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Wisconsin Parent

Midwest Travel: Starved Rock State Park, Utica, Illinois

Nov 18, 2013 11:04AM, Published by Julie Henning, Categories: Travel

Illinois River Valley

If you live in Wisconsin and love the Kettle Moraines, Devil's Lake, or even the Iron Range, then you should point your car south and head down to Utica, Illinois for a getaway in the Illinois River Valley.

Gateway to the 2,600 acre Starved Rock State Park, the region features sandstone canyons, seasonal waterfalls, and hiking trails galore. A beautiful four-season destination, Utica is closer than you may think: Google Maps says 2 hours and 30 minutes from Milwaukee or Dubuque, 2 hours and 15 minutes from Madison, and 1 hour and 30 minutes from both Chicago and Davenport.


Voted the #1 Fan Favorite Attraction in the state of Illinois in 2012, not only Starved Rock State Park and the Starved Rock Lodge & Conference center conveniently located, it's also quite affordable. Park admission is free and room rates range from $80 to $215 (the most expensive option is for two bedroom Family Pioneer Cabin that sleeps five). Nearby camping is also available.

Starved Rock Lodge

The main lodge was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and features hand-crafted hardwood furniture and a grand stone fireplace in the Great Hall. Fear not, the lodge has an indoor swimming area complete with hot tub, sauna, and kiddie pool. If you plan to swim, you may want to consider making a lodging reservation in the main lodge (the bathrooms do have lockers and changing areas if you trek over from one of the cabins).

Great Hall Fireplace

A bit like stepping back in time, a weekend at Starved Rock State Park feels like summer camp and family vacation all wrapped into one. Ideal for families with elementary-age kids, the park Visitor Center features educational exhibits and a 15-minute video that explains the geological and historical significance of the region.

Looking at Starved Rock

A total of 12.3 miles of hiking trails lead park visitors to 18 sandstone canyons, many of which have seasonal waterfalls that freeze into spectacular ice falls in the winter months. Worth the short drive is venturing over to nearby Matthiessen State Park and visiting Lake Falls (look for signs leading you to The Dells entrance).

Lake Falls

When you're tired out from hiking, snowshoeing, or climbing up and down stairs, consider a regional trolley tour or making a jaunt to the city of North Utica for shopping, antiquing, or learning about the local artists or winemakers.


We loved Nonie's Bakery and Cafe (think pastries 'to die for' served on mismatched vintage china) and shopping for souvenirs at the eclectic Mix's Trading post.


A weekend that shifted our "Illinois Flatland" paradigm, Starved Rock State Park will remain a favorite Midwest Travel destination for years to come. Enjoy more photos from our weekend adventure and have a listen to the Midwest Travel podcast episode featuring Starved Rock Lodge Director of Marketing Casstevens (click here or use the player linked above).

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family vacation getaways hiking illinois lodge midwest travel sandstone state park utica waterfalls

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