When I was in grade school, a favorite Sunday outing took us to Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois, about an hour’s drive from home. I grew up surrounded by flat land of corn and soybean fields, so in my young mind, Starved Rock was a natural wonder. The Illinois River flowing by was deep and swift, the canyons looked mighty, and the Rock itself was high and scary.
We’d have a family picnic on the grounds somewhere, or for a special treat, lunch was in the Lodge Dining Room. Later everyone hiked the trails and climbed to the top of the famous Rock.
A recent get-together with friends Cecille, Sarah, and Judith took me back to Starved Rock on a beautiful fall day.
The park got its name from a Native American legend. Around 1760, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe was attending a tribal council meeting in the area and was stabbed by an Illini brave. Pontiac’s followers wanted revenge. Warfare broke out, and the Illini fled to the top of the Rock. The Ottawa, along with Potawatomi members, kept watch at the bottom until finally all of the Illini had starved. The landmark was thereafter known as “Starved Rock.”
In the late 1800s, the area was developed into a vacation resort. The resort was then acquired by the State of Illinois in 1911 for a state park, which it remains today.
The iconic Lodge was built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC for short. (This agency gave young men jobs during the Depression.) The Great Hall is decorated for each season and offers a place to relax in rustic charm.
The Dining Room just off the Great Hall serves delicious meals and an excellent Sunday brunch.
One of the favorite activities at Starved Rock is hiking. There are thirteen miles of well-marked trails and eighteen sandstone canyons to explore.
The climb up to Starved Rock is a must-do. At the top, the walkway is circular so hikers are rewarded with a 360-degree view of the area.
If you’re not feeling trails and canyons, you can take a self-guided walking tour of Art in the Park. It’s a collection of wood carvings and modern sculpture surrounding the Lodge, and some pieces can be found inside, too.
Want to spend a few days at the park? There are rooms available at the Lodge for overnight stays, and these cozy little vintage cabins can also be rented.
Today Starved Rock attracts over two million visitors a year. It’s a great place to visit anytime, including the Holidays and winter months.