Park History

The park is best known for its fascinating rock formations, primarily St. Peter sandstone, laid down in a huge shallow inland sea more than 425 million years ago and later brought to the surface.”

Park Historical Legend

Starved Rock State Park is situated along the south bank of the Illinois River, less than 100 miles from Chicago. This beautiful park attracted over 2 million visitors last year to explore its scenic trails and canyons, dine in its historic Lodge and enjoy the panoramic views from tall bluffs which offer a unique contrast to the flatlands of Illinois. A hike to the top of a sandstone butte or a peaceful stroll to explore any of the 18 canyons gives each visitor a memorable experience. The backdrop for hiking is 18 canyons formed by glacial melt-water and stream erosion. They slice dramatically through tree-covered, sandstone bluffs for four miles at Starved Rock State Park.

But how did Starved Rock get its name? The park derives its name from a Native American legend. In the 1760s, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe, was attending a tribal council meeting. At this council of the Illinois and the Pottawatomie, an Illinois-Peoria brave stabbed Chief Pontiac. Vengeance arose in Pontiac’s followers. A great battle started. The Illinois, fearing death, took refuge on the great rock. After many days, the remaining Illinois died of starvation giving this historic park its name – Starved Rock.

In 1835, Daniel Hitt purchased the land that is today occupied by Starved Rock State Park from the United States Government, as compensation for his tenure in the U.S. Army. He sold the land in 1890 to Ferdinand Walther and developed the land for vacationers. He built a hotel, dance pavilion and swimming area. In 1911, the State of Illinois purchased the site, making it the state’s first recreational park. In the 1930′s the Civilian Conservation Corps placed three camps at Starved Rock State Park and began building the Lodge and trail systems that you can now witness here at the Park.

The charm of Starved Rock lies largely in the fact that everything is in a state of nature, just as it was when Jolliet, Marquette and Tonti and all the other explorers, missionaries, and traders that were here so many years ago. Some of the trails and buttes had stairs and platforms built upon them to help protect the delicate sandstone from washing away inch by inch.

The entrance to the Hotel wing of the Lodge - where the Front Desk will welcome you to our family!

0005 High res entrance spring 2013In 1966, Starved Rock State Park was named a National Historic Landmark. Starved Rock State Park’s Lodge and Cabins were listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on May 8, 1985 as part of the Illinois State Park Lodges and Cabins Thematic Resources Multiple Property Submission. By the National Register’s criteria the Lodge and Cabins are considered significant in the areas of architecture, entertainment and recreation. The lodge offers 69 hotel rooms and 21 comfortable cabin rooms. The Great Hall is centered around a massive, two-sided stone fireplace. The Main Dining Room is open seven days a week and offers many house specialties. The Lodge’s conference area can accommodate up to 200, with four smaller meeting rooms for weddings or corporate retreats. For lodge reservations, call 815-667-4211 or click here to book online.

Next time you are here, take a moment to think about the history of this special place. Here is the same soil upon which the Indians trod, the same rocks and some of the same trees now standing, saw the stirring events of those earlier times. Here people have lived, prayed, fought and died more than two hundred years ago. Thousands of them resolved to dust upon this rock and within range of our vision.

There is and ever will be a charm about this park, both from its beauty and its melancholy story of the battles it has looked down upon. While here, let your imagination ponder what you have been told and see if you can sense what it was like ages ago, when they were here!

Click here to see a video on the history of the Park.