The Starved Rock Loop is a delightful hike with features ranging from high lookouts to the low, magical canyons of Starved Rock State Park. Except for a few scrambles into canyons, there isn't anything too technical to keep hikers from exploring this remarkable landscape formed from glacial meltwater and erosion. The elevation does change frequently, and there are a number of flights of steps, so it's best to pace yourself and linger over the scenery.
Starved Rock State Park doesn't lack for points of interest, and fortunately, most of the canyons can be accessed from nearby parking areas. While not encountered on this hike, St. Louis Canyon, Aurora Canyon, Council Overlook, and Illinois Canyon can be truly magical in the spring.
Although springtime, with its blooms and waterfalls, is the most popular time to visit the park, Starved Rock delivers all year-round. Whether you're enjoying it during summer's tranquility, autumn's colorful displays, or the forming of winter's stunning ice falls, you're bound to have a wonderful experience.
Poison ivy is prevalent in the park when in season, so be on the lookout. There are plenty of steps, bridges, and boardwalks that can be slippery when icy or wet.
Begin at the main parking area near the visitor center and follow the walkway past the buildings to take a left at the intersection. A brief climb over many stairs soon carries hikers to the top of Starved Rock, the park's namesake. The river, dam, islands, forests, and surrounding land present a beautiful panorama to enjoy with groups of other visitors.
Head back down to the intersection and hang a left onto the Interior Canyon Trail - French Canyon
. Follow this easy-going trail until you soon reach the French Canyon Extension
to climb higher into the canyon to the south.
The trail appears to end after a small set of carved stones near a shallow pool, but hikers are allowed to go past the guard rails and scramble to a larger waterfall. To accomplish this, many visitors adopt a hiking stick-aided crab walk by placing one foot on either side of the water as they climb.
A short narrow channel brings hikers to the prize: a sandstone alcove with a serene waterfall at the end. This too is a very popular spot in the park, and for good reason. When you can tear yourself away, head back the way you came. Be careful though, as it can be even more slippery on the exit.
Return to the French Canyon Trail and continue to the right. At the next intersection, follow the signs for Lover's Leap. A long boardwalk takes hikers out to the overlook for a different perspective of the river and a nice view back at Starved Rock. Keep heading clockwise along the trail to reach the Eagle Cliff Overlook for an unobscured view up the river. If you're visiting in the winter, the steps and boardwalks here can be treacherously coated in ice.
Continue down the River Trail
past the Beehive Overlook to Wildcat Canyon. When there's water, a tall, beautiful waterfall plummets into the canyon and it's possible to get a closer look, though you may have to get your feet wet.
A little more than a half-mile down the trail, hikers will come to the west end of the Interior Canyon Trail - LaSalle Canyon
. Keep hiking past here until you cross a bridge to turn right onto the east end of the Interior Canyon Trail - LaSalle Canyon
. This narrow singletrack will bring you to a spectacular basin complete with a short, but ample, waterfall during most of the year. As an added treat, the trail leads behind the falls as it continues around the canyon to the west.
Ahead, the Interior Canyon Trail - Tonty Canyon
splits to the left for a worthwhile exploration of impressive rock formations and up to two waterfalls after a heavy rain. The trail can be slippery, so be prepared. Once you're back on the Interior Canyon Trail - LaSalle Canyon
, keep following it back to the River Trail
and make a left turn to begin heading back.
Proceed a quarter mile, then turn away from the river onto the Bluff Trail - West
for the steepest climbing on the hike. The going is manageable, but your legs and lungs will be feeling the burn before you reach the Sandstone Point Overlook. A more moderate climb and then rolling descent heads to two overlooks at Wildcat Canyon.
From the overlooks, take the Connecting Trail - French Canyon
for a mostly level path through dense woodlands. Before reaching the lodge, the trail connects back to the Bluff Trail - West
at the top of French Canyon. From there, continue past the parking area to descend a surprising amount of steps on the east side of the Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center. Head past the buildings to return to your vehicle to reminisce over the day's exploring.