Starved Rock State Park: For the love of hiking

August 10, 2011

Neither a canyon nor a waterfall, this one-of-a-kind Council Overhang is near Ottawa Canyon. (Photo provided)

By Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek
Director of Marketing, Starved Rock Lodge

UTICA, Ill. — Starved Rock State Park is a memory in the making for people who like to hike. But what if you’ve never experienced a walk in these woods?
To novice hikers, the park may seem overwhelming, at first. There are several ways to get familiar with the park and make a visit truly enjoyable and worth repeating.

The Lodge has an Activities Department with three friendly staffers who are more than willing to offer advice on hiking the park.

Director Edna Daugherty and her two assistants, Tiffany Sigala and Miranda Miller, not only escort guided hikes and trolley tours, they lead the newest tour of the historic lodge (created in honor of the 100th anniversary of Starved Rock State Park, celebrated in 2011).

The Lodge offers seasonal trolley tours (which include a guided hike, such as the Waterfall & Canyon Tour or the Fall Colors Trolley Tour as well as lunch). This is a great way to learn the park and be guided by those who are familiar with the paths, stories and rich history.

Starved Rock State park has 13 miles of trails and 18 canyons, which are totally unexpected in the middle of the cornfields and flatlands of this part of Illinois. The toughest decision may be which path to choose.

One way to start is with the Starved Rock Walker’s Club. The group meets every Thursday morning, and Daugherty participates most weeks. The creative way this group hikes the park is that the schedule repeats itself every quarter, so the regulars get to see all the canyons and waterfalls in each season of the year, and because the landscape is ever-changing, yet always the same, it’s the perfect plan.

Sitting quietly on the Illinois River, Eagle Cliff rises up almost 100 feet. (Photo provided)

More than 2 million people come to hike Starved Rock State Park during all months of the year, with each season providing its own rewards. Whether you choose the river trail or the bluff trail, you will have to climb some steps. The park website (www.starvedrockstatepark.org) suggests which paths to take on your outbound journey and which to follow on the return, recommending ways to minimize stair climbing.

During the winter, waterfalls turn to ice and create amazing photo opportunities; some so large you can walk behind them! Eagles are in flight above the Lock and Dam on the Illinois River, which sits below Starved Rock, Lover’s Leap and Eagle Cliff.

Spring provides a weekly parade of wildflowers, flowering trees and a reawakening of the sleeping forest. Waterfalls become active with spring rains and provide a stunning, close-up look at Mother Nature’s magic. White pelicans migrate through the Illinois Valley, arriving in May and returning in September, but most recently, they have been seen into July.

In summer, hikers seek out peaceful retreats among tall pine and oak trees found in deep canyons like Wildcat. The foliage is thick, and the cool breezes are refreshing to hikers and boaters alike.

Autumn may provide the most spectacular palette of the year, with fall colors aglow from late September to early November.

A new trail map was recently designed and printed by Starved Rock Lodge when supplies ran out, and the Department of Natural Resources could no longer fund the project. The new map features color photos of the major waterfalls and canyons, and descriptions of where they are located, along with an abundance of helpful information from lodging, to camping, to free events and entertainment.

Wildcat Canyon is a hiker’s favorite because of the overlooks and the depth of the canyon. (Photo provided)

A love of hiking comes from a great experience, and part of making that happen is hitting the trails with the right supplies. Water is No. 1. A quart per person for a 3-mile hike is not too much. Sunscreen and insect repellent are important in the summer months. Good hiking shoes protect your feet and make hiking more fun. Be sure to allow plenty of time to complete your hike before dark. As a rule of thumb, hikers travel at a rate of about 1.5 miles per hour. Many people travel slower. Sunset times vary from about 4:30 p.m. in December to 8:45 p.m. in June. It’s best to check a website such as www.timeanddate.com before your trip.

Prevention is the best medicine. To avoid getting lost, stay on the trail, and don’t travel alone. It’s always a good idea to let someone know your route before you go so they can notify park officials if you are overdue in returning. Cell phone coverage may not work in some lower elevations, so it’s best to stay on the trail and always hike with a trail map. A safe hike is every hiker’s goal, and the therapeutic benefits of walking nurture a day in the woods … just for the love of hiking.

From the Aug. 10-16, 2011, issue

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