Visiting Starved Rock State Park

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Starved Rock State Park is located just west of Ottawa, Illinois. It is home to some extremely interesting rock formations, some beautiful walking trails, some stunning waterfalls and in the winter, is the home for Eagles who feed on the fish of the Illinois River.

I’ve only visited the area a few times now, and most recently chose to go after there had been twenty-four hours of rain. As every other time I had visited the waterfalls were dry, I figured this was my best shot at getting flowing water before they froze. I also intended to get a good look at the Eagles, but I honestly spent so much time on the waterfalls, I didn’t have time to the Eagles at their most active.

Eagle Watching

From what I have found during research, the best time to see the Eagles is between December and February. They are most active between 8-11am. You can see them from the top of Starved Rock itself, along the shoreline, or you can drive to the other side of the river and watch them from the Illinois Waterway Visitors Center near Plum Island. I saw a few the other day, but only by chance while walking the trails.

Other Wildlife

I did catch a Deer sneaking through the back of the buildings by the Lodge while I was walking through.

Hiking

This can be done anytime. The trails are quite accessible for the able-bodied person and dogs are welcome (as long as you pick up). It is also fun to climb into the canyons while they are dry and follow them as far up as you can, the rock formations are amazing.

Waterfalls

It rained for twenty four hours straight before I went. Most of the waterfalls were active.

This is what took all my day the other day. I had a huge amount of fun working on finding the right settings for my camera to try to capture the motion of the water in the way I wanted. I’m not completely happy with what I got, but you can still see the beauty of the waterfalls and the Canyons.

it can be difficult and slippery within some of the Canyons while the waterfalls are flowing, so either accept you might get wet, or tread very carefully. I got wet a few times as I either stood in the water flow, or had to jump over the river flowing through the Canyon to get to where I wanted.

There are plenty of Canyons to visit, but I didn’t go to them all. Here are the Canyons I visited, with photos and any information I think you may find useful:

Wildcat Canyon – Access to the top views of the waterfall I find are easiest from the Lodge. Follow the pathway out of the back of the parking lot and you will end up at the left side of the waterfall.

Wildcat Canyon (left overview). You can see the wooden barriers of the footpath to the right side above the top of the waterfall.

You can then walk back down from the left side, across the top of the Canyon to the right side.

Wildcat Canyon (right).

You can then walk down the steps on the right side, to the ground-level view of the waterfall.

Wildcat Canyon

Wildcat Canyon produces a double waterfall, but when I was there only one was flowing. I was told by another hiker that it runs best during the snow melt each Spring.

French Canyon – This is my favorite Canyon, wet or dry. You can walk into it quite easily.

French Canyon - You walk in on the side and when the fence ends, you continue all the way into the Canyon.

I didn’t need to get wet going into or out of it, and could have avoided it. But it wasn’t that cold and I knew my feet would dry, so I simply walked up the stream.

As you get closer, you can begin to see the main waterfall revealed behind the walls of the Canyon.

The waterfall in French Canyon has multiple levels, so is a cascading waterfall.

Probably my favorite photo of the day due to the cascading waterfall and the bright orange leaves on the rock layers.

So many pretty angles in French Canyon.

Aurora Canyon – I accessed this by walking from the parking lot by the visitors center. You have to walk by the side of the road for a short while to reach it’s footpath, and then you can follow it in. There isn’t very much of the Canyon easily accessible, and the views from the top are accessed from a path near the hotel.

I stood in the water flow to take most of my shots in this Canyon.

St Louis Canyon – I drove and parked close to this one after closely inspecting the map and finding that it was going to be a really long way to walk from the path near the hotel if I didn’t! I also had difficulty finding the parking lot so almost didn’t go, but I am really glad I did as this was an extremely pretty setting. I’m somewhat excited to visit this one again in the summer when there is much more color available.

There is a short walk to get from the parking lot to the Canyon anyway, and once you arrive you are greeted by some really interesting formations created by older waterfalls.

The waterfall is only part of the attraction with this Canyon. The rocks are stunning.

There appears to have been some work done within the Canyon to preserve it. I imagine the number of visitors which come in the summer take their toll. It actually made it really easy to get a good photo showing a large portion of the rock wall and waterfall.

In the middle of December there is still a very nice amount of color available.

I had a fantastic time. I was really pleased to see the water flowing. My only real annoyance was the lack of color in the images, but that’s what you’re going to get out of the winter I think… I will be going back in January to hopefully see the frozen waterfalls and the Eagles at their most active…

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Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.

He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.