Day Trip: Starved Rock State Park
I finally got a weekend off of work, which rarely happens. I absolutely wanted, in fact, needed, to go explore somewhere, but my options were limited. I didn’t want to travel too far because my niece is due any day now, so a day trip fit the bill perfectly. I knew Starved Rock was close to Chicago, where I live, but I’d never actually been there. After a quick google image search, I was sold on the idea. We left around 10:00am on Saturday morning and arrived at the Visitor Center parking lot just before noon. We entered the Visitor Center only to grab a map and hit the restrooms before we began our hike. Originally, we wanted to hike up to the Lodge first, to get some lunch and figure out which hikes we wanted to do. What actually happened was we wound up on the Wildcat Canyon overlook trail. The paths were muddy due to days of rain prior to our visit, and my Chuck Taylors proved to be a poor hiking footwear choice. Actually, my whole outfit was ill-suited to nature and now I know better. Please note that jean shorts are not a great choice for four hours of humid hiking through the forest. What can I say? I’m a city girl. Luckily, the scenery was so gorgeous that I soon forgot my wardrobe woes and was able to focus on the views. We reached the outlook and noticed there were people hanging out in the canyon below, basking in the sunlight and playing beneath the waterfall, with no indication of how they appeared there. I made it my personal mission for the day to be one of those people. The weather was perfect, and everything was so green and gorgeous. It was nice just to be outside. Eventually, we found a sign pointing us towards the Lodge. The area surrounding the lodge was crowded with hikers and overnighters, staying in either the Lodge Hotel or the cute little cabins in the same general area. The lodge itself was a stately and beautiful large, wooden structure. I instantly wanted to stay the night there. We decided to have lunch in the “Dining Room” instead of the small café in the lobby. The dining room was also very large, with an outdoor deck attached. It had a romantic feel with the dark wood, soft lighting, and large fireplace holding court in the back of the room. The lunch menu included comfort food entrees, salads and sandwiches. We both ordered the Illiniwek Chicken Sandwich. The waitress was not the friendliest person we’d met that day, but the service was prompt and the food was delicious so we overlooked her surly demeanor. After lunch, I stopped at the front desk to inquire about vacancy and room rates. Unfortunately they were completely booked, but the good news is their prices are completely affordable with their standard rooms starting around $100 and their cabins starting at $125 (depending on the season). We vowed to come back and stay in a cabin in the near future. We hiked up to the park’s namesake, the actual Starved Rock, and the stairs up to the overlook were no joke. The view from the top was breathtaking (minus the huge dam that was visible on one side of the Illinois River). The path at the top of Starved Rock wound in a circle, through trees and wildflowers looking lush from the summer rain. We meandered back down the way we came, past other hikers huffing and puffing up the many, many stairs. From there we hiked up to the Lover’s Leap overlook, which offered an amazing view of Starved Rock and the river below. It was finally time to complete my mission of the day and find the way into the canyon that we had seen from the trail above. We found the path and made our way along the river to the canyon. We could hear its current visitor’s voices bouncing off the rock face in what could only be described as shouts of glee. When we finally reached Wildcat Canyon, it took some maneuvering to get over to the waterfall, through the water and mud. Once we were finally in the main clearing, I took my shoes off and stuck my feet in the water. It was cloudy with the sand beneath, but cold and refreshing. The waterfall was gorgeous; it flowed into a small pool teaming with happy little hikers. Though the area was crowded, there was a solidarity among the visitors in the canyon; everyone was admiring the view. It was hard to leave such a beautiful place, but it was about that time to head back to the visitors center. Overall, we hiked about five miles through the forest, up and down stairs, and on gorgeous overlook boardwalks. By the time we made it back to the car, I was exhausted, but already planning our next visit. Even with how much we had already explored, there were still so many other paths, overlooks and canyons to see. I’d imagine that not too much time will pass before I’m back for more.