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What Is Starved Rock State Park?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated: May 17, 2024

Starved Rock State Park is located near Utica, Illinois, on the banks of the Illinois River. The land that is included in the park was given to the public by the state in 1911. Consisting of large St. Peter-sandstone hills and bluffs covered with trees and winding streams, it is the second oldest state park in Illinois. The park is named after an old Indian legend that has never been verified involving the death of many members of a tribe on top of the rocks. Open year-round, the park offers hiking, eagle watching and boating as well as an on-site hotel and a replica of Fort St. Louis, which once stood on top of the rock hill.

Indian legend tells a story of a band of Illiniwek Indians who were forced up into the hills of what is now Starved Rock State Park in 1769. The Illiniwek were chased by their enemies, the Ottawa and Potawatomi Indians, and were surrounded. Unable to come down from the butte without being killed, the Illiniwek were starved to death. This unsubstantiated tale of despair and misfortune has given the park its unique name.

Many of the trails, bridges, and shelters within the park were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). There are many trails and 18 canyons, and all can be explored by visitors. Birdwatching is a popular activity in the park, with eagles being the focus in the wintertime and migrating white pelicans frequenting the area during the spring and fall months. Admission is free, as is parking and many of the activities run by the Starved Rock Lodge, which is the only lodge located within the park.

Early springtime thaws and rains create waterfalls in nearly all of the 18 canyons within the park. This makes for an excellent photography backdrop as well as picturesque scenes for picnics and hiking. A replica of the early French Fort St. Louis can be seen in the visitor's center, and films explaining the origins of the earliest park inhabitants, as well as the creation of the park, are available to view free of charge. There are also trolley tours of the park, which allow a unique view of the many features of the park. A wedding package is also available that allows couples to begin their married life together in the park.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Izzy78 — On Feb 28, 2012

I am doing a project for a class on the Civilian Conservation Corps and I am wondering if anyone has any information on the development of this state park and how exactly the site was picked in order to become one?

I am looking at the national and state park system during the Great Depression and it interests me that despite all the economic problems occurring in the country that there was still time and resources available in order to enhance the interior of the country and be able to preserve the natural beauty of nature.

I am also wondering how this area was chosen and how exactly the development occurred, including who, when, and how the funding was created in order to fund this park.

By TreeMan — On Feb 28, 2012

I am wondering if there is anyone out there that can verify or shed light on this legend as to why it is called Starved Rock?

I have heard this story recanted many many times over the years and it seems to never change, which leads me to believe that there may be some truth in the story.

I know I have read old accounts in the past describing the various Indian Wars in the area between tribes and this story kept being brought up and is consistent with how it is told today.

I am wondering if anyone knows any people or sources I should look up that could shed light on this story and help me verify whether it is a legend, myth, real story of fact, or something that may never be known?

By matthewc23 — On Feb 27, 2012
@jmc88 - You are absolutely correct and one thing that I found to be very interesting was the fact that this place had a rather gory story to tell in regards to how it got its name.

I swear when I was a school kid growing up in Illinois I do not know how many times I heard this legend about the Indians being starved on top of the rock.

It is a very unfortunate and rather gruesome event in the state's history, if it is true, but it is history and has given the area a claim to fame.

By jmc88 — On Feb 27, 2012

I have never been to Starved Rock State Park, but it seems like a beautiful place to take a vacation to.

I like to travel to state and national parks across the country and I have noticed that there are a lot of parks like this in places that people would not usually look for, like in Illinois.

I know that the area Starved Rock is in is a place that is usually known for their flat land, prairie, and corn fields as far as the eye can see, but there is still a beauty in the various state and national parks that do the landscape.

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