While the landscape may be blanketed in snow and ice, Starved Rock remains a captivating destination throughout the winter months, offering unique experiences you won’t find during any other season. As the temperatures drop, the park’s waterfalls freeze into stunning ice formations, creating a winter wonderland for properly equipped hikers. For seasoned climbers, Starved Rock offers thrilling ice-climbing opportunities, but be sure to throughly review safety guidelines and conditions before attempting this adventurous activity.
After a number of weeks of freezing, thawing and refreezing, a trio of Starved Rock’s popular winter photo ops have transformed into a must-visit destination for avid climbers across the Midwest. Since the early 1980s, Starved Rock Country has been a leading wintertime attraction for outdoor adventurers looking to challenge Mother Nature. Every year, hundreds of experienced climbers flock to Starved Rock State Park to spend a day scaling enormous frozen waterfalls with little more than an anchor line, an ice ax and a helmet.
Climbers are required to check in with the park office before attempting a climb to ensure ice conditions are suitable. People should thoroughly review the Illinois Department of Natural Resources ice-climbing fact sheet for more information on the check-in protocol (the brochure can be found at tinyurl.com/3tzud4na). While only experienced climbers should attempt such an activity, all guests with proper footwear (crampons or Yaktrax) are encouraged to make the icy hike down to the falls to see the climbers in person.
Starved Rock’s ice falls include:
La Salle Canyon - A long curtain-style fall, offering a milder climbing experience.
Ottawa Canyon - Often one of the widest falls in the park, also one of the first to form in the winter.
Wildcat Canyon - Easily the tallest fall permitted for climbing, a true highlight of the park for climbing enthusiasts.
Climbers are required to bring their own equipment and have prior experience ice climbing, or have a chartered, experienced guide. All ice climbing is done at the climber’s risk, and they are required to sign in at the park’s self-check-in station prior to their climb, and once again upon exit.
The self-serve check-in sheet conveniently is located outside the park’s maintenance building across the road from the Visitor Center. Sign-in sheets, as well as rules and regulations, will be posted on the wall near the entrance to the maintenance building.
Climbing these three falls is not for novices. Here are some fast facts you should know before you start preparing to scale the frozen falls:
- The Department of Natural Resources does not test the integrity of the ice; it is entirely up to the climbers to determine suitability before their climb.
- Solo climbing is expressly prohibited; you must climb with at least one partner.
- Ice climbing is only allowed between 7 a.m. and dusk at the park; all climbers must be off the trail before dark.
- Mixed-surface climbing or any other form of rock climbing or scaling is banned in the park. Starved Rock’s canyons are made out of incredibly fragile sandstone. These surfaces are not suitable for, and can be permanently damaged by, climbing equipment.
- All equipment, such as riggings, ice cleats, crampons, ice picks, rope and other harmful supplies, must touch the ice/ice falls only.
- Due to ongoing damage and hazardous trail conditions, ice climbing will not be allowed at Tonti Canyon this season.
- Do not wear your crampons on the the wooden bridges and walkways.
Ice climbing is a serious endeavor and should not be undertaken without proper training and guidance from veteran climbers. We cannot guarantee the surfaces of the ice falls will be suitable for climbing this weekend. The integrity of the falls changes from day to day; use your discretion before attempting to climb.
Here are some handy resources to explore before you begin planning your adventure:
Midwest Outside’s List of Starved Rock Climbs: www.midwestoutside.com/midwest-ice-climbing/starved-rock-state-park-ice-climbing
Starved Rock State Park’s Mountain Project Page: www.mountainproject.com/area/106656040/starved-rock-state-park
Ice Climbing Essentials: www.vertical-addiction.com/us/blogs/blog/ice-climbing-packing-list-the-essentials
For more information on winter activities in Starved Rock State Park, visit: www.dnr.illinois.gov
Starved Rock State Park is at 2668 E. 873rd Road, Oglesby.