Tall bluffs, towering trees and dramatic canyons make Starved Rock State Park feel like it’s worlds away from Chicago. In reality, though, Starved Rock is less than 100 miles from the city, which makes it a fantastic destination for viewing the colorful show that Mother Nature puts in the fall.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for visiting Starved Rock State Park, the most visited state park in Illinois.
Do bring older kids
“The park is especially good for tweens and older children,” says Kathy Casstevens, marketing director at Starved Rock Lodge. These ages not only love exploring the canyons and spotting wildlife, but they’re also capable of handling themselves on a hike and carrying all their own items.
Casstevens notes that hiking with small children can be dangerous, especially when conditions are muddy and trails are slippery. She advises holding their hands and bringing plenty of drinks. Kerry Novak, superintendent of the park, recommends the French Canyon Trail for families.
Do stay on the trails
While this may seem obvious, it’s amazing the number of people who stray away from the trails. Doing so is not only potential grounds for a fine, but it’s also dangerous.
“We want people to be aware of trail safety. Stay on the trail, don’t get off on unauthorized trails and stay behind the safety fences,” Novak says.
Do bring a trash bag
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources asks that guests take their trash with them when they leave the park.
Don’t expect waterfalls in autumn
Word gets around about Starved Rock State Park’s stunning waterfalls. However, word does not always get around that the waterfalls are seasonal. That means that they are usually dry in the fall. Fear not, there are many breathtaking sights to behold and you can always see the Illinois River. But it’s best to have reasonable expectations. (Good advice for any family outing, really.)
Don’t bring strollers
While strollers are not prohibited, the trails aren’t stroller friendly. There are also many steps throughout the park, and lugging a stroller up and down them is challenging, to say the least.
Do check out special events
There’s a lot going on at Starved Rock in autumn. Listen to stories told by talented storytellers on Saturday evenings in October and expect a Halloween theme on Oct. 29, with stories getting spookier as the night gets later.
Do arrive early
The park can become crowded and sometimes close when parking lots are full. The earlier you arrive, the more likely you are to avoid the crowds and any closures. Follow the park on social media to get the latest info on closures. Staying overnight at the Lodge is a good way to get an early start on the trails.
Don’t wait too long to book at the Lodge
If you’re looking to do an overnight visit, book early. Reservations at the Lodge are accepted two years in advance. It’s particularly popular on Thanksgiving weekend.