Year-round, Starved Rock State Park’s towering canyons are visible and an active testament to the beautiful landscape that embraces this side of the Illinois River. It’s a setting that everyone can get enjoyment from. No matter the season, no matter the journey, you’re sure to soak up some fun at Starved Rock in Oglesby, IL.
Spring brings new life and cascading waterfalls; summer brings wildflowers and a taste for adventure. Fall’s colors never seem to disappoint, and winter’s icy wonderland creates a setting worth talking about. It’s a place where recreation doesn’t have to end as the temperature dances from one end of the thermometer to the next. In fact, many visitors like to enjoy the off-season, as it brings about a level of serenity not seen during active months.
This delightful piece of Illinois is easily one of the state’s most beautiful destinations. There are 18 separate canyons, featuring vertical sandstone walls and moss-covered stones. Of these 18 canyons, about 14 sport some spectacular waterfalls. Visitors will also enjoy more than 13 miles of trails, most of which provide access to these different falls. Others go off to natural springs, sandstone overhangs, or awe-inspiring overlooks. The park can be described as “lush” and full of life. It is a place where all sorts of opportunity abounds.
Come here to camp, fish, ski, hike, or simply park and take in the views. This is your RV adventure, and Starved Rock State Park won’t disappoint.
RV Rentals in Starved Rock State Park
Transportation in Starved Rock State Park
The roads leading to, and throughout the park, are laid out fairly straightforward. Signage is easily navigated, as are area maps. However, there are areas around the Visitor Center, the Lodge, and leading to the campground that seem to give some of the larger rig visitors a bit of grief. There is a rather low bridge leading off toward the grounds, so you will want to ensure your vehicle will make clearance. Reservations do not include directions or information as to where to check in, so you will have to plan ahead and try to familiarize yourself with where you’ll want to go beforehand.
As this is a rather popular state park to visit in Illinois, you can expect the parking lots to be filled during peak seasons and optimal weather conditions. Several of the parking areas that lead to hiking trails and lookout points within the canyon will land on the side of “impossible”. If you’ve brought an extra vehicle, you may want to try to beat the crowds, as many lookout points and other areas of interest lie several miles from the campground. If you’re up for it, parking at the campground and making your way on foot or bicycle is really the way to go.
Campgrounds and parking in Starved Rock State Park
Campsites in Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock Campground
The campground is open all year long (unless posted otherwise), but does not require reservations in order to stay. Don’t be fooled - that doesn’t mean you won’t want to make them. Peak seasons don’t make for very fruitful spur-of-the-moment trips that will also guarantee a spot suitable for your rig. This campground can fill up fast. Reservations must be made more than three days prior to arrival, but can be made up to six months in advance. All reservations are made online and there is a non-refundable fee associated with all reservations.
Starved Rock Campground
Upon arrival, guests are able to find information at the Campground Permit Booth for self-registration and walk-in sites. Starved Rock’s campground features 129 campsites that all come equipped with a full cement pad. This is perfect for RV and camper parking, though tent camping is also permitted here. Sites accommodate visitors further with a picnic table, fire pit, and hookups for electric.
Visitors are allowed to keep two vehicles at their site. If there are more, extra vehicles will have to park in the small lot at the ground’s entrance. Port-a-potties are found throughout the campground and guests will also find two separate shower houses with flush toilets. Upon entering and exiting the campgrounds, please be sure to make use of the dump stations.
If you’ve brought the kids, a playground area provides a perfect spot for them to run off the day’s energy. What you shouldn’t bring: firewood. All firewood should be purchased at the campground as well as from local gas stations in Utica, Illinois. But, nothing outside of LaSalle County. During firearms hunting seasons, the campground is closed in order to ensure guest safety.
RVs and trailers looking to park outside of Starved Rock, or those who weren’t lucky enough to snag a reservation, can find accommodations in the nearby towns of Ottawa, Utica, Oglesby, LaSalle, and Peru. “Sister park”, Matthiessen State Park, also offers spectacular sites that are only a couple of miles from Starved Rock.
When campers are looking to stay with a little more style, visitors can enjoy the creature comforts of Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center. Here, you’ll find all the modern conveniences encased in a seasoned, 75-year-old cabin. The Lodge regularly hosts tours throughout the park and welcomes all to dine at its multiple restaurants. You’re certainly not without options.
