Starved Rock: Where Peace and Adventure Meet

(OGLESBY, Ill.) — There’s a reason Starved Rock State Park and Lodge are consistently ranked as a top Illinois destination. Many reasons, in fact.

The beautiful scenery of nature trails, canyons and waterfalls intertwined with the relaxing ambience of the lodge makes a perfect getaway for anyone.

On Friday, we arrived to Starved Rock Lodge with sunshine and 50s to welcome us.

It’s a beautiful drive from Peoria to LaSalle County, Illinois. A combination of back roads and interstate leads you to an area filled with inspiring state parks, ready to help you embark on your next adventure.

After checking into our room at Starved Rock Lodge Friday, we were ready for dinner! A warm lodge dining room welcomes you in with an impressive fireplace, unique wooden tables, and friendly staff ready to serve amazing food.

I have always been impressed by the food served at the Starved Rock lodge’s dining room. My go-to is the ribeye steak, while my wife orders the filet mignon.

Of course, in typical Sheehan fashion, we get cheese curds to start us off.

Hey, it’s hard to go wrong with cheese curds! Plus, my kiddo loves cheese. So when he’s acting grumpy because he’s hungry, you get him something he’ll enjoy and you get it fast!

You get two sides with your steak dinner. I got the baked potato and green beans, Rachel got the Yukon mashed potatoes with green beans. For little Bennett, we ordered him the chicken tenders. Which mom and dad may have also snuck in a couple bites of!

After leaving the dining room, we went back to relax. I think we were all asleep by 8:30!

It’s not February in Illinois without some climate changes every day. Saturday morning, we woke up to snow on the ground and lows in the 20s. Talk about a change of scenery!

The room’s alarm clock automatically went off at 6:00 AM, because I’m assuming the guest before us forgot to turn the alarm off, so we were all up and at em’ a little earlier than expected. But nonetheless, we decided to take advantage of being up early and go on a coffee run.

I’m writing a more thorough article soon about the food & drink options in and near Starved Rock very soon, so I’ll get into more of these details then.

After our coffee/breakfast run, we headed back to the Lodge for another fun adventure.

It was time to take advantage of one of Starved Rock Lodge’s best amenities. The pool!

Bennett absolutely loved playing in the kids’ pool. He also had a lot of fun while mommy and daddy swam him around the bigger pool. He’s currently in swim lessons, so we were able to take some of things we’ve learned and put it to the test!

The pool area provides guests with towels and comes with a hot tub, sauna and locker rooms. The sauna and hot tub were calling my name, as well!

After swim time, came lunch! We headed to the Lone Buffalo by Tangled Roots Brewing Company in Ottawa. They have recently started offering a brunch menu at 11:00 AM, so we ordered off of that! More to come in the next article.

Now it’s nap time for Bennett and Rachel. Which meant hiking time for me!

There’s a lot of different routes and plans you can put together to hike at Starved Rock State Park. I chose a route I’m pretty familiar with, which is the combination of hiking to the French Canyon and Wildcat Canyon.

First, you head down the staircase behind the Lodge that leads you to the State Park near the trailhead and Visitor’s Center. Take a right, and you’re on your way to the trails!

The French Canyon is the closest and one of the easier hikes, so it’s a good place to start. The water was flowing a little on Saturday afternoon, which made for a scenic walk up to the canyon. It’s extremely important to make sure you have proper hiking shoes/boots and dress warm, especially when it’s a “balmy” 30 degrees. It always feels nice, cool and refreshing when you approach the canyon and see the waterfall rushing over.

After heading down, I wandered to the Wildcat Canyon. Another beautiful walk that eventually takes you down a couple flights of stairs, before you’re faced with the beauty of the canyon. The Wildcat Canyon had more water flow and ice formation than the French Canyon.

What I had been walking on was the “Bluff Trail.” It’s the innermost trail system of the State Park that connects you to different canyons, whereas the “River Trail” as you probably guessed, has you walk alongside the river.

After getting my steps in on the bluff trail, I decided to switch things up and take the river trail to return to the Lodge.

Walking near the picturesque river makes for a great opportunity to relax and unwind. The river trail takes you to the Beehive Overlook and Lover’s Leap, two great opportunities to get an amazing view of the Illinois River and the Starved Rock Lock & Dam.

After trekking back to where I first entered the State Park’s hiking area, I decided to stop by the Visitor’s Center to check out the stickers they have. The last year or so I’ve started collecting stickers for my water bottle of the different places I’ve been. I’m happy to add Starved Rock State Park to the list!

It was time to head back to the lodge, so up the tall staircase I went. After 5 miles of hiking, I was ready to relax and head to dinner.

HAZE Smokehouse in LaSalle was our next food stop. Can’t wait to tell you all about some delicious BBQ in the next article!

We loved the pool area so much, we decided to swim again before bed time Saturday night! I used the hot tub a little more this time to rejuvenate after the 5 mile hike earlier. It was amazing!

Sunday morning we woke up to a much more pleasant day, weather wise. Temperatures were a little warmer, the snow was no longer on the ground, and we decided to explore the Visitor’s Center and let Bennett look at all the stuffed animals on the walls. This is a great way to spend some time, having your kids learn about nature and getting them inside.

We headed to Utica for lunch at one of our favorite local stops, Lodi Tap House. If you’re a cheese curd connoisseur like we are, just wait until you hear about these! Afterwards, we walked across the street to Bruce & Ollie’s Ice Cream & Coffee at the Bickerman Building for an ICE CREAM FLIGHT. Can’t wait to tell you about that.

You may remember my article on the August Hill Winery Tasting Room in Utica. That is on the same stretch of road on Mill St. in downtown Utica.

A weekend away to Starved Rock Lodge is the perfect getaway for friends, a family, or solo travelers needing some time away. The hotel wing part of the lodge we stayed at this time was amazing. The beds were extremely comfortable, so much so I need Starved Rock Lodge to tell me what brand they were so I can buy one for my next bed! The double queen room was spacious, came with a good-sized mini fridge and microwave and TV. The bathroom was nice, with plenty of space with a nice bath/shower included.

We had stayed in the lodge wing the time before, which had a king size bed which was really nice as well.

I have yet to stay in the cabins here, but I think that needs to be my next trip up there!

It was great to partner with Starved Rock Lodge and ExplorUS on this amazing adventure. There are beautiful things to see throughout the Midwest, and I’m honored to be able to help tell these stories!

Credit: Matt Sheehan