Looking for your next family adventure? Located just 90 minutes southwest from downtown Chicago, the Starved Rock area is the ideal destination for those that need a little getaway. Here you’ll find serene forests, incredible waterfalls, stunning geological formations such as canyons and bluffs, as well as wildlife. The area also offers plenty of eats and other family fun that will keep you entertained for the entire trip.
With 18 canyons, waterfalls, and 13 miles of hiking trails, the beauty of nature awaits at Starved Rock State Park. Not sure if hiking’s your thing? Don’t worry, there are trails for novices. If you want easy access to a waterfall, then take the French Canyon trail to French Canyon. Head to Lover’s Leap Overlook and Eagle Cliff to hike a relatively easy trail with boardwalk and stairs. The Starved Rock gives you incredible views of the Illinois River as well as Plum Island. Tip: If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, drive past the visitor center and continue down to the other parking lots located down Rt. 71.
Located a mere few minutes away from Starved Rock State Park, you’ll find a hidden gem – Matthiessen State Park. Although smaller in size compared to its neighboring state park, the trails added a little bit more challenge to make it interesting but a whole lot of fun. They have a neat trail path right along the stream’s edge which gives you breathtaking views up close of the canyons, geological formations and waterfalls. We hopped along concrete stones and crossed streams and logs along the stream bed. Yes, we all got wet, and in the end, proudly proclaimed ourselves explorers.
Splash-tastic water fun awaits at Grand Bear Falls, the newly revamped waterpark at Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort. The 24,000 square feet waterpark is perfect for those with young families. Little ones can enjoy splishing and splashing at the kiddie area with a small slide as well as a bear “spitting” water. Explore all the interactive water features at the water playground with buckets, slides, and sprinklers. Have a blast riding the waves in the wave pool. Zip down the family slide together or chill out on the lazy river with the family. Adults can relax in the large whirlpool hot tub. Tip: The waterpark is open to the public from Thursday to Sunday. Call ahead to check availability.
Looking to fuel yourself for a day’s hike or ravenous after exploring the state parks? You’ll find plenty of food options to energize (or re-energize) yourself.
When the need for a caffeine fix presents itself, make a stop at Clark Street Coffee where they brew coffee roasted from local Starved Rock Coffee Company. While there, you won’t be able to resist the delicious smells of the baked items. My personal favorite is the cranberry orange scone.
You’ll feel like you just walked into someone’s home when you step inside Nonie’s. Grab any of the tempting freshly baked goods behind the glass case to go (the cinnamon roll bread pudding is a must try!) or stay awhile enjoying plenty of the breakfast (breakfast is served all day) or lunch options.
Looking for a little Cajun in Illinois? At Cajun Connection, you’ll find all the authentic Cajun food you’d ever want including alligator (according to the kids it tastes just like chicken), jambalaya, the “best” red beans and rice (according to my husband), or a satisfying bowl of gumbo. Pssst … don’t forget about the hush puppies!
You can’t go wrong with pizza and we were pleasantly surprised to find Pizzeria Vitale after a quick search. After having them deliver to our hotel room (a family favorite tradition), the whole family devoured the deliciously thin crust pizza.
For the ultimate family-friendly stay in the area, you’ll need to head to the Northwoods-themed lodging at Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort. Choose from different lodging options such as a family deluxe suite, a bunk bed suite, or even a cabin or villa to suit your family’s needs. The main draw here is the newly revamped Grand Bear Falls Waterpark with a wave pool, lazy river, kiddie areas, a water playground, body and tube slides, and a large whirlpool hot tub. (See more info above.)
Play more than 60 different games at the Cave Arcade and rack up some points to win coveted prizes. (They have really cool Namco prizes!) Challenge your family to a game of mini golf at Canyon Creek, the 18-hole miniature golf course located on-site. Other activities to keep the family busy include nightly story time told by Grizzly Jack and Grand Bear, movies, a fun playground and games to borrow from the front desk. End the day with a sweet treat at Honey Bear Sweet Shop serving coffee, cupcakes, and ice cream. (Read more about our stay here).
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