy summer days. Lone point shelter, right in the state park, has a boat ramp for small boats, kayaks, and canoes.

If you don’t have your own gear it’s possible to rent kayaks and if you don’t feel at ease exploring the Illinois river on your own, you can join an organized tour.

Kayak rentals typically start by the end of April and run until October.

This is also when you can go white water rafting. This activity takes place on the Vermilion River, a class II-III whitewater river, just 10 minutes from Starved Rock. The river counts 14 sets of rapids, most of them graded as 1’s or 2’s although some will become class 3 when there is more water in the river.

It’s a great river for beginners and a fun starved rock activity to do with kids. White water rafting is a great Starved Rock adventure!

Go fishing

With the Illinois River and the Vermilion river, the Starved Rock area offers plenty of opportunities for fishing.

If you bring your own boat you can start your fishing trip at Lone Point Shelter. At Lone Point Shelter you can launch your boat in the Illinois River where you can catch white bass, catfish, and more. The stretch between Starved Rock and Henry is recognized as one of the best by anglers.

The nearby Vermilion river offers more excellent fishing opportunities. Bluegill and Catfish are abundant in this stream. It’s possible to go fly fishing but you can also drop a pole from your raft, kayak, or canoe.

Guided fishing tours are available from nearby Oglesby.

Go snowshoeing or ice climbing

Once snow sets in, Starved Rock changes into a little winter playground. There are some fun Starved Rock winter activities, outdoor enthusiasts will find that the park is perhaps even more enchanting in winter than at other times of the year.

Strap on your goofy-looking snowshoes and hit the trails to see the stunning icefalls.

4 of these ice falls are open to ice climbing if the ice conditions allow it. The shortest, at only about 20 feet is LaSalle, the tallest one is Wildcat which is 90+ feet.

Only experienced ice climbers are allowed and you need to register at the visitor center before you start your Starved Rock adventure.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

Spot Bald Eagles

Spotting Bald Eagles is another great Starved Rock winter activity. These predatory birds migrate from Canada to winter in the United States.

A large population does not fly further south than Illinois and Starved Rock offers great opportunities to see them.

They can be spotted from the Lover’s Leap and Eagle Cliff overlook.

The park also hosts a yearly Eagle Watch weekend during which they have several guided tours for Eagle Viewing. See the park’s website for all the info.

Explore Matthiessen State Park

If you’re in the area why not visit 2 alluring nature parks instead of just 1.

Matthiessen State Park is just 5 minutes from Starved Rock and offers a little more off-the-beaten-path experience.

Starved Rock is popular and Matthiessen often serves as a backup plan if it’s closed due to overcrowding.

The park however really deserves a little more love than just that. In fact, because the two parks are so close to each other, it makes sense that they are really very much alike. Matthiessen State Park is also built around canyons and as you explore the park you will come across waterfalls and lot’s of water in the form of rivers, creeks, and lakes.

The park can be discovered on foot but you will also find horseback riding trails.

In winter some of the trails are groomed for cross country skiing.

Matthiessen state park Illinois
Matthiessen state park (Photo credits: Tripp)

Visit a winery

After a thrilling day of hiking, snowshoeing, rafting, or any of the other fun activities you can do in the Starved Rock area, why not wine down at one of the wineries in the region. You can discover some of the local creations of sweet, sparkling, and dry wines.

If you’re hungry from being outdoors all day you can order some delicious bites to share while you’re enjoying your wines.

Unfortunately the Illinois River Winery is currently closed but you can still visit the August Hill Winery.

Visit a brewery

If wine is not your thing, you might be more into a refreshing beer after a day full of thrills. We’ve got good news for you, there are plenty of fresh brews in the Starved Rock area.

The breweries are proud of their farm to foam approach, they only use hops grown on their own farmlands right down the road.

You can find two craft breweries in Ottawa where you can try award-winning beers like the Vermilion River Weiss.

There’re over 30 homebrew beers to taste, enough for numerous cozy evenings with friends or relatives.

Hegeler Carus Mansion
Hegeler Carus Mansion (Photo credits: Terence Faircloth)

Visit a museum

It is possible to combine culture with nature when you’re in Starved Rock. The area is home to two historic mansions that today are turned into museums.

The Hegeler Carus Mansion was constructed in 1876 on behalf of Edward C. Hegeler who at that time was a partner in the local zinc company. The architect was William W. Boyington who also designed the Chicago Water Tower and the Illinois State Capitol. The mansion has an impressive total of 57 rooms…

Another mansion turned museum is the former home of William Reddick. The Reddick Mansion was constructed in 1858 and is a beautiful example of Italianate style. It is one of the largest homes to have survived the civil war.

Reddick was a big supporter of public education, in his will he asked that the home would serve as a public library after his death. It has also been a natural history museum for a while. Later on, it was turned into a museum.

Stroll or bike around Ottawa

Ottawa features an idyllic and charming downtown area. The William Reddick mansion steals the show but there are many more beautifully restored and well-maintained Victorian homes.

While exploring downtown keep an eye out for the colorful murals that can be seen at various places throughout the town. Head for the Zeller Inn when you get thirsty. The original tavern was founded in 1871, today it no longer stands in its original location, but it still has the authentic mahogany bar, stained glass door, marble counters and beautiful tiled floors.

If you are looking for a guided tour of Ottawa, have a look at the Ottawa Obscura bike tour. This bicycle tour gets very good reviews. Customers said this is such a fun and informative tour. They also loved Tom the tour guide.

More information and bookings:
Ottawa Obscura bike tour

Do you want to explore more charming small towns in Illinois? Here’s a complete list.

William Reddick Mansion
William Reddick Mansion (Photo credits: JabSVBS13)

Go skydiving

Ottawa is also home to one of the largest skydive resorts in all of America. This is the ultimate thrill ride where you can see Starved Rock from above.

Tandem skydives are available every day of the week, reservations are not required but if you do reserve you can book at a lower price.

Conclusion

Starved Rock offers something for everybody. Nature lovers can spend days exploring the two state parks while those looking for thrills can explore the white water rivers or go to new heights while skydiving.

The area will never fail to amaze with fun activities in every season. The splendid falls in spring, the water activities in summer, colorful foliage in autumn and lastly the joy of snowshoeing or ice climbing in winter.

When will you visit Starved Rock State Park?

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

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