That’s what automatically comes to mind when I think of Illinois, my home state. Not Chicago, but farmland. I grew up in Southern Illinois in a suburb of St. Louis, so the outskirts of my hometown are full of flat corn and soybean fields. It’s what I was used to, and what I knew.
This last weekend I had the chance to visit Bloomington, Ill., where my good friend Marion recently moved to begin her new job. She suggested that we visit Starved Rock State Park (with which I was not familiar) on Saturday morning. Starved Rock is located just under two hours southwest of Chicago in Utica, Ill., and I believe it’s one of Illinois’ hidden gems — a natural treasure.
Situated along the south bank of the Illinois River, Starved Rock is home to more than 13 miles of hiking trails and 18 deep canyons, some of which feature waterfalls. With nearly 2.2 million people who visited the park in 2011, it’s a popular destination for those who enjoy camping, bird watching, fishing, boating and more.
According to Starved Rock’s website, the 18 canyons were formed by glacial meltwater and steam erosion. The rock formations are made of St. Peter sandstone, which was laid down in a large, shallow inland sea more than 425 million years ago. The sandstone was later brought to the surface, presenting what we see at Starved Rock today.
Marion and I decided to take the hike to St. Louis Canyon, which turned out to be an easy trail measuring one and a half miles from the Visitor’s Center. En route to St. Louis Canyon, we passed by Kickapoo, Sac and Aurora Canyons, each offering beautiful sights and a serene atmosphere.
As we continued hiking, the trail delved deeper and deeper into the large rock formation. Before we knew it, we had finally arrived at St. Louis Canyon. And it’s safe to say that I didn’t feel like I was in Illinois anymore — I was completely taken aback by the view. Of all the canyons, St. Louis, LaSalle and French Canyons offer the most scenic waterfalls at Starved Rock. And during the winter, these falls turn into stunning icefalls!
Overall, we had a great time at Starved Rock, and we only saw four of the 18 canyons — you could take a full day to explore the park. Starved Rock is a great experience that I’d suggest to anyone who happens to be visiting northern Illinois (admission is free, too!). Also note that the park can be overcrowded with visitors if you go during the high season. Because we took our trip in February, the park was relatively clear of large groups of people, which was nice. If you’d like to see more pictures from our visit, check out my album on Google+ : A Morning Hike Through Illinois Canyons.