One Tank Destination: Starved Rock State Park

By Alyssa Donovan

July 10, 2013 Updated Jul 10, 2013 at 2:20 PM CDT

UTICA, Ill. -- If you are looking for a bit of adventure this summer, you don't have to travel very far. In fact this trip will only require one tank of gas.

Just off of Route 71 near Utica, Illinois lies 2,700 acres of nature, adventure and well-preserved history...Starved Rock State Park.

Its convenient location, along the Illinois river and less than a 2 hour drive from Peoria is making it one of this summer's best one tank destinations.

"It's a combination of all these wonderful things there's architectural beauty, natural wonder, geology, outdoor adventure, family fun all in one and most of it is free," said Marketing Director Kathy Casstevens.

The park has nearly 16 miles of hiking trails that lead to historic canyons, waterfalls and rock formations cut by glaciers nearly 10,000 years ago.

Casstevens led our hike starting out with St. Louis Canyon.

"It's a stand alone canyon that combines the sand and the waterfalls and the boulders," she said.

Hiking into the canyon, you can see some of more than 200 wildflower species that call the park home.

The park doesn't just draw in people from Illinois.Marty Gustafson and her family came from Madison, Wisconsin to hike this Illinois gem.

"Oh my gosh it's fantastic! I mean we had looked at it a little on the website so we knew we wanted to stop but this is way better than we expected," said Gustafson.

"People come from all over the world, Germany, UK, Canada, Mexico. So Illinois loves this place but so do people from New Jersey and Iowa and Michigan so it's really a draw to people all over the world," said Casstevens.

"Oh it's gorgeous. It's absolutely the most beautiful place I've ever seen. This is overwhelming," said Sandra Nelson from Shawnee, Kansas.

"Wonderful easy hike to get back here," said Sandra's husband Daniel Nelson. "The lodge is wonderful, enjoyed a visit to the visitor’s center and got oriented and we've just enjoyed the peacefulness of this canyon here and we're glad there's enough water for a waterfall."

Next we hiked into French Canyon. Casstevens said thousands of years ago the canyon was actually an inland sea.

"It's just as beautiful on the approach as it is once you get in and you can actually walk up the stairs and feel the footprints of thousands of people that went before you and it's really part of the beauty of that canyon," she said.

The 18 canyons are visited by over 2 million people a year.

If you are coming here for the first time there is one thing that you have to do. Climbing to the top of Starved Rock is a right of passage at the park but there are hundreds of other views to see on your trip.

The top of Starved Rock has been worn down about 18 inches due to visitor traffic which is why this wooden walkway was built in 1981 to help preserve the historic formation.

The park has recently been nominated to be named the "8th wonder of the world" by virtualtourist.com and our camera can only capture some of what this park has to offer.

"The smell of summer, the smell of green, the smell of fall, the smell of winter they each have their own scent and you can watch it on TV but you just can't enjoy the sights the sounds and the smells like you can if you're here in person," said Casstevens.

We've only shown you the places you can hike to. The park also has trolley tours, canal rides, shopping and entertainment.

To find out more about special events and activities you can visit starvedrocklodge.com.

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