Family hiking at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois

Just last weekend, we did a family first – we went hiking! We couldn’t have picked a better area for our first family hike – Starved Rock State Park in central Illinois. I heard that Starved Rock is Illinois’ #1 attraction and after our visit, I could totally see why. It’s amazing! You’ll find over 13 miles of trails that lead to 14 waterfalls (yes, we’re obsessed with waterfalls!), sandstone canyons and overlooks,  springs, and so much more. It was the perfect way to reconnect with nature with the family. Since it was our first time hiking, we tried to stick with the easier trails.  Find out what we did.

Start at the Visitor Center

We visited around 2 p.m. on a Saturday in the middle of May. We tried to find parking by the lodge because access to the Visitor Center was closed. Parking was nuts! My husband and kids had to wait in the car, while I went down to the Visitor Center to grab a map as well as get some info on the trails.

Family hiking at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.

The staff was super helpful in helping me decide which trails would be good for us first-timers as well as which trails would be best for kids or what trails are open or closed. We wanted to go to St. Louis Canyon but found that the parking lot was closed and the trek would have been about a mile and a half one way. No thanks! Thankfully, we saved that time and tried a few different trails.

Family hiking at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.

Tip: While you’re here, grab a map to Matthiessen State Park located down the road. TOTALLY worth a visit too! (Check out the details of our visit here.)

French Canyon

Family hiking at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.

Ready to explore

Since French Canyon was only .4 miles from the Visitor Center and home to waterfalls, it was top on our list to check out. Although it had been raining and EVERYTHING was muddy, the hike was pretty easy.  As we were getting closer, we could hear the waterfalls (and people screaming in delight…or fright.) Our excitement level was pretty high, and then we came face to face with our first waterfall – French Canyon. As I mentioned, it had just stopped raining and the ground was pretty slick and we weren’t adventurous enough to go down to the canyon.

Family hiking at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.

More adventurous people exploring French Canyon.

Lover’s Leap

After French Canyon, we headed back towards where we started to try out another trail. Our next stop — Lover’s Leap Overlook. The trail we took was extremely muddy at first (my oldest slipped and fell and became a muddied mess) and eventually found the rest of the way on a boardwalk…

Family hiking at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.

and stairs…then more boardwalk and stairs.

Family hiking at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.

until we finally came to Lover’s Leap with beautiful views of the Illinois River.

Family hiking at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.

Eagle Cliff

Just a minute or two down the boardwalk from Lover’s Leap Overlook was Eagle Cliff, and another great view of the river as well as a closer look of the Lock and Dam.

Family hiking at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.

Starved Rock

Unfortunately, this was our last hike of the day and my camera died. The trail was only .3 miles away from the Visitor Center so it was pretty easy and the way is paved. However, there is a huge hill you’ll have to walk up. Plus, there are TONS of stairs to climb. In the end, you’ll come face to face with great views of the river as well as seeing Plum Island. 

Bottom Line:

We had such a fun time on our first official hike. We’d love to come back and explore more!

Tips to enjoy Starved Rock State Park:

  • Visit first thing in the morning or later in the day to avoid the crowds.
  • Be prepared for a lot of stairs.
  • Bring an extra set of clothes and shoes in case you get wet or get muddy.
  • Bring a garbage bag. Once you go deeper in the trails, there are no garbage cans. Bring a bag to stow your garbage until you find a trash can.
  • Check out the visitor center to get a physical map and info about the trails. Another option is to download a map here. 

Nitty Gritty:

Address: 2678 East 873rd Road, Oglesby, IL 61348
Admission: Free


Looking for a place to stay? Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort was a great family-friendly place to stay especially with its newly revamped indoor waterpark. Check it out here. Looking for something a little bit more secluded and quiet? A stay at Kishauwau Starved Rock Area Cabins is perfect. Stay tuned for a post.

Interested in more hiking? You will LOVE Matthiessen State Park which is just a few minutes away.