Starved Rock Lodge: A Hidden Gem in Illinois

by Kathy Casstevens (Starved Rock Lodge Marketing Director)

Oglesby, Illinois

Bus tour groups are discerning travelers, and Starved Rock Lodge, nestled in the middle of scenic Starved Rock State Park, offers a variety of sights and activities for all tastes. Located in Oglesby, Illinois, in the heart of LaSalle County, this centrally located destination is less than 100 miles SW of Chicago, less than two hours from Springfield and only one hour south of Rockford – so it’s conveniently located from all compass points.

Back in 1911, when Starved Rock became a state park, it was only the second of its kind. The goal was, and still is, to preserve and protect property for public use and recreation for years to come. In the late 1930s, Starved Rock Lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), along with many of the trails and shelters that still stand in the park today. The lodge is an architectural masterpiece, which features a hotel with 69 rooms, 23 cabin rooms, a restaurant, bar, gift shop and meeting rooms. The centerpiece of the lodge, the Great Hall, is home to the largest two-sided stone fireplace in Illinois. Composed of Joliet limestone, it is an extraordinary example of the fine craftsmanship of the CCC stonemasons. The original mortis-and-tenon furniture has withstood the test of time and still welcomes guests to relax in it, in this peaceful getaway location. There are thoughtful touches of the CCC in several locations on the property. The indoor pool complex includes a full-size pool, children’s wading pool, hot tub and two saunas. The lodge and its cabins were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

On the east end of the lodge’s veranda, one piece of limestone sits quietly among the rest, but this one is cut in the shape of an arrowhead that points directly at Starved Rock. The view from this bluff to Starved Rock (the next bluff across the valley) is one that should not be missed. In fact, it’s the perfect place to begin your walking tour, because it’s just steps away from a staircase which leads from the lodge to the park’s Visitor Center and 13 miles of hiking trails, seasonal waterfalls and stunning bluff vistas. You’ll soon see why this National Historic Landmark attracts nearly 3 million visitors per year.

Trailheads Concessions is also located in the Visitor Center. Thoughtfully named, this store is located where the trails meet … where hikers begin and end their journey. In addition to Starved Rock souvenirs, Trailheads has hiking supplies and a menu with burgers, ice cream, fresh fudge, soft drinks and more.

During the Ice Age, melting glaciers left their mark near what is now the village of North Utica, carving a maze of canyons into the St. Peter sandstone. Starved Rock State Park has 18 canyons, seasonal waterfalls and tree-covered bluffs. The Visitor Center offers free orientation videos and is staffed with friendly and knowledgeable guides eager to help hikers to find their way on the park’s many trails. From the Visitor Center, it’s a .3-mile walk to Starved Rock and .4 miles to French Canyon. It takes about an hour to walk from the Lodge to the top of Starved Rock then in and out of French Canyon and back to the Lodge. From the Visitor Center, it’s .8 miles to Eagle Cliff and a 4-mile trek east to LaSalle Canyon or west to a stunning trio of Council Overhang and Ottawa and Kaskaskia canyons. Maps of all lodge and park trails can be found at starvedrocklodge.com.

The lodge offers year-round guided hikes for adventure seekers (lunch or snack included). Specialty hikes are also offered, such as the MegaHike (which treks to all the canyons in the park in one day) and hikes combined with Yoga. The bluff views of the Illinois River Valley are among the many photo opportunities in the park.

Tour groups love the lodge’s Tribute to the Stars series of musical performances, which take place in the Great Hall. Talented vocal performers entertain audiences with their renditions of hits by stars such as Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Dean Martin and more. Lunch or dinner is included in the ticket price.

