Starved Rock Hike Guide: LaSalle Canyon

2.6 mile hike to a photographer’s paradise

Starved Rock Country hike guides highlight the popular and lesser known trails in some of the area’s best parks. Today, we’ll feature LaSalle Canyon, considered by many to be Starved Rock State Park’s premier photo destination – and the perfect hike for your upcoming spring getaway.

The 2.6-mile trek to LaSalle Canyon is now easier to access than ever before, thanks to the recently expanded Parkman’s Plain Parking Lot. Conveniently located along Route 71 in Oglesby, this lot easily can accommodate more than 80 cars.

To begin your hike, you’ll depart the lot and take a short flat walk to where River Trail and Bluff Trail diverge. The Bluff Trail would take you to Owl Canyon and, eventually, Hennepin Canyon farther to the east. If you’re looking to explore the latter, consider parking at the Hennepin Canyon Overlook lot, along Route 71.

As you continue along the River Trail, you’ll encounter an enormous set of stairs that will take you down to the banks of the Illinois River. As we near spring, this jaunt is particularly beautiful, with the stairs encompassed by a thick canopy of greenery, providing only the occasional glimpse of the flowing river below.

Once at the base, you’ll be treated to a close-up view of the Illinois River. The many observation points along the trail make for excellent birding and boat-watching sites. Few other points in Starved Rock State Park will get you this close to the river, providing an eye-catching alternate view to the dense forest trails threading through most of the park. A number of scenic wooden bridges line the route, adding a sense of adventure to your LaSalle Canyon hike. To your left, you’ll spot several smaller canyons and sandstone gorges as you wind your way northwest.

Next, you’ll encounter “horseshoe bend,” a U-shaped turn in the River Trail that snakes inland, closer toward LaSalle Canyon. Near the beginning of the bend, you may notice a clearing off to your right. Located along a small tributary, this observation point provides a beautiful view of the arching wooden bridge that connects the River Trail to the northwest Wildcat Canyon.

From here, you’ll take a diversion away from the River Trail, which continues over the bridge and along the banks of the Illinois. If you continued on that path, you’d eventually get to the Sandstone Point Overlook, Lone Tree Canyon and Wildcat Canyon. Instead, you’ll take the trail marked LaSalle Canyon, which serpentines along the base of steep sandstone walls. With just a short walk inland, you’ll feel like you’re in a radically different locale than the flat River Trail.

After following a narrow cliffside trail, you’ll arrive at your destination. The cavernous LaSalle Canyon is one of the most photographed locations in the entire park. Your hike toward the mouth of the canyon slowly will reveal why this stunning site is so popular among photographers.

Outside of nearby Matthiessen State Park, there are few other locations in Starved Rock Country parks that display depth and drama quite as well as LaSalle Canyon. With its large sandstone overhangs, formed by glaciers and rising tides, and a sharp low plateau that creates a beautiful wide brim of water during the rainy season, LaSalle Canyon feels otherworldly and entirely unexpected in the flatlands of central Illinois.

The most exciting feature of LaSalle Canyon is the waterfall that runs nearly all year long. While many of Starved Rock’s more famous falls are highly seasonal and dependent on rainfall, LaSalle Canyon boasts at least a trickle of water throughout most of the year. A gorgeous ice fall usually forms at the canyon during the winter, one of the best specimens in the park.