Discover the wonder of winter.
Snow is falling, and you’re excited to take a roadtrip to Starved Rock State Park to experience the beauty of winter. But time is limited and you’re determined to see as much as possible. Which canyons have the best ice falls? Or where can you see a bald eagle? Here’s the perfect winter day hike for those seeking the wonder of winter.
Starting your Hike at Starved Rock:
Start your day by parking at the visitor center parking lot and begin your hike up to Starved Rock. There are 360 degree views of the winter landscape once at the top of Starved Rock. Make sure to spot the lodge on the backside of Starved Rock (nestled in the snow), and Lover’s Leap Overlook along the Illinois River (Right across from the rock). Bald eagle sightings along the Illinois River are more common in the winter as they are challenged with finding food.
From here, we recommend hiking to Eagle Cliff Overlook or Wildcat Canyon. If you choose the Eagle Cliff route you will end up at one of the best views overlooking the park and river, but you should be prepared for the biting wind atop the cliff. The majority of this trail is also on a boardwalk and involves 1 long staircase. Hence its name, bald eagles are quite common at this overlook as well as many other sights such as pelicans, ducks, herons, and more.
If you are looking to venture to a waterfall (or in winter possibly an icefall), then we recommend going straight to Wildcat Canyon after descending down from the rock. The hike to the top of Wildcat is only about 1 mile each way, but in the winter this may seem like more and will be a little more challenging. Once you have arrived at Wildcat, you can choose to continue along the bluff trail towards Sandstone Point Overlook, turn back, or descend down the stairs in Wildcat Canyon.
If you do not have the proper equipment and ice spikes (Yaxtrax, winter spikes, etc.), then we highly recommend turning back and not attempting to descend down the stairs. They are often very slippery and some of the individual stairs are angled, so in some cases it is nearly impossible to venture down them safely. If you feel it is safe to descend down the stairs, then we recommend being extremely careful and going slowly. The ice on the stairs and within the canyon will be very slippery and may break easily.
From Wildcat Canyon, we recommend returning to the visitor center area to warm up. Hikers can take a break and grab a warm cup of hot chocolate or coffee in the Starved Rock Lodge. Lunch is also served in the main dining room at the Lodge, or visitors can take a 5 minute drive into Utica, IL to grab a bite to eat.
For those wanting to continue their hike after a lunch break, we recommend driving through the Starved Rock Curves to the East end of the park and parking in the Council Overhang parking lot along Route 71. Council Overhang is the enormous cave inside of the park, where you’ll sure to feel tiny compared to nature. Hikers can continue along this trail and will come across Ottawa and Kaskaskia Canyon, which may be frozen. There is not much of an elevation change in the East end of the park, so we recommend saving this part for after you have completed the more challenging hikes.
If you are the thrill seeker who is yearning for a longer, colder hike, then we recommend visiting LaSalle Canyon located in the middle of the park. Hikers can park in the Parkman’s Plain parking lot along Route 71, and the hike is about a mile from the lot to the canyon. Hikers can also access LaSalle Canyon from the river or bluff trail at Wildcat Canyon, but this would greatly increase the distance of hiking required.
We hope these winter hiking tips will help you out on your next snowy adventure! Don’t forget to tag us and use the hashtag starvedrockhikers when sharing all your winter hiking memories! We’ll also do our best to keep hikers informed via our Hikers group on Facebook. Click here to join for free!
See you on the trail!