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Starved Rock State Park: A Slip 'N Slide In February

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

It was the end of February, and the snow had melted where we lived, so wouldn’t it also be melted a couple of hours away? Of course it would! So we set out to Starved Rock State Park in Illinois for a day of hiking.

We were naive. We became too optimistic too early. As we drove into the park, our hearts sunk and our eyes widened in disbelief. There was still snow — deep snow — everywhere. We found ourselves even more shocked when we discovered that all of the trails weren’t even just covered in snow but slippery, packed ice.

The good news is that my husband and I are the kinds of people that laugh at ourselves, and boy was this a situation to laugh at. It was 8 a.m. as we got out of the car to put on our coats and regular running shoes, and all around us were the experienced early birds. They had on their hiking boots, their crampons for the ice and had brought their trekking poles.

I can’t imagine what they were thinking when they saw us. Well, actually I kind of can. On the trails, a super nice couple actually handed my husband and I their trekking poles to get across a slippery downward area. You didn’t have to hear it from their lips to know that they felt bad for us.

While we were able to hike about 7 miles (there are approximately 13 miles of trails), it took hours and hours, and to be honest, if they weren’t covered in ice, these trails wouldn’t have been remotely difficult or very adventurous. The most exerting part is the stairways, but even then, there were only a few long ones. It wasn’t quite the hike we were expecting ... on many levels.

The best part about Starved Rock was the water. Much of the trail winds along the Illinois River, which glistened due to it being part ice. There were a couple of small waterfalls and one larger one at Wildcat Canyon that was completely frozen other than a small rush of water from the middle. Standing above the canyon, we watched ice climbers take on the waterfall, an even greater sight.

Regardless of our difficult experience, this hiking still wasn't what my husband and I had pictured after reading about Starved Rock online. Not even the beautiful bald eagle we saw could change that feeling. It seems more like a spot for those living in Chicago a couple of hours away to get out of the city. I enjoy the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois much more than this (apparently) more popular spot.

Once we finished hiking, we hoped our lunch plans at the Starved Rock Lodge would give us a better opinion of the park. And, they did! I wanted something fresh and went for a Chicken Caesar Salad, and my husband decided on a Grilled Chicken Sandwich with chipotle sauce. They were both tasty and satisfying after our long morning.

The lodge reminds me of some of the places in Branson, Missouri. It has a dining area as well as a gift shop, lounging seats to relax for a little while and an outdoor viewing area. We noticed a wedding party making their way to the building as we left, so I’m assuming there are some private, reserved rooms, too.

The Starved Rock’s website also had a page about the wineries in the area, so we decided to stop by one to do a wine tasting before we left for home. Located in downtown Utica, IL, Clarks Run Creek has enjoyable wine tastings (5 wines for $6), and those running it were busy but accommodating and fun.

What you really want to hear about is the wine though, isn’t it? Clarks Run Creek does have Illinois wines in addition to California and others from various countries. I did try to stick to locally made wines, and overall, most of them were excellent and exciting! I’m not a sommelier, but I didn’t really hate anything and liked most of it. I’ve also experienced some bad wine tastings, so when comparing it to those, this winery has some good wine and good people serving it to you.

A bottle and glass of white wine at Clarks Run Creek

Although it was a bit of a wild day, I can understand why people go to Starved Rock, particularly if they live close to it, but it’s not my favorite place. I’ve actually heard from Illinoisans to try some of the other areas near the park because they’re surrounded more by wilderness and are less touristy. However, I did learn one major lesson from this trip: I need to buy some proper hiking gear.


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