I’ve been to Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois, in every season, each season with a beauty of its own. Spring brings the promise of warm summer days, life bursting forth again after dormancy, the bright green of new leaves on trees, tiny wildflowers poking through the ground, the scent of spring in the air. In the summer, a canopy of shade cools, the sight and sound of rushing waterfalls mesmerize, and coneflower and black-eyed Susan add bursts of color to the green foliage. In the fall, the most popular time to visit, leaves turn to shades of crimson and amber, leaves that have already fallen crunch under your feet with every step you take. My favorite time of year to visit, though, is winter.
A feeling of stillness envelopes the winter woods as you hike some of the 13 miles of snow blanketed trails, the shining sun warming the brisk air enough to keep you comfortable.
Climb to the tops of sandstone bluffs to take in breathtaking views of canyons with waterfalls of solid ice, as still as if frozen in time, and the wide Illinois River that flows adjacent to the park, eagles soaring overhead, diving into the water to catch their next meal, roosting in nearby trees.
When you’re ready to warm up, head to the rustic Starved Rock Lodge, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, where you can relax in front of the two-sided fireplace in the Great Hall.
I had the Chief Pontiac sandwich, shaved prime rib and smoked cheddar on Focaccia bread with barbecue cilantro sauce, served with homemade chips. it tasted as good as the description sounded.
If you need something a little warmer to wear when you go back outside, pick up a colorful scarf, hat or sweater in the gift shop.
Be sure to stop in the visitor center while you’re in the park, too, where you can get information on park activities and learn the history of the park, about the Native Americans who inhabited the area and explorers Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet.
Starved Rock State Park, less than 100 miles from Chicago, is a popular day trip for Illinoisans, but you may want to make a weekend of it. Stay in one of Starved Rock Lodge’s 69 guest rooms or in a cabin, some of which have fireplaces. (Saturday night stays require a two night booking.) Check the Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center web site for details.
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