(credit: starvedrockstatepark.org)

By Kenneth Johnson

Drive two hours away from everything you thought Illinois was, right into a state park that’ll have you falling in love with the state all over again. If you thought everything south of I-80 was a corn field, Starved Rock State Park will show you the error of your ways. With four miles of canyons slicing through sandstone bluffs, seasonal waterfalls, scenic overlooks of the Illinois River, 13 miles of hiking trails, camping and a remodeled 1930s lodge for roughing it in style, a weekend getaway to this little slice of heaven is an absolute must no matter the season.

Getting There

Starved Rock State Park is about 100 miles, or a two-hour drive from the Loop via the Stevenson (I-55) and I-80. It’s a half hour or so less from the western suburbs. The park is a mile south of Utica and between LaSalle-Peru and Ottawa. Going west on I-80, take the Utica/Route 178 exit, go south for about three miles, and follow the signs into the Park. Or plug “2668 E. 875th Road, Oglesby, IL 61348” into your GPS and hit go.

(credit: starvedrockstatepark.org)

Starved Rock State Park Visitors Center
Route 178 and Route 71
Utica, IL 61373
(815) 667-4906

The park name comes from a 1760s conflict of Native American tribes after the killing of Pontiac, chief of the Ottawa tribe, by the Illiniwek. In one of the battles which followed, a band of Illiniwek — under attack by the Ottawa and their allies the Potawatomi — took refuge on top of one of the bluffs. The Ottawa and Potawatomi surrounded the bluff, but rather than surrender the Illiniwek held until they all died of starvation. Hence the name Starved Rock. Hiking trails start from the Visitors Center. Waterfalls in the canyons are dependent on rainfall and the winter thaw. Your best choices for seeing waterfalls are in French canyon (.8 mile round-trip), LaSalle Canyon (four miles round-trip), and St. Louis Canyon (three-mile round-trip). Trail maps are available at the Visitors Center and trail access points, and the trails are well marked on posts with colors and letters that match the maps. In addition, yellow dots on the posts indicate that you’re moving away from the Visitors Center, and white dots indicate returning. All hikers must be off the trails by dark, and biking is not allowed. Because of the fragile nature of the park ecosystem, there is no camping on the trails, and rock climbing and rappelling are not allowed.

Related: State Parks May Soon Begin Charging For Admission

Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center
PO Box 570
Utica, IL 61373
(800) 868-7625

Click here for rooms and rates

This stone and log lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and subsequently refurbished and expanded with a new hotel wing years later. Lodging includes 72 luxury hotel rooms, 22 cabin rooms and a Great Room centered around an immense stone fireplace. Amenities include an indoor swimming pool, saunas, a whirlpool and an outdoor sunning patio.

Related: Where To See The Best Of Fall

Starved Rock State Park Camping
(815) 667-4726

Price: $25 to $35 per night/$5 non-refundable reservation fee/$20 per night group camping

Starved Rock State Park offers roughly 130 Class A premium campsites with electricity, flush toilets and showers. Seven campsites are accessible for those with disabilities, and there is a separate youth group camping area. Alcohol is not allowed in the campgrounds, but leashed pets are welcome. Note that the campground is closed during firearm deer season for campers’ safety.

Related: Best Campgrounds In The Chicago Area

(credit: starvedrocklodge.com)

Starved Rock Lodge Main Dining Room
(815) 220-7321

The Lodge’s pine log Main Dining Room was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and is open year-round for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Sunday brunch is a local favorite, featuring a carving station, breakfast items, an omelet and waffle station, salads and 16 feet of desserts. Holiday buffets are served on Easter, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Reservations are recommended.

Back Door Lounge and Veranda
Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center
(815) 220-7375

The perfect spot for casual dining, drinks with friends, and a pint or two of Starved Rock Signature Ale, the Back Door Lounge is open year round. Enjoy live music every Friday night, and during the summer the music moves outside to the veranda Friday and Saturday nights from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. without a cover charge.

Kenneth Johnson is a freelance writer covering all things Chicago. His work can be found on Examiner.com.