Starved Rock State Park: A Local’s Guide to Hikes, Stays, and Food in Starved Rock Country

Starved Rock State Park: A Local's Guide to Hikes, Stays, and Food in Starved Rock Country

Visiting Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks

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Nestled in the heart of Illinois, Starved Rock Country is a haven for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. This picturesque region, anchored by the renowned Starved Rock State Park, offers a perfect escape for a long weekend getaway. Join us as we explore Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks and the charming towns that bring life to them.

The Parks

Starved Rock State Park has been voted the number one attraction in the state of Illinois with over two million visitors per year. 13 miles of hiking trails, 18 canyons and countless breathtaking waterfalls await your exploration.

As locals, we like to recommend checking out Starved Rock during the week to avoid the absolutely insane crowds that flock to our prized park on the weekends. If, however the weekend is all you have, definitely hit the trails first thing in the morning before the crowds arrive. Stop in the visitor center before you set out on the trails and be sure to check out LaSalle and Wildcat Canyons. You also don’t want to miss the views on Lover’s Leap.

We also featured Starved Rock State Park in 7 Best Illinois State Parks and Top 7 State Parks in the Midwest for Family Adventures.

If you’re visiting for more than an afternoon (and we highly recommend that you do) you’re going to want to check out Matthiessen State Park too.

Matthiessen is a hidden gem adjacent to Starved Rock, calling your name with its unique geological formations and picturesque canyons. If you’re feeling more hiking, hit these trails early too. The park offers a quieter alternative to Starved Rock, providing a more intimate connection with nature, but crowds still fill the park on the weekends. You have to see Matthiessen Lake Waterfall while you’re there.


When you’re ready to unwind and grab a bite to eat you absolutely must explore the town of Utica. Bruce and Ollie’s, a family-owned business in a historic downtown building offering hand dipped ice cream and Insta worthy coffee concoctions has to be on your itinerary. You’ll find their charm and warmth as delectable as their ice-cream.

You’re also going to want to walk around to the back of Bruce and Ollie’s and checkout Ginger Road Brewing Company, another family-owned business who got their start in their garage but recently opened up shop after pouring craft beers for their friends and family for years. You’ll love their outdoor space when the weather is nice!

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Lodi is another favorite lunch or dinner spot while you’re in town. With two dozen beers on tap and a drool worthy smash burger, you won’t be disappointed. Skoogs Pub and Grill is also a popular spot for food and refreshments amongst locals.

5 things to do in the Illinois Valley: Outdoor dining returns to Utica,  several shows set for the weekend – Shaw Local

August Hill Winery Tasting Room is another focal point of Downtown Utica. From grapes grown and harvested right here in Starved Rock Country, the tasting room offers vino for every palate in an elegant but homey tasting room and gift shop.

Besides fantastic eats, Utica is also known for their boutiques and shops; pottery, antiques, gemstones, leather and more. Stop in Wears Well for unique small batch, Midwest made goods.

Other Must Do’s

Legs tired after exploring the parks by foot? Head over to Kayak Starved Rock for kayak rentals as well as guided group tours and see a different vantage point of the beautiful rock formations that make up the parks. You can even bring your furry friends along for the ride. Be sure to check their website because they do close for the season.

About – Ste. Genevieve Riverboat | Illinois Riverboat

If your time in Starved Rock Country allows an absolute must is Sainte Genevieve Riverboat, an experience like none other in Starved Rock Country. Aboard the riverboat you’ll be dazzled by live music on the open-air top deck as well as indoor seating in the charming fully stocked bar. Depending on the cruise you choose, local restaurants provide eats for different themed cruises. If you can squeeze this into your itinerary, don’t miss the chance. Check their website for cruise dates and tickets.

Where to Stay

Of course, the obvious choice would be to stay at the log cabin style Starved Rock Lodge, where you’ll hiking trails at your door step. The lodge even offers its own dining experience and an inviting fireplace to unwind and relax after a day on the trials.

Finding the Lodge in the heart of Starved Rock State Park. - tdg agency

You’ll love the character and charm of the historic Bickerman Building downtown Utica. You’ll find two cozy lofts above our favorite ice-cream and coffee shop, Bruce and Ollies. Check them out on Airbnb, but be sure to book early because they are a hit!

Or if you’re up for the glamping experience of all glamping experiences, Camp Aramoni cannot be outdone. A boutique campground that is an anything but a rugged ‘camping’ experience. Think gourmet smores nightly, breakfast and dinner included in your stay and hiking trails and a private shoreline for your exploration.

Wherever you choose to stay when you visit our beloved Starved Rock Country, we know you’ll find yourself feeling right at home. Between the countless miles of trails to explore, waterfalls, canyons, drool-worthy eats and drinks, and the luxurious accommodations, you won’t be left twiddling your thumbs. We hope you’ll come visit us in the heart of Illinois soon!

Hiking with the Kids? Explore our top picks for the ‘Best Child Carriers!’ Plus, discover the convenience of our selected ‘Top 7 Travel Strollers‘ – lightweight and compact for your family adventures

Happy Travels!

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