Starved Rock vs. Matthiessen State Parks: A Local’s Perspective

Starved Rock vs. Matthiessen State Parks: A Local’s Perspective

In the heart of central Illinois, the battle between natural wonders unfolds: Starved Rock State Park and Matthiessen State Park. As locals with a fondness for exploration, we’re here to provide an insider’s take on our prized state parks, helping you decide which is the ideal family-friendly destination.

Starved Rock is not only the most visited state park in Illinois, with nearly three million annual visitors, it’s the number one attraction in the state of Illinois. Breathtaking overlooks and spectacular waterfalls keep visitors coming back for every season. It’s not uncommon to see eagles soaring above the tree lined river if you keep your eyes peeled. A true gem right in the heart of Illinois, Starved Rock State Park is hard to beat.

Matthiessen State Park, the less visited but arguably equally magnificent neighbor to Starved Rock, cannot got without a visit if you’re in the area. Here you’ll also find waterfalls, canyons and fascinated geological features. With less annual visitors, some prefer this park for the tranquility and quiet Starved Rock often lacks.

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Starved Rock boasts a diverse trail system with 13 miles of well-maintained paths. Most of the trails are family-friendly, offering scenic views and some leading to captivating waterfalls. You’ll also find several of the trails are boardwalks, making them easy to navigate.

Matthiessen, on the other hand, offers a more intimate setting with five miles of trails winding through canyons and lush greenery. Families seeking a bit more adventure may fall in love with Matthiessen for its rock-hopping stream passages and more rugged trail system.

Family-Friendly Atmosphere

Starved Rock’s sheer size means it can get busy, especially during weekends. However, the larger crowds also translate to more amenities, including a visitor center and guided tours.

Matthiessen, though smaller, provides a quieter experience, making it an excellent choice for families desiring a more secluded nature retreat.


When it comes to waterfalls, both parks deliver a spectacle. Starved Rock’s French Canyon features a stunning cascade, drawing visitors year-round. LaSalle, Wildcat and St Louis Canyons are also notable experiences that draw crowds to Starved Rock, especially after a good rain.

Matthiessen’s highlight is the breathtaking Lake Falls, a hidden gem that rewards those willing to venture off the beaten path. Cascade Waterfall and Giant’s Bathtub can also not be missed if you’re chasing waterfalls.


Starved Rock, located right outside the charming town of Utica, is easily accessible from major highways, making it a convenient day trip or weekend getaway for families. The park’s expansive parking lots can accommodate a significant number of visitors, but be prepared for crowds during peak times. The park is generally well-maintained, ensuring that everyone in the family can enjoy the natural wonders.

Starved Rock State Park has made efforts to provide accessibility for strollers and wheelchairs. The park features some paved trails and the boardwalks around the visitor center and certain viewing areas offer smooth paths for easy maneuvering. Many stairs and some uneven terrain will definitely inhibit those with accessibility concerns, however.

Matthiessen, nestled just a few miles south of Starved Rock, is also accessible by car and offers a more secluded atmosphere. While the park provides parking areas, its smaller size means fewer crowds, enhancing the overall accessibility. Trails at Matthiessen vary in difficulty, providing options for both novice and experienced hikers. Families seeking a bit of adventure can explore the canyons, but some trails may pose challenges for those with mobility concerns.

Matthiessen State Park, with its more rugged terrain, may present more challenges for strollers and wheelchairs compared to Starved Rock. While some of the park’s trails are paved, others, like those leading to the waterfalls and canyons, may involve many steps or uneven surfaces.

Ultimately, neither park is fully accessible to those with strollers, wheelchairs and other mobility concerns.


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

Starved Rock’s Visitor Center is a hub of activity, offering information, maps, and exhibits that enrich the overall experience. Restrooms, a restaurant, and gift shop cater to visitors’ needs. The lodge within the park provides additional amenities, including dining options and comfortable accommodations for those planning an extended stay.

Matthiessen, being more compact, provides essential information and maps. While it lacks the extensive facilities of Starved Rock, Matthiessen encourages a more rustic experience. Families can enjoy a picnic at designated areas, immersing themselves in the serene surroundings.

In the realm of accessibility and facilities, Starved Rock takes the lead with its extensive amenities and family-friendly infrastructure. However, Matthiessen’s simplicity and smaller crowds appeal to those seeking a more intimate connection with nature. The choice between the two depends on your family’s preference for convenience or a more secluded adventure.

Starved Rock vs. Matthiessen

In the battle of Starved Rock versus Matthiessen, the verdict isn’t about superiority but about aligning your family’s preferences with the offerings of each park. Starved Rock excels in size and amenities, while Matthiessen captivates with its intimate charm.

When you ask the locals, you’ll almost always find Matthiessen to be the favorite. Personally, we think this is due to the growing crowds Starved Rock continues to bring in. Understandably, when you’re out in nature you prefer less people.

However, the utter beauty of Starved Rock should not be discounted because of the sheer number of people who love it. Our personal favorite of the two parks is Starved Rock. But if you’re visiting the area, we encourage you to form your own opinion and allow yourself time to see both parks!

Ultimately, both parks stand as testaments to the natural beauty that graces the heart of Illinois.

Embark on an Adventure: Starved Rock State Park – A Local’s Ultimate Guide to Hikes, Stays, and Food in Starved Rock Country! 🌲✨ Discover hidden trails, cozy accommodations, and delectable dining spots with our comprehensive insights. Whether you’re a seasoned explorer or a first-time visitor, let this insider’s perspective elevate your Starved Rock experience. Read on for the perfect blend of nature, comfort, and culinary delights! 🏞️🏡🍴

Happy Travels!

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