Fitness Adventure: Hiking at Starved Rock State Park

I live in Illinois-a great state, but flat. No mountains, no cool hills that look like mountains to the untrained Midwesterner’s eye, like the ones in California. So, when me and the family took the delightful hour and a half trip to Utica, IL to Starved Rock State Park, I was both excited, but skeptical.  I mean, the website boasts hiking trails, nature and waterfalls. WATERFALLS! You only see those in Hawaii or Costa Rica, right? Surely the one in Utica, Illinois would pale in comparison. Despite that one, annoyingly negative thought, I was determined to see them and made it a personal mission to make sure that we did.

Starved Rock State Park has 18 canyons, most of which have waterfalls (!) that were formed by glacial meltwater and stream erosion (look it up!). It is 2, 630 acres of natural beauty, and years of Illinois Native American history to learn about.

We started our hike at the Visitor Center where it was announced that there would be a guided tour to French Canyon, where one of the larger waterfalls in the park would be.  We walked along with the group, with stops along the  way for the tour guide to quiz us about trees and Illinois state history.  There were winding stairs that led us to Lover’s Leap where there was a beautiful view overlooking the Illinois River. This walk can be considered moderately difficult because of the amount of walking that you do as well as the steep hills with stairs.  After admiring the view, we saw more colorful rock structures and wildflowers and circled around to Starved Rock.

Starved Rock offered similar views as Lover’s Leap, but you could also see the Starved Rock lodge. Here is where we took a quick break. The weather was nice but still hot and with four kids in tow, we made sure to pack water, sandwiches, bananas and granola bars-a must have when going on any kind of hike. Oh, yeah..and we saw eagles. A mama and babies in their nest. A nice man with a camera and telecsopic lens let us look through to see the nest. But who wants to see their nest? Babies at that? Psshtt..not me.

After our quick break we walked a while and descended into the cool shade of the trees overhead. I could hear water rushing in the distance, but could not see where or what it was coming from and so, the excitement mounted. We walked down past a little stream, which got wider-and muddier we moved along. Surrounded by smoothly wavy rock colored by moss and leaves, we moved along as the rushing water sounds got louder.  The pathway was kind of narrow..and muddy so we had to let a ground exiting the canyon pass before advancing.  We walked up the little, slippery path and then…the waterfall. Beautiful, rushing and pure.    Not only was there the waterfall, but there were a few small cavernous areas to climb into, much to the delight of the kids.

I took in the sights, breathed in the air and took pleasure in the fact that we had to work to see this wonderful reward.  Despite being alittle tired, wet and muddy it was well worth the time and effort it took to see the beauty before me.

A few tips before taking this or any other hike:

  • Take a few snacks in your backpack. Granola bars, trail mix, bananas and water are great choices.
  • Wear clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty.  That includes shoes. I would also consider an extra pair of socks-especially if you have kids along and there are wet spots and/or puddles.
  • Bring a first aid kit,a small one will do. Bug spray and maybe some anti-itch cream would be helpful.
  • Bring an extra plastic bag to store garbage in case you have trash from your snack that can’t be immediately thrown away.
  • When hiking with kids, be reaslistic on how far you want to go. We hiked about 5 miles with kids ranging from 14 to 4  without incident or whining. Just know everyone’s limits and remember to take a break. Use your best judgement when alone or with other adults as well, a hike is a great way to get a workout, but you also need be sure that you know the path well enough to get back to civilization, so keep a map and stay on the trails.

This fitness adventure added 5 more miles to my fitness journey with a sweet reward at the conclusion of it.  It was a great way to get a workout and spend meaningful time with family and highly recommended to try at least once-I’d be surprised if your first visit were your last.


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