Starved Rock State Park, Utica, Illinois

Summer vacation is winding down and I decided I needed to do something fun with the kids before school starts back up again next week. I decided to pack a picnic lunch in a backpack and drive the whole 5 minutes over to Starved Rock for a hike. I usually like to go to Matthiessen but decided we would head to Starved Rock this time. I went to my usual place, St. Louis Canyon, but the small parking lot was full. The entrance to St. Louis Canyon is right across the street from Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Lodge. It has a nice trail and neat waterfalls. I had to go to my backup though. I parked at the back of the Starved Rock Lodge public parking lot and went in by the bald eagles totem pole. It is closest to French Canyon. We hiked in through French Canyon and a little further up the trail before we found a spot next to the trail to lay out our blanket and have a picnic.

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After lunch, we hiked some more. We went past Pontiac Canyon and stopped at Lover’s Leap Overlook by the dam.

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Then we turned and headed back toward the parking lot. The trail was easy. It was just me with three kids ages 7, 5, and 2 and I didn’t feel unsafe at all. Even my two-year-old hiked the whole way. Living by Starved Rock, we often hear emergency vehicles headed toward the state parks and know that often that means someone has wandered off the trail and gotten hurt. People need to remember that this isn’t a manmade amusement park. It is nature. We stayed on the trail and were fine. There are even signs there to remind you to do just that.

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If you are looking for a trail to hike at Starved Rock with minimal stairs and some nice overlooks, I’d recommend the path we took. It is still a hike, but I would say it is pretty easy. The kids proclaimed it: “The best day ever!” It was a fun time and a good way to end summer vacation.

Rotary Park, LaSalle, Illinois

How many times have you been on a long road trip and wished you had a great place to stop and let the kids run around and burn off some energy? This has happened to me more times than I could count. Usually we are stuck with a fast food play land or a rest stop. But how great would it be to have a wonderful park with an amazing playground, walking trails, and a pond that is easy on and off from the interstate? Well, if you are traveling on Interstate 39 in north central Illinois, you are in luck. Just a minute off the interstate is just that park you have been looking for.

Take Exit 57 on I39 (Route 6) and head west. If you were traveling south on 39, turn right off the interstate. If you were traveling north on 39, turn left off the interstate. Turn right on East 5th road. You will see a sign for Rockwell Cemetery and the park will be just up on the left side of the road. You can see I39 from the park. It is that close.Image

There is an amazing playground there. It is castle themed with lots of slides, climbing obstacles, and bridges. There are different kinds of swings and some spinning and rocking equipment.

There are walking/bike trails and a nice pond. When we visited, the park hadn’t been open very long and there are still a lot of things that are going to be worked on. There were places where shelters will go in. Image

So next time you are traveling on Interstate 39 and need to make a stop, or if you live in the Illinois Valley, make a visit to Rotary Park (aka Castle Park) and your kids will thank you.

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