Planning a trip to Starved Rock? The state park is popular for a good reason, but if you’d like to stay awhile and venture out a bit you’ll find plenty of things to do and places to eat in the Starved Rock area.

Find as many waterfalls as you can at Starved Rock State Park

Visiting Starved Rock is probably the main thing most people want to do when they visit the area. With over 13 miles of hiking trails and 14 waterfalls, it’s easy to see why Starved Rock is so popular. Our recent travels to the area brought us to St. Louis Canyon’s waterfall and I have to say it’s our fav!

Tip: We parked at the “secret” parking lot for St. Louis Canyon. To get there, pass the main entrance and continue on Rt. 178 for another minute or so. There is a small parking lot on the left. When we were there there was a sign saying “Road Closed”. Don’t worry, it’s still open to foot traffic.

Admiring the waterfall view at St. Louis Canyon

RELATED: Read all about Starved Rock Area State Park

Visit Matthiessen State Park

As the lesser-known state park in the area, Matthiessen State Park happens to be one of our favorites. Originally known as Deer Park, the state park named after LaSalle County  industrialist and philanthropist. If I have one tip to share about this park is that you need to go down the lower dells. Here you’ll hike along the stream, traverse concrete steps, and most likely will get your feet wet. By far, it’s our family’s favorite hike.

One of the main waterfalls is Cascade Falls. People were wading and enjoying themselves. Get there early and you’ll likely have it to yourselves. If not, the space around is huge so you can still maintain a safe social distance from others.

RELATED: What else can you do at Matthiessen State Park? Read all about it here.

Visit Buffalo Rock State Park

Can’t find parking at Starved Rock or Matthiessen State Park? Your visit is not a total bust. Located a few minutes away from the more popular parks, Buffalo Rock State Park is another great option while you’re in the area. Here you’ll find the 3 resident buffalo, one of which is a baby.

Once we met the three buffalo, we were ready for our hike. Since the state park is located along the Illinois River, I thought the River Trail would be perfect to scope out the view. Although I was expecting to see more river views, there were a couple overlooks which had fantastic views.

We made our way back on the Effigy Tumuli Trail which was mostly through prairie grass and unfortunately hardly provided any shade.

Have a root beer float

Located just a few minutes from either Matthiessen or Starved Rock, The Rootbeer Stand was exactly what we needed after a morning spent hiking.  Although you can order a quick meal like cheeseburgers or a pork tenderloin at the nostalgic carhop, our main objective here was getting good ol’ root beer floats and ice cream! Not only did we not have to get out of the car, but everything came super quick!

Outdoor dining with a view

Red Dog Grill in Ottawa was our first official dining experience since Covid happened, and we couldn’t have picked a better spot! Delicious food overlooking the harbor – what more could we ask for? The burgers were devoured by the kids and I scarfed down my shrimp margarita wrap. 

See where Lincoln once stood

See the site where Lincoln stood and had a senatorial debate with Stephen A. Douglas. Located in Ottawa’s Washington Square Park, a bronze statue of Lincoln and Douglas can be seen to commemorate the event. (Unfortunately, during our visit the area was roped off and couldn’t get close enough.) If we had more time (and if it had been opened) it would have been nice to tour Reddick Mansion across the street.

Spot all the Murals Around Town

As you know, I am always seeking out cool murals and Ottawa has a few cool ones. The town has 10 murals located throughout town with a focus on historical figures or events. One of most popular murals happens to be located next to Washington Square Park, the location of the Lincoln-Douglas debate.

Day of Great Debate

Peltier Glass Factory


View of General W.H.L. Wallace from our table across the street at Tangled Roots Brewery

Have a flight…and enjoy great food

I heard great things about Tangled Roots Brewery and it was a must stop for us. Conveniently located in downtown Ottawa (just a few feet down from the book store, toy shop, and Washington Square Park), we wanted to try everything on the menu. In the end, we tried a couple burgers (with beef from a local farm), fish n chips, and a shrimp po boy. Don’t leave without trying their any of their craft beer, or better try a flight. We were fans of Coco Vibes so we ended up getting a Crowler (32 oz) of it to go. 

Find your next read

Love books? Then you’ll definitely get all the #bookfeels once you step into the independent bookstore Prairie Fox Books located in downtown Ottawa. The kids couldn’t contain their excitement as they perused their youth section. I couldn’t help but browse around adoring everything. I love the little nooks and seating inviting you to read.

Toy shop fun

Find a special toy for the kids at Rock Paper Scissors. Located across the street from Prairie Fox Books, the independent toy store is a must visit in the area. Here you’ll find a huge assortment of toys some we’ve never seen before.  Make your way towards the back to find a pretty large book section for your book worm.


Other Things to Do:

  • Visit the historic Starved Rock Lodge. Located in Starved Rock State Park, the Lodge serves American comfort food in a rustic setting. 
  • Stroll through downtown Utica and grab a bite and pint at Lodi Tap House.
  • Wine down at August Hill Winery.
  • Tour Reddick Mansion in Ottawa.

Where to Stay:

Looking for something a little bit more secluded and quiet? A stay at Kishauwau Starved Rock Area Cabins is the perfect spot to unwind after a day of hiking. Read all about our stay here. 

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. 

Planning a visit to the Starved Rock area? Here are more than ten things you can do including where to hike, places to eat and shop.