Ann Kafer's recent hike, experience, and tips for hiking to one of Starved Rock's most visited canyons.
The hike from Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center to St. Louis Canyon never disappoints. It features an almost-always flowing waterfall, an amazing sand-filled canyon, and plenty of stairs to get your heart pumping. But there’s much more if you take your time and look around.
The trail starts at the west end of the Lodge; opposite of all other trails starting at Lodge level. Lace up your boots, stretch out your quads, and head out on the bridge over the road connecting the Visitor Center and the Lodge entrances. Click here to view the complete trail description.
The roughly 4-mile round trip hike initially takes you above two small canyons, Sac and Aurora. Then, it levels out along a bluff parallel with the access road to the Visitor Center. There, you’ll want to look up and out, as I’m most always able to spot a variety of wildlife that includes pileated woodpeckers, a host of chipmunks, and the occasional deer. Be sure to look deep into the woods as you walk the partially planked trail to spot furry or feathered friends.
As the trail starts to wind down several sets of stairs, be sure to look down at the amazing knots of tree roots clinging to the rocks. Eventually, you will turn back toward the canyon on a sand path alongside a creek. The coolness from the shade of the pine is evident even on the hottest days. The creek offers frogs, tadpoles and always interesting sand patterns carved by the water. The trail is filled with many wildflowers worthy of praise as well.
Approaching the canyon, you will likely hear the waterfall. This waterfall is partially spring fed, so it runs almost all year ‘round.
You’ll need to cross the creek to get into the canyon. I recommend waterproof boots, as it’s rarely above ankle depth. For those without waterproof shoes, there are rocks and boards spanning the gap. Just remember, wet boards and rocks can be slick!
The waterfall is great. When it’s not running hard, you can walk almost completely around it. The waterfall is the highlight of the hike for most people. I once witnessed a marriage proposal there and was asked to take impromptu photos for the couple, which was great fun.
For me, however, the canyon itself is the star. This was the site of a spectacular canyon wall collapse that occurred in 2004. It is filled with deep sand and sandstone boulders to explore. The stone walls bow in over the floor of the canyon creating a spectacular backdrop for photos.
On my return to the Lodge from the canyon recently, I stopped to take a photo of a really large, bright orange sandstone rock at the base of a step staircase.
As I did, I noticed activity in the trees atop the rock.
As I zoomed in with my camera, there were a pair of juvenile Cooper's Hawks -watching me, watch them.
They were unphased as I climbed to their level and took some shots. Beautiful birds!
I recommend going early to beat the crowds and for your best wildlife viewing. I’m always in and out of the park by 10 a.m. The only downside is that I’m often the spider web clearer of the trail if first out – so “you’re welcome” if you head out after I do.
Plan on a solid hour if you are hiking for cardio. A casual pace is 75-90 minutes. Enjoy!
This story was originally written by Ann Kafer, a Starved Rock Hiker from Central Illinois. It was edited and published by the Starved Rock Hikers team.
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As a reminder, we are asking every person who hikes to a waterfall this summer to submit a waterfall flow rate report on our website at www.starvedrockhikers.com/waterfall-report. This takes less than 60 seconds and can be completed for all the major waterfalls within Starved Rock State Park. You can also attach photos/video clips of the waterfall.
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See you on the trail!!