IL State Parks: Starved Rock

by J. M. Pressley
First published: March 5, 2008

Starved Rock is one of the oldest state parks in Illinois, a series of forested, sandstone bluffs and canyons winding along the south bank of the Illinois River Valley.

Starved Rock is an Illinois state park along the south bank of the Illinois River Valley. Consisting of forested, sandstone bluffs that comprise some 18 canyons, Starved Rock is a genuine contrast to the rolling grass plains that comprise the bulk of Illinois terrain. There are some 13 miles of trails that meander through the canyons and along the river bank. In addition, there is a stone-and-log lodge on site that was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The park was officially established in 1911 and is the second oldest state park in Illinois.

The park is named for a particular 125-foot bluff that overlooks the Illinois River. The area was primarily inhabited by Native American tribes, most notably the Illinewek. Although the French built Fort St. Louis atop Starved Rock in 1682, the fort was soon abandoned and disappeared entirely by 1720. The name itself derives from a Native American tale of retribution. In the mid-1700s, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe was murdered by an Illinewek. As the legend has it, a small band of Illinewek fled to the bluff for protection against the Ottawa and Potawatomi; the enemy tribes surrounded them in a siege until the Illinewek starved to death atop the butte.

The cliffs offer spectacular views of the surrounding land, including several waterfalls and streams that cut through the park. Starved Rock supports an abundant variety of both plant and animal life. Fall is one of the most popular seasons at the park, with the oak and hickory trees bursting into brilliant hues. Hiking is the main attraction at the park, with numerous trail maps and markers to let visitors know where they are. Visitors are cautioned, however, to stay on official trails, especially along the bluffs where a misstep could result in serious injury. The trails are open to the public year-round, but only during daylight hours. Camping, boating, and fishing are also available in select areas of the park.

The lodge boasts a number of amenities, including an indoor swimming pool, restaurant, bar and grill, gift shop, and conference facilities. There are 72 rooms available within the lodge itself; 22 cabins are also available with hotel service. The park's campgrounds offer 133 Class A campsites. Hotel and camping reservations are recommended, especially during summer weekends, as the annual attendance of over 1 million visitors makes Starved Rock one of the busiest state parks in Illinois.

Getting There

Starved Rock State Park is located one mile south of Utica, Illinois, on Route 178. It's approximately 94 miles southwest of Chicago, and is reached via I-80. For specific directions and other park information, visit the Starved Rock website at