Kick Off Your New Year With A Winter Wildlife Trolley Tour

Starved Rock guided bus tours bring you close to bald eagles and buffalo

Winter trolley

Every winter, a small stretch of the Illinois River between Starved Rock State Park and the Illinois Waterway Visitors Center becomes a seasonal nesting point for beautiful bald eagles.

These majestic creatures, with wingspans upwards of 8 feet in length, pay Starved Rock a visit every year when more northerly states’ rivers and lakes begin to freeze. During their wintering season, which lasts anywhere between December and March, you’ll often spot these eagles circling above broken ice, trying to find their next meal, or roosting among the island’s tallest trees – but one of the best ways to spot them is on a Wildlife Trolley Tour.

Offered by the Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center, these climate-controlled Winter Wildlife Trolley Tours take you to some of the most stunning vistas in Starved Rock Country, and, with a little luck, give you a chance to spot some eagles and bison.

The Illinois Audubon Society’s Plum Island Sanctuary, located at the base of the Starved Rock Lock, commonly is used by eagles as a wintering site. The island’s seclusion and sturdy trees, as well as proximity to a non-iced-over section of the river, make Plum Island particularly desirable real estate for these feathered fliers. The tour also will take you to nearby Buffalo Rock State Park, where you can see the park’s three majestic resident bison. Their pen and grazing area conveniently are located just past the park’s main parking lot, giving you easy access to spot these towering titans of the prairie.

The sun shines above a frozen column waterfall in Ottawa Canyon at Starved Rock State Park on Monday Jan. 10, 2022. Icefalls are forming in nearly every canon in the park. Park staff recommends to be prepared for extremely icy staircases, trails, and canyons if you decide to visit Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Park. Proper footwear with clip ons such as Yak trax and ski poles or hiking sticks will help with balance.

Offered at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, the trolley bus trip will depart from the front of Starved Rock Lodge. The tour first will take you to Buffalo Rock State Park to view the bison, then you’ll travel to the Illinois Waterway Visitors Center observation deck to see if the group can spot a few of the famed bald eagles nesting above the lock and dam. Following this stop, you’ll pass a few other popular eagle-perching spots.

The whole tour will be narrated with history and legends of the region, creating an entertaining and educational trip you’ll be sure to remember for years to come. Each ticket includes a sack lunch as you board the trolley. The meal includes your choice of a turkey or veggie wrap, a bag of chips, granola bar, piece of fruit and bottle of water. Guests are encouraged to bring their own binoculars. Capacity for the trolley tours is limited; call 815-220-7386 to make reservations.

Looking to hit the trails? A similar guided winter hiking tour is offered by the lodge. On this informative trek, a knowledgeable trail guide will take you to some of the most scenic locales and lesser-known eagle-watching points in the park. In proper weather, you may even see a few of Starved Rock’s famed frozen waterfalls along your hike.

Joe Jakupcak, guided hike tour guide and retired geology teacher leads a group of tourists on a guided hike into Wildcat Canyon to watch the ice climbers on Sunday Feb, 21, 2021. Guided hikes are available to visitors on Saturdays and Sundays. See the Starved Rock Visitors Center for more information.

Tours will start at 10 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday in the Starved Rock Lodge hotel lobby, where you’ll meet your expert trail guide and fellow hikers. You’ll be given a Starved Rock backpack with a snack, bottled water and a voucher for a small hot chocolate or coffee from the cafe, to be used upon your return.

Participants are encouraged to dress appropriately for the weather, including proper footwear, such as Yaktrax. Capacity for the popular hikes is limited; call 815-220-7386 to make reservations.

Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center can be found at 1 Lodge Lane in Oglesby.