Starved Rock State Park
You’ll never find a hidden gem more worthwhile than Starved Rock State Park located about an hour southwest of Chicago, Illinois.
A week ago, I spent a wonderful day exploring Starved Rock State Park and the smaller but equally as beautiful Matthiessen State Park, located just a few miles south of Starved Rock. Filled with breathtaking canyons, waterfalls, and beautiful scenes of the Illinois River, this is one place that I travel back to again and again.
Here’s the thing: With over 15 miles of hiking trails in Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Park combined, there’s a lot to see and do. This is also a popular tourist destination, due to the Native American legend at “The Starved Rock.” Sometimes, the trails can become crowded and hard to navigate with families, small children, and dogs.
That’s where I come in. I’ve created the ultimate secret guide to hiking at Starved Rock that will leave you feeling relaxed and not stressed. Keep reading to find out more.
A Quick Stop at Matthiessen
We began our day at Matthiessen State Park. In my opinion, the best waterfall in the area is at Matthiessen. It is called Cascade Falls and the pool that it creates is called the Wishing Well. The stone bridge overlooking the falls perfectly frames this multi-level waterfall. The best part is that you can see it from all angles. You can cross the bridge, hike down into the canyon, and even cross the stream at the top.
This is the best first stop on your hike because if you get there early, you’ll beat the crowd. The later in the day it is, the more likely you’ll have some random kids swimming or climbing the rocks behind the fall in your pictures!
After we stopped at the falls, we hiked up to walk across the stream at the top of the waterfall. In the picture below, you’ll see the cool stepping stones that you can use to cross the larger streams in this park. These stones looked like a fairytale!
Matthiessen State Park Map downloadable (From Illinois DNR website)
The Secret to Starved Rock State Park
After we stopped at the Cascade Falls at Matthiessen, we headed over to Starved Rock State Park. Starved Rock is the first place I go anytime I need to refresh with a day spent wandering in nature. It really is such a peaceful place.
PRO TIP: If you don’t care about seeing “The Starved Rock” or just want to avoid the crowds, begin your hike at Starved Rock away from the Visitor’s Center. We always park at a parking lot about 2.5 miles down the trail from the Visitor’s Center near Owl Canyon Overlook and then hike East toward Kaskaskia Canyon. There are other parking lots between Owl Canyon and Kaskaskia Canyon that you can park at as well.
We’ve found that by parking further away from the Visitor’s Center, we have a much more relaxing time. The trail is clear and peaceful this far down.
Blooms and Waterfalls
While we were there (in late April), the wildflowers were in bloom! It added a surreal quality to the already unbelievable landscape. To see all of the colors tucked within the canyons is something I’ll never forget!
Our favorite place to hike to is actually across Highway 71 where the trails to Ottawa Canyon and Kaskaskia Canyon meet at the Council Overhang. Both Ottawa Canyon and Kaskaskia Canyon have beautiful and unique waterfalls, and it is convenient that they are so close to each other.
In these pictures above and below, we are at Kaskaskia Canyon. I love the ruggedness of this waterfall!
Starved Rock State Park Map downloadable (from Starved Rock State Park website)
If you are ever in Northern Illinois, you must get to Starved Rock to hike the amazingly well-kept trails. There’s something new to see every time. Be sure to use my tips and tricks to have a relaxing day at one of the greatest parks around! You can also check out our post about our favorite hiking boots.