Gas Tank Getaway: Starved Rock State Park

When you think of the state of Illinois, you might picture flat, prairie land. But this is Illinois, too:

Did you know Starved Rock is located about two hours from Lake County? After years of seeing amazing pictures of this state park, my family finally headed south this past spring break. Here are some tips for a trip to Starved Rock State Park in Olgesby, Illinois.

Tips for Visiting Starved Rock State Park with Kids

Day or Overnight Trip?

Although you could make this a day trip, I recommend staying the night.

  1. The two-hour drive may end up longer with traffic.
  2. If you’ve been hiking all day, most likely, you won’t feel like making the drive home.
  3. The hotel at Starved Rock has a pool. Kids love pools.
  4. If the weather isn’t great, you may want to postpone the hike until it’s better.
  5. Chances are, you won’t see everything you want to in one day.
French Canyon

Reservations at Starved Rock Lodge

If you’re seriously considering a trip to Starved Rock, set up your reservations ASAP. This is a popular vacation spot. I would recommend booking for two nights. We only stayed one night, which was enough to do what we wanted; however, there wasn’t much down time.

If you plan to stay on site, Starved Rock Lodge offers both hotel rooms as well as log cabins. (The hotel rooms are listed as rooms in the lodge and rooms in the hotel. The hotel rooms are newer and a little larger.) An advantage to staying in the hotel/lodge is that you have quick access to the [indoor] pool and to the restaurant. However, the log cabins are walking distance to both (although you’ll end up walking there and back in your swimsuit and towel). They are one- or two-room cabins that have a great rustic feel, fireplaces, and are closer to some of the trails. One pro/con to the log cabins are that they do not have TVs. Planning to bring along the dog? Some of the log cabins are pet friendly.

To note: check-in time was not until 3:00 p.m. If you arrive early, you can access the pool; however, be warned that on busy days, you likely will not be able to get into your room before that time. Also note: check-out time is at noon. We made the mistake of leaving our things in the room, thinking that the trail we took wouldn’t take very long. Once we got hiking, we wanted to take another trail but needed to get back to check out. I’d recommend checking out before hitting the trails the day you are leaving.

If you’re of the camping variety, there is also a campsite (with bathrooms). See details here.

Another lodging option is Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort. It has water slides, an arcade, ceramic crafts, a lazy river, mini golf, and family movie showings. This hotel is not located within the state park.

Food options at Starved Rock

We chose to stay put once we were at the Lodge. Luckily the Lodge’s Main Dining Room restaurant had a wonderful selection that will please both kids and adults. On Sundays and some holidays, they offer a breakfast buffet. The visitor center also has concessions, including sandwiches, ice cream, and fudge. As well, just outside the park is Nonie’s Bakery & Cafe, Duffy’s Tavern, Two Girls and a Cupcake, and Roxie’s Sweet Confections.

I’d also recommend having snacks handy. Once you’re out on the trail, you may decide to continue hiking on another trail. Be prepared with water and snacks.

The Trails at Starved Rock

I advise stopping in the Visitor Center before hitting the trails. They can advise you which might be best for your family. Some can be a bit scary if you have little ones (drops offs without a handrail). Be sure to take a trail map and keep it with you. The trails are well marked, but it’s nice to see where an off-shoot trail would take you. The map also indicates major sets of stairs (which helps indicate when you’ll be descending into a canyon).

In my experience, there didn’t seem to be options with strollers. All of the trails we went on had stairs. A lot of stairs!

Out of the trails we tried, I highly recommend Wildcat Canyon which was about a 45-minute walk. (It is featured in the first photo.)

To find out more about particular trails, go to the Starved Rock blog. On the right-hand side, you can click on various trails to learn more about them.

What to Wear hiking Starved Rock

My biggest regret on this trip is that I didn’t bother packing my rain boots. We hadn’t had rain in Lake County, so I assumed Olgesby hadn’t either. WRONG. I ended up wearing my best tennis shoes and not only walking through inch-deep mud, but having to wade through water up to my ankles. PACK FOR ALL WEATHER!

Wildcat Canyon

Here is what I’d pack: comfortable walking shoes, rain boots, water sandals, rain coat, sweatshirt, bug spray, sunscreen, wet wipes (I fell in the mud and was completely covered), sun hat/sunglasses, and a camera.

Mattheissen State Park

Someone mentioned Mattheissen State Park to me when I was planning this trip, and I’m glad they did. I found it to be more impressive than Starved Rock. There are two entrances to Mattheissen; I recommend the Lower Dells entrance. You will go down an abundance of stairs and see quite a view from above. This is where we ended up having to wade through water to get to the waterfall and caves. I’m guessing that will vary depending on rain, but be prepared. It was worth it though.

Mattheissen State Park, Lower Dells

What Else to Do at Starved Rock

There are Trolley Tours and Guided Hikes available in Starved Rock—look into reservations in advance. There’s also horseback riding, fishing, and kayaking/canoeing (learn more here). See what other activities are happening on their calendar page, such as musical performances and holiday festivities.

Starved Rock was an easy-to-plan trip. We got to see sites, get some exercise, and enjoy nature. I highly recommend it.

I’d love to hear what you enjoyed at Starved Rock. What was your favorite trail?

Starved Rock State Park
2668 E. 875th Road. Oglesby, IL 61348 | (815) 667-4726
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About Natalie Rompella 37 Articles
Natalie is the mom of two humans and one nonhuman. She is the author of more than forty books and resources for kids, was a teacher and a museum educator, and will always be a Lake County native. Natalie enjoys insects, sled dog racing (observing!), crafting/experimenting with her kids, and forming a world safe from peanuts. Find out more about her and her books at

1 Comment

  1. Great article, wish I had seen this before we went on our day trip to starved rock yesterday! Since we were there on mother’s day the park was extremely busy but we still enjoyed it. The trails we went on were not stroller friendly (we had our jogging stroller but ended up having to leave it in the car). Lots of stairs to see the canyons. We had our 3 small dogs with us as well and had to carry them up and down the steeper stairs. Next time I want to stay overnight in one of the cabins or at the lodge. So we will be back for sure!

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