Seasonal activities in Starved Rock State Park
Kayaking and Canoeing
The Illinois River is sectioned off with available areas that are designated as “safe for use” for daily activities. Water sports are avidly enjoyed here, especially kayaking and canoeing. It’s such a wonderful, peaceful way to get out on the water. Even if you didn’t bring along your own equipment, you aren’t without opportunity to indulge in this recreation. Starved Rock has daily rentals that can be booked online or paid in person.
When out for a fishing trip, it’s important for visitors to note that boats are not permitted within 600 feet of the dam. Strong currents and powerful undertows can make for a sketchy and dangerous outing. It’s best to simply avoid all that and stick to where the waters are known to be calm. Boats may be launched off of the western end of the park. Those looking to get a few bites may reel in catfish, bullheads, walleye, carp, white bass, crappies, and more. If you’re in need of some bait, feel free to head on down to the local bait shop to stock up.
Junior Ranger Programs
The park has many features for visitors of all ages to enjoy. To make sure your little one(s) gets the most out of your Starved Rock State Park experience, you can help them join in the Junior Ranger Programs. The program presents two separate workbooks; one for children up to 7 years and another for those 8 years and older. They are filled with all sorts of interactive activities for the kids to complete during their stay. Once completed, these workbooks can then be submitted for the Junior Ranger Certification. What a great way to learn more about the park!
Getting out and enjoying the natural beauty this park has to offer is just one of the added perks that coincides with bird watching. This area is a favorite spot for all things fowl, and annual migrations keep avian enthusiasts flocking to the site. Grab your binoculars. Bird watching is a superb way to explore the world around you and really embrace the beauty nature provides. If you haven’t ever tried bird watching, now may just be the chance.
Illinois is one of those areas that often feels almost endlessly flat. Farm country dominates this part of the state, so the topography of the park really lends a totally different feel. Starved Rock has been formed over thousands of years, as melting glaciers have carved through the earth. All this water eroded and broke down what had lain in its path, with the exception of the sandstone that now makes up the cascading valleys and towering canyon walls. It is in these 14 of the 18 canyons that you can witness spectacular waterfalls; some of the most scenic in the area. Come in spring if you really want a show.
Many equestrian enthusiasts make their way to Starved Rock State Park to enjoy the winding trails, steep canyons, and spectacular vistas. Some things just aren’t the same unless you’re atop of a horse. It’s okay if your horsepower ends with your vehicle; riding is available through Cedar Creek Ranch. It’s about a 15 minutes drive from the park and offers the best rides around (and through) the hills, valleys, and creeks of Starved Rock and nearby areas.
During the annual hunting season, both the Visitor Center and Starved Rock Lodge stay open, however, the campground does not. Quite a few hiking trails also remain open, but trails south of Route 71 are completely closed off to the general public. Hunters looking to enjoy the sport at Starved Rock State Park are only permitted to do so south of Route 71 and at neighboring Matthiessen State Park. Hunting is also only permitted during a specific time frame, typically well into December and throughout January. It’s best to check in with the park for more details.
This sport can be enjoyed in both the picnic area of the park and at neighboring Matthiessen State Park. If you don’t have your own equipment, you don’t have to miss out on the fun. Cross-country ski rentals are available at the Matthiessen Dells area every weekend throughout December and into March. It’s a perfect way to still get out and explore the grounds without being hindered by the snow.
In order to ice climb, climbers are expected to go as a group, bring their own equipment, and ensure all sign in using the log-in book at the front doors of the park’s maintenance building. This is across from the Visitor Center. If conditions allow, climbers may venture out and check the ice falls to see if they are suitable for climbing. The park does not, however, check the status of these ice falls. It’s certainly not a sport for the faint of heart. Those who dare to challenge the ice will find opportunities at LaSalle, Wildcat, Ottawa, and Tonti canyons.
Hiking during the off-seasons is such a serene experience. Throughout early winter, the park goes through many freezing and thawing phases, creating ever-changing ice formations within the canyon walls. They can be quite remarkable to behold. But, when there’s ice there, there’s also bound to be ice elsewhere. Be sure to come prepared with cleated shoes for extra traction to grip the slippery trails. Also, for novice hikers, don’t let the cold fool you - bring plenty of water!