Family-friendly Hiking at Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks

Starved Rock and Mathiessen State Parks in Illinois turned out to be a great road trip for some family-friendly hiking! We expected some light-to-medium hiking on prepped trails and were met by great weather, nice views, and some incredible canyons and waterfalls!

The parks are located next to each other in northern Illinois, a bit under four hours from Earth’s Edge in Grand Haven. The drive skirts around Chicago, so be sure to time your drive to avoid rush hour. The drive is short enough to make this a nice three day weekend visit, though we spent a few extra days and enjoyed smaller crowds on weekdays.

What gear did we need? Not much more than a comfortable pair of sandals or shoes to go with a healthy supply of water and snacks! I used my Chaco Men’s Odyssey sandals all week which were comfortable, breathable, and perfect for the mixed surfaces — dirt trails, muddy canyons, dry rock, slippery rock, wooden steps, streams and creeks — they handled them all with ease! Other members of our group wore Tevas or Keen sandals, which also worked well for navigating the streams and creeks while maintaining comfort. The members of our group that wore sneakers took them on and off a good bit since they were traditional running or walking shoes and weren’t compatible with the water. A nice pair of waterproof hiking shoes would have been a welcome option.

Another handy item was our Kavu shoulder sling — it was the perfect size for a few drinks and snacks! Any sling or should bag would be a handy item for your outdoor adventures.

The highlights of our visit centered on four locations.

Saint Louis Canyon

The first waterfall destination for us was Saint Louis Canyon. The shortest of our hikes, as we were coming from the Saint Louis Canyon Parking lot, was less than a mile from the falls and included an incline on the way in and out, a few sets of stairs, and traversing a creek at the end. The canyon view was stunning and the falls were beautiful — a great first stop for the entire family!

Council Overhang, Ottawa Canyon and Kaskaskia Canyon

One of our favorite hikes was from the Illinois Canyon parking lot to Council Overhang, Ottawa Canyon and Falls, and Kaskaskia Canyon and Falls! This hike took us through heavily wooded areas and allowed for long walks through creeks. Comfortable, water-friendly footwear made this journey a breeze and the destinations were stunning!

LaSalle Canyon

The highlight of the trip for our group, LaSalle Canyon was a beautiful hike through the woods that included many stairs, views of the Illinois River, and a wonderful location to relax and enjoy the view at LaSalle Canyon waterfall. The hike was mildly more challenging that the others, so sneakers or hiking boots would be a better fit for this trail. Though my Chacos worked very well and provided the stability and comfort I hoped for.

Giant’s Bathtub / Lake Falls

Finally, we ventured to nearby Mathiessen State Park to hike some trails there, roughly three miles worth. We parked in the lot near the private golf course and enjoyed a picnic in the remains of Lake Shelter overlooking Mathiessen Lake — the kids even did a little fishing there and caught a bluegill or two! We hiked the upper and lower Dells, enjoying many scenic views throughout. Lake Falls was perhaps our favorite waterfall of the entire trip, as it fell into a beautiful little bowl that felt private despite the other visitors there. The Giant’s Bathtub was another quiet, intimate stop that was enjoyed by our entire group. We also ventured down to Cascade Falls, which included many stairs and some very muddy hiking.

Overall, we would definitely recommend a visit to Starved Rock and Mathiessen State Parks for the easy-to-moderate hikes and the incredible canyon and waterfall views! Gear up with the right footwear and pack from Earth’s Edge and #OptOutside!

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