Looking for fun activities to do with friends or family when the weather is nice? Living in the Chicagoland, finding an outdoor place to hike and explore that is not just flat and boring can be tough. With summer right around the corner, visiting some of Illinois best state parks that offer waterfalls and canyons, such as Starved Rock State Park and Matthiessen State Park, is a perfect way to spend your day.
Matthiessen State Park: Gabrielle Faletto
Located off of Illinois Route 178 in Oglesby, Matthiessen State Park is a paradise for those interested in hiking, taking pictures, checking out the abundance of plants and wildlife and seeing all the rock formations.
Open year round from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., the park allows visitors to see all of the canyons, waterfalls and prairies for no cost. The park offers five miles of well-marked, well-surfaced hiking trails for those who come for a relaxing walk or a vigorous hike. There are large trail maps located at all major trail intersections where visitors can choose a variety of routes. For those laid back hikers, the upper area has easy paths, while the trails into the interiors of the two dells may be a little bit more difficult to negotiate. The trails are there to keep hikers safe from steep cliffs and deep canyons so it is important that visitors follow the path. During your adventure, you can marvel at the plant and animal life along with the panoramic views throughout the park.
After a long hike, visitors can take a break in the Dells Area where there are picnic tables, restrooms and water fountains. Not to mention, an equestrian campground for horseback riders and their horses is located west of Route 178 between Route 71 and the Dells Area entrance. You can also find a radio-controlled model airplane field located at the Vermilion River Area. Speaking in which, a scenic place that many visitors may not know of is the sunflower field located in the far west corner by the airplane field. The last couple weeks in July and the first week in August is a great time to see the sunflowers in full bloom and it is definitely worth the drive.
When comparing Matthiessen State Park to Starved Rock, Matthiessen tends to be less crowded, very quiet, showcases many beautiful views and offers a variety of trails that hold surprises of their own. It is definitely a place to include in your summer bucket list.
Starved Rock State Park: Kt Mattern
Just a few minutes away from Matthiessen State Park is Starved Rock, one of Illinois’ best known treasures.
Open bright and early at 6 a.m. and closing at 9 p.m., the park accommodates any schedule. To be safe, hikers should make sure that their hike is in the daytime to avoid trekking in the dark.
With a history as rich as the dirt that coats the trails, Starved Rock is not only a hike, but a way to feel what the past was like. During a fight between the Native Americans who used to live in the area, members of the Illinois tribe were pushed to the top of the peak where they died from starvation, giving the name Starved Rock. While the backstory doesn’t make Starved Rock seem like a place you’d want to hang out, the view at the top of its namesake makes up for it.
The park offers over double the length of trails as Matthiessen does with a whole 13 miles. With double the amount of park to explore, Starved Rock is able to provide virtually anything a hiker could want whether you want to stroll along the base or climb all of the peaks.
With waterfalls stationed around the park, there are plenty of opportunities for your breath to be taken away. Along with the beauty of the falls, you can also cool off or even get a photo op.
While hiking you might also be lucky enough to see some of the incredible wildlife that live in the area. From bald eagles to deer there are all kinds of surprises waiting around the corner.
Along with hiking, you can even stay in one of the lodges or rooms available. Instead of staying over in a musty hotel room, hikers can take a vacation down at Starved Rock. With trails right outside your front door, vacationers can feel at one with nature.
While Starved Rock may seem like it would be more crowded, with 13 miles of trails, it’s hard to have to fight for space when there’s more than enough. With breathtaking peaks and waterfalls, along with the opportunity to live in nature, Starved Rock is an obvious trip you need to make this summer.
Winner: Starved Rock