As Illinois’ most popular state park, and one of the best nature destinations in the Midwest, Starved Rock State Park is a hot spot for fall colors. The breathtaking park features 18 beautiful, tree-lined canyons, a massive selection of trails for all levels of experience, panoramic views of the Illinois River and a historic lodge and dining hall overlooking miles of fall foliage. Here are three great activities that you can enjoy this weekend at Starved Rock.
1. Admire the fall colors
Starved Rock sports one of the state’s best scenic drives; Route 71 is a wonderfully winding road that takes you from a scenic riverfront lane to the sparse prairie land outside the park, before snaking over several canyons and past towering fall-tinted trees. You’ll find this drive and countless other outdoor activities for soaking in the changing season on your visit to Starved Rock State Park.
Both the Starved Rock Lodge and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources offer a variety of guided hikes led by experienced naturalists. The experts will take you to some of the best fall color photo-ops throughout the park on half-hour to one-hour group hikes. The lodge also offers popular fall colors trolley tours, for those who’d like to see the leaves without having to hike the trails.
2. Explore the canyons
Starved Rock is best known for its stunning bird’s-eye views of the Illinois River, seasonal waterfalls and its many glacially carved sandstone canyons. No trip to the park would be complete without exploring and photographing a few of the unexpected natural wonders. Here are three of the most popular canyons in Starved Rock.
St. Louis Canyon: Just a few minutes to the west of the Visitors Center, off Illinois Route 178, you’ll find the parking lot for St. Louis Canyon. At the end of this 0.4-mile hike, you’ll be treated to an impressive box canyon, complete with a tall waterfall and hidden alcove that runs behind it. Even when the falls aren’t in season, the canyon’s towering walls of intricate sandstone make for quite a sight.
French Canyon: One of the easiest hikes in the park just so happens to lead to one of the most spectacular canyons. Located just 0.4-miles southeast of the Visitors Center, French Canyon offers a towering 45-foot-tall waterfall during the rainy season, and beautifully eroded St. Peter sandstone all year round. After a rainfall, admire the colorful streaks left on the canyon walls by the mineral-rich water.
LaSalle Canyon: Located about a mile from the recently reopened Parkman’s Plain parking lot, LaSalle Canyon boasts a wide picturesque canyon and jutting sandstone shelf suspended 20 feet off the ground. Best of all, your hike to the canyon will wind along the Illinois River, providing a great view of the waterway and a chance to see some rare birds and foliage.
3. Dine on The Veranda
If you’re looking for a bite to eat, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant with a more awe-inspiring view than the Starved Rock Lodge’s Veranda. Providing guests with a remarkable panorama of the flowing Illinois River and the titular Starved Rock, The Veranda also boasts a full menu of delicious food and refreshing hand-crafted drinks.
You’ll find a menu featuring items like Ale Fried Walleye, Slow Braised Pot Roast, Chopped Salad, Margherita Flatbread and Wisconsin Beer Brats. The Veranda also offers such beverages as seasonal craft beer and La Salle-based August Hill Wine. It is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of the week, and the adjacent indoor dining hall is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.