A little over a month ago my Army buddy Jarred hit me up on Facebook and told us we should come check out the Starved Rock trails about an hour away from where he lives in Illinois. I was going to make the trip regardless of what the trail was like because it’s not every day that you get to see one of your Army brothers once you stop wearing the uniform. But after a quick google search of Starved Rock and some dramatic waterfall pictures this quickly became one of my most anticipated hikes so far. So after taking a day off of work on Saturday, we loaded up the truck and were on the road by 8am. From my front door to his is about a 3 and a half hour drive. But going from central Indiana to Illinois you make up an hour, so we made it right before noon after awkwardly blowing through several toll areas because we’d forgotten to bring cash for the toll road (they just take your license plate # and you pay online).
After quickly introducing my father to Jarred and his girlfriend Cassie, we loaded into the truck again and drove about another hour to Starved Rock. The parking lot was filled almost to capacity when we arrived, since it was 60 degrees in mid-late February and it had snowed heavily the prior week, everyone was taking advantage of the short respite from the winter weather. So we all piled out of the truck, my father and I strapped our daypacks on and we took off for the trail.
The first part of the trails here are all built up, wooden walkways, concrete paths. All lined with college kids taking selfies in “nature” and complaining about getting their shoes that are “meant for breathing” dirty in the mud. We admired the views that we could and quickly scrambled further into the trail. After a short walk with a good many stairs and a lot of tourists we came to our first set of incredible views overlooking the levee right off the state park. We played tourists here ourselves and took lots of pictures and heard the backstory of the Starved Rock before moving on to the next area. The whole Lovers Leap, Eagle Cliff and beehive overlook area was like a spider web of wooden paths sneaking through the trees and over the cliffs to pop out for scenic view after scenic view. It was quickly apparent why this state park was so popular.
So after the overlooks, we moved on to the canyon areas. While we didn’t hit all of them while we were out we did hit most of the more popular views and got some amazing shots of Wildcat Canyon, Lonetree Canyon and Basswood Canyon. These were the homes to some of the most dramatic and awesome pictures and views that we saw through the entire trip and were definitely my favorite part of the hike. Even my protesting legs were okay with the 50 or so flights of steps that we’d gone up and down to see these views. Although at this point I was starting to question my decision to wear the daypack that’s still loaded down with everything I’d need to start hiking the AT today. But I remembered that sometime in the next 4-5 years I’ll be standing at AT approach trail in Georgia and likely wishing I’d hit hillier trails with that pack on BEFORE starting the thru hike.
Anyway, after the Canyons we started Cassie’s (Jarred’s Girlfriend) least favorite part of the trail. The roughly 2 mile portion of bog style mud from all the meltwater and foot traffic on the trail that day. While we covered our boots and shoes with mud we saw a few stray shoes stuck in the mud that reminded us why we tie double knots before we go into stuff like that. This whole portion of the trail took us about an hour each way, even though it was muddy and tedious it was mostly flat and there were no more hellish stairs to clamber up. We made our way to Own Canyon Overlook and LaSalle Canyon and explored off trail for a little while before deciding to turn back, as we noticed that we would soon be running short on daylight.
After making our way back through the mud, up more sets of devilish stairs that made me appreciate switchbacks and making it back to the truck, we finished out the day having hiked 8.5 trail miles according to my Fitbit Surge with just over 70 flights of stairs. So after this momentous feat we decided to end the journey with beer and nachos at a Duffy’s (fluffy’s) Pub right down the road. So after dropping Jarred and Cassie back at their place and reacquiring the hour that we lost on the way to Illinois we made it back to our homes at 1am and 2am respectively. This made for an incredibly long but immensely satisfying trip, and definitely one that I won’t soon forget.
Our GPS trail and complete set of photos are linked below.