Trolley tours are a great way to get a group out and about aboard a different type of transportation. You can take a seasonal hiking/trolley tour or enjoy an afternoon of wine tasting and shopping. If you choose to use your own bus for a tour, step-on guides are available. In the winter, bus tour passengers can take a Bald Eagle Trolley Tour and in the spring, explore seasonal waterfalls and canyons. Summer months bring daily departures on Historic Trolley Tours, which give first-time visitors the perfect way to become acquainted with the Starved Rock area and learn about the rich history upon their arrival. Warm weather also launches leisurely land and water cruises aboard the Belle of the Rock paddlewheel boat, combining the interesting history of the area with a slow-paced ride on the Illinois River. Fall Colors Trolley Tours give bus tour passengers a look at a stunning autumn palette of color set against sandstone and limestone rock formations, which compose this unexpected attraction nestled amid the among flatlands and cornfields in Illinois. New for 2017 is the “Visit a Canyon” Trolley Tour – requested by groups who prefer to ride the Starved Rock Trolley to the trailhead of Ottawa Canyon and Council Overhang. Also new in 2017 is a low-impact walking tour of the lodge. This 30-minute tour tells the history of Starved Rock State Park, a National Historic Landmark since 1966, and Starved Rock Lodge.

Starved Rock Lodge has several comfortable lodging options. The guest rooms in the historic wing feature knotty pine paneling and an authentic feeling of a bygone era. The hotel wing rooms are larger and closer to the pool. Several of the Pioneer Cabins located to the east of the lodge stand alone, have heat/ac, a full bath and are pet-friendly to dogs under 50 lbs. Cabins on the west side feature four cabin rooms under one roof. Some of the cabins have wood burning fireplaces and a few have electric fireplaces.

The pine-paneled main dining room is adjacent to the Great Hall and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Guests love the Sunday Brunch, which combines the rustic ambiance of the setting with tasty offerings for everyone. The Back Door Lounge has a casual, sports bar atmosphere and menu. Local musicians provide lively entertainment every Friday night during the winter. During the summer months, the action moves outside to the Veranda where live music is played every Friday and Saturday night. Brick oven pizza and freshly grilled burgers and brats are just a few of the menu items available when dining outdoors.

The indoor pool complex is open to all guests on the property and features an expansive swimming pool, a one-foot, gated pool for children, a hot tub and two saunas. An overnight stay enhances the overall experience of a visit to Starved Rock, making it more than a day trip – it’s a lasting memory. To truly enjoy the atmosphere of yesteryear with modern amenities of today, visit Starved Rock Lodge, where the past is always present. 

In 2007, Starved Rock State Park was chosen as one of the “Seven Wonders of Illinois,” through an online voting contest sponsored by the Illinois Bureau of Tourism and ABC-7 TV in Chicago. In 2011, Starved Rock State Park celebrated its 100th Anniversary. In 2012, Starved Rock Lodge & State Park were named the No. 1 Fan Favorite Attractions in the state, in a social media-based Facebook contest launched by the Illinois Office of Tourism. The competition began with 64 nominees, which included great places like Brookfield Zoo, Downtown Galena and Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry. Starved Rock Lodge & State Park took the prize, because it has the best combination of outdoor adventure, family fun, architectural wonder and rich history.

In 2012, all of the guest room furniture was replaced and upgraded. The new, handcrafted additions included headboards, side tables and chests of drawers, plus guest room tables and chairs. Made in Illinois from reclaimed barns and 100-year-old hardwoods, the new furniture is in keeping with the mortis-and-tenon style just as the CCC originally crafted it – strong and sturdy with no visible hardware. In 2013, the same company created new tables and chairs for the main dining room, porch and the Back Door Lounge. In 2014, Starved Rock State Park expanded from 2,700 to 3,205 acres, with the purchase of the former White Oak Campground. In the summer of 2014, Starved Rock Lodge was name the “Best Lodge for a Meeting” in a contest launched by Midwest Meetings magazine. The lodge’s “Art in the Park” collection is one of the largest displays of chainsaw woodcarvings in the Midwest. Recent additions to the collection include bronze and steel pieces of art. In June of 2014, a new kinetic sculpture made of glass and steel was installed in front of the Hotel entrance of Starved Rock Lodge. To learn more, visit online at starvedrocklodge.com.