Kick off your New Year with a winter hike

Reserve your spot for these guided hikes across Starved Rock Country

Photo provided by Starved Rock Lodge

Start your new year off on the right track by taking a guided hike at one of Starved Rock Country’s picturesque parks. At Starved Rock State Park and Dayton Bluffs Preserve, knowledgeable trail guides will take you to some of the most scenic locales and stunning overlooks these properties have to offer.

Gregg and Sue Flaherty, of Peru, take a winter hike to St. Louis Canyon at Starved Rock State Park on Wednesday Jan. 13. Some of the waterfalls in the canyons are beginning to freeze.

Starved Rock First Day Hike

Jan. 1, 2024 - 10 a.m.

One Lodge Lane, Oglesby

This guided hike, led by one of the lodge’s experienced naturalists, will take hikers to Wildcat Canyon, Eagle Cliff and Lover’s Leap. The tour will start at 10 a.m. in the Starved Rock Lodge’s hotel lobby for a meet-up with your 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.

On this informative guided hike, you may even spot some bald eagles soaring above the tree canopy. Every year, a multitude of eagles will use the lock and dam across the river as a winter fishing spot. The path of the guided hike affords you some of the best eagle-watching vantage points in the park. With the proper weather, you may even see a few of Starved Rock’s famed frozen waterfalls along your trek. Participants are encouraged to dress appropriately for the weather, including proper footwear. The cost of the guided experience is $20 per person. Capacity is limited; call 815-220-7386 to make your reservations.

Starved Rock State Park is a world apart from anything else in Illinois. Since the late 1800s, visitors have been trekking to this beautiful and unexpected stretch of nature to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. More than a century later, this still holds true. From the moment you first wind your car through the towering trees at the edge of the park, you will feel as if you are a world away from the Illinois you know. At Starved Rock, more than 13 miles of trails meander along, and above, the Illinois River.

While you explore these environs, you’ll find countless breathtaking views, places to hike, fish and simply relax in nature’s splendor. From the towering sandstone canyons to amazing seasonal waterfalls, there’s an awe-inspiring view around every corner. Whatever the season you choose to explore, a trip to Starved Rock will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.

Can’t make the New Year’s Day hike? A special Martin Luther King Jr. Day guided hike will be held Jan. 15, taking hikers to some of the park’s most popular scenic overlooks.

The Ottawa City Council authorized a grant application for a project at the 253-acre Dayton Bluffs Preserve that would be put towards putting in accessible parking to replace a gravel lot and provide paths instead of woodchip and grass-covered trails.

Dayton Bluffs First Day Hike

Between early morning and noon Jan. 1

2997 Illinois Route 71, Ottawa

Start the new year off on the right foot with a First Day Hike at Dayton Bluffs Preserve in Ottawa. Held on New Year’s Day, this free hike hosted by Friends of the Dayton Bluffs will show off the ongoing restoration efforts. This group hike will depart from the parking lot at 8 a.m., and lasts about two hours. Hikers are advised to wear layers due to unpredictable weather, and boots suitable for trekking through rugged terrain. After the hike, stick around to enjoy a bonfire and sip hot chocolate (free for the first 60 guests).

The Friends of the Dayton Bluffs trail experts will be able to provide background on the many artifacts that have been discovered at the park, the history of the pioneer cemetery located just to the north of the preserve, the glacial formations that carved out the region, and the ongoing restoration efforts that have turned a disused tract of land into one of Starved Rock Country’s best natural attractions. The wilderness area can be explored from sunup to sundown seven days a week. Come soak in the scenery, and catch glimpses of wildlife including deer, as well as turkey, bald eagles and dozens of other types of birds inhabiting the prairies and woodlands.

The unique preserve is steeped in history and beautiful restored prairie. Dayton Bluffs is home to Native American burial mounds along the preserve’s northwestern ridge trail. The path leads through tree cover and foliage, eventually opening up to a view of the Fox River to the left and 14 burial mounds to the right. It’s an area worth hiking slowly – an unknowing eye moving too quickly can mistake the indigenous burial mounds for rolling landscape. A trail loop at the park’s northeastern edge also introduces hikers to another patch of hallowed history: Daniels Cemetery, a pioneer cemetery dating back to the 1830s.

Dayton Bluffs’ steepest trail leads from the burial mound site down to the river. The river trail also can be accessed from the south, which has less extreme elevations. Other than mowed paths through the prairie, the scenery has a sense of being largely untouched. In season, wildflowers and flora also grow close to the trails – the preserve has more than 160 species of plants during its peak bloom.

For more information and to RSVP for the free hike, follow Dayton Bluffs Preserve on Facebook.