Less than 100 miles southwest of Chicago, melting glaciers left their mark, carving a maze of canyons into the St. Peter sandstone. Visitors to Starved Rock State Park in Oglesby see 18 sandstone canyons, seasonal waterfalls and tree-covered bluffs along its 15 miles of hiking trails. Start at the visitors center for snacks, interactive displays and a map of trails that include the .3-mile walk to Starved Rock, the .8-mile trail to Eagle Cliff, and the 4-mile trek to views of Council Overhang, Ottawa and Kaskaskia canyons. The park also offers seasonal free, guided hikes. For less strenuous trips to see Lover’s Leap and the Starved Rock Lock and Dam, take a narrated tour aboard the Belle of the Rock paddle wheel boat. Nearby Matthiessen State Park has five miles of hiking trails that lead to a picturesque canyon and interesting rock formations.
Guests at Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center choose between rustic hotel rooms or log cabins in the woods. Finish the day with a burger and a Starved Rock Signature Ale while listening to live music at The Veranda on Fridays. In nearby Ottawa, Heritage Harbor offers vacation cottages for rent for a home-away-from-home lodging experience.
The Illinois and Michigan Canal was built in the mid-1800s to connect the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River by way of the Illinois River. Today, more than 60 miles of preserved towpath from Rockdale to LaSalle form the multi-use Illinois and Michigan Canal State Trail. Hikers and bikers see historic sites, numerous state parks and river views with wildlife. For a different vantage point of the river, try the 90-minute I & M Canal Mule-Pulled Boat Ride in LaSalle. Mules Joe and Moe pull the replica canal boat, while guides dressed in period attire take you on the same journey as 19th century pioneers.
Fuel up in Ottawa’s Burger and Sushi House (B.A.S.H.), with specialties such as the Crabby Patty burger (with crab rangoon mix, sweet-n sour and fried wontons) or a Shrimp Tempura roll. Across the river, Illinois Sparkling Company uses locally grown grapes to create bubbly wines in the town of Peru. To sample their five wines, head 12 miles east to their tasting room in North Utica.