Starved Rock State Park encompasses a section of sandstone bluffs and narrow canyons on the south bank of the Illinois River. The miles of trail, historical significance, well-appointed lodge, wildlife (including bald eagles in the winter), and proximity to Chicago make the park a popular destination year-round. While rock climbing is prohibited, ice climbing is permitted when conditions allow. To check ice and other park conditions, call 815-667-4726.
There are up to five canyons in which ice climbing is permitted when conditions allow:
The canyons are highlighted in blue in the map below; there are also signs and maps along the trails to indicate the canyons. The ranger station where you will need to sign in (see Red Tape) is also highlighted.
Per the state park website (see External Links):
I-39 southbound: South to I-80 east (exit #59). Go 2 miles to exit #81 (Rt. 178, Utica). Go south (right) 3 miles on Rt. 178 and follow the signs into the Park.
I-39 northbound: North to Exit #48 (Tonica exit). Go east (right) for approximately 5 miles to the T-intersection, which is Rt. 178. Go north (left) for approximately 5 miles and follow the signs into the Park.
I-80 Eastbound and Westbound: Get off at exit #81 (Rt.178, Utica). Go south 3 miles on Rt. 178 and follow the signs into the Park.
For precise directions from your location, use the following link:
View Larger Map
- As of January 2009, there is still no fee for day use or ice climbing at Starved Rock.
- Ice climbers must sign in at the ranger station (see map in the Overview section). If you enter the park from the west, the ranger station (park office) will be on your right before you reach the Visitor Center.
- Ice climbing is only permitted in the canyons listed above. Call 815-667-4726 to find out if the conditions are appropriate for ice climbing.
- All ice climbers must have a partner.
- Ice climbing hours are 7am to dark.
- Crampons should not be worn on wooden bridges or walkways.
- Portions of the park are closed during hunting seasons. See the park website for dates and closures.
- Rock climbing is not allowed.
Camping and Amenities
If you wish to stay overnight, your options include:
- hotel rooms at the lodge
- 133 Class A-Premium campsites
- youth group campsites
See the park website for reservation information or campsite permit information.
The lodge includes a nice restaurant (when they offer it, the prime rib buffet is recommended).
- Ice climbing information for many Upper Midwest areas
External LinksStarved Rock State Park
- state park website
- some route information; check the forum for occasional reports on ice conditions.
According to Native American legend, Ottawa and Potawatomi warriors out to avenge the slaying of Chief Pontiac surrounded a band of Illiniwek on a bluff above the Illinois River. Rather than fight the Illiniwek directly, the attackers laid siege until the Illiniwek starved. Starved Rock derives its name from this event.
Today the park is not overrun by warring Native Americans but by tourists - the proximity to Chicago makes it one of the most visited parks in the state. The steep slopes of the river bluffs have been tamed by a series of boardwalks, staircases, and trails which carry thousands of visitors every weekend. They come for the waterfalls, the fall colors, and in the winter, the ice. The park is an unexpected gem in flatland central Illinois.
Starved Rock bluff on the left
There are two main trails: the Bluff Trail and the River Trail. The Bluff trail snakes along the cliff line, which is not a sheer edge but rather an increasingly steep slope that suddenly drops up to 80 ft. to the canyon floor. The trail is often without a barricade or hand rail, and unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear of an unlucky visitor making his way over the edge. Be careful especially in the winter when the whole park is covered in ice. The River Trail hugs the riverbank. There are many connecting trails (stairways) between the River and Bluff trails.
If you live in or happen to find yourself in the area of north-central Illinois, take a look around Starved Rock. And if conditions are right, bring a couple ice tools.
Thanks to dwhike for his Starved Rock Fall '08 album.
Fall color Illinois River
Waterfall Bald eagle