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Hidden History: Why I Love Starved Rock State Park

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As I drove down highway 39 from Rockford, Illinois towards Starved Rock State Park, I wondered: how can there be a state park out here?  If there were a state park in the distance, well, I’d see it by now, flat as the landscape appears.

See?  Flat…

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I was so very wrong.

As soon as you pass through the charming town of Utica and cross over the bridge spanning the Illinois River, you turn left into the park and find yourself driving through sun-dappled woods.  I visited in October when the leaves were just starting to turn, and I swear that I could watch the colors shift and change right before my eyes.  A surprising sense of calm washed over me the farther I drove, finally arriving at my destination–Starved Rock Lodge.

I’ve never visited a state park with an on-site lodge before–I thought that was reserved only for National Parks.  But Starved Rock Lodge can hold its own against any national park lodge.  While the location is a fabulous home base for exploring the park, the lodge itself offers far more than lodging.  But more on that later (stay tuned for a Laudable Lodging post featuring Starved Rock Lodge!)

Several trails branch off from the grounds of the lodge–including the short path to actual Starved Rock.  But there’s more to this gorgeous park than the view from the top.

Top Five Reasons to Love Starved Rock

History

This is listed first for good reason–it was the rich history of this place that struck me time and time again; it was the history that made me fall in love with Starved Rock.

This part of the country was inhabited long before Europeans settled on North America.  As the canyons and overhangs provided shelter and protection, Native American tribes gathered here for centuries.  In fact, Starved Rock gets its name from a rather gruesome Native American tale–which you can read about HERE.

Walking silently solo among the trees, running my hands along the sandstone cliffs, I felt the deep history of this land.  I don’t want to use the word ‘magical’–overused and cliched as the word is–but I can’t think of a better way to describe how I felt.  Ok fine.  It was magical.  (Really, someone get me a thesaurus.)

If you prefer your history more recent, the Lodge itself is steeped in history as well.  But that’s the subject for a future post.  For now–trust me.  It’s a dream destination for any history buff.

Natural Beauty

I can’t stress this enough–I had no idea such a gorgeous place was hiding out in north central Illinois.  Starved Rock is less than two hours from Chicago, but it feels like another planet–in some places, quite literally.  This is another one of those times when I’m going to have to let pictures be worth thousands of words…

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Memories

Entire relationships can form and grow at Starved Rock.  It’d be a great place to bring a date and have a post-hike picnic–I saw many people doing just that–and it’s a gorgeous setting to get engaged.  Many people do that, too (though I didn’t crash any proposals…this time).  And even more people get married here, in the lodge’s sprawling ballroom.  Five years later, you can even come back to celebrate your anniversary, toddler in tow.

Accessible to All

Depending upon your ability level–and your energy level–you can go for an extensive hike or a short stroll and still be rewarded with stunning views.  The parking area for Council Overhand and Ottawa and Kaskaskia Canyons is maybe twenty yards from a small overhang right at the beginning of the trail–though I do recommend continuing on to at least the overhang, if not one of the canyons.  They are stunning.  But know that even with mobility issues, the beauty of Starved Rock State Park is still accessible.

Diversity

Do you prefer scenic overlooks or dense forest?  Do you want to explore sandstone cliffs, chase waterfalls, or picnic along a river?  Do you like fields and fluffy white clouds?  (Who doesn’t like fluffy white clouds, really?)  You can experience all of these things at Starved Rock–all in the same day, if you want.  And then you can hit the lodge bar.  Which I also highly recommend.

There are some destinations that you visit once and think gee, that was nice.  What a great trip.  I’m glad I went.  And there are others to which you know you will return.  Places that immediately feel like home.  Starved Rock State Park is one of those places.

There are also some destinations that require only one post.  This is not one of those destinations.  I haven’t even told you about how cool the lodge is.  And then there are the neighboring towns, which definitely deserve a mention.  So stay tuned for more on this lovable locale–and for more state park adventures.  Starved Rock did more than win my heart–it also inspired me to explore unknown-to-me state parks across the country.  Up next, Rio Grande State Park.  

Disclosure: I was hosted by Starved Rock Lodge and shown around the park by the park’s resident awesome marketing director, Kathy.  She’s yet another reason to love Starved Rock.  Thanks, Kathy.  Thank you for sharing this special place with me (and for inspiring me to take photos of small details, like leaves in puddles).  I will be back (yes, that’s a threat!) 

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