This is by far the most popular site in the park. Nowhere else does history, geology, and biology combine with incredible views within the park’s boundaries.
Legend has it that in the 1760’s a band of Illini were trapped at the top of the rock, being cut off by the Potawotomi and Fox tribes, who blamed the Illini for murdering Chief Pontiac, who was negotiating trade agreements with the French to the south. This is how the park got its name. There are no written or archaeological records of the incident.
Later, around 1682, the French built Fort Saint Louis des Illinois on top of the rock. The fort lasted nine years. It provided protection, and a place of commerce for explorers and traders, as well as being a major military outpost in itself.
In the 1970’s, due to concerns of erosion, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources constructed the boardwalks on top of Starved Rock. If one looks down from the walkway, you can see how far down decades of visitors have eroded the sandstone away – in some places as much as a foot! This erosion is just one reason why it’s important to stay on park trails.
While the rock is always in demand by bird watchers, it’s especially popular with birders in January when bald eagles make their return to the park. When the waters of Minnesota, Wisconsin, the upper peninsula of Michigan and Ontario freeze over, bald eagles migrate south to areas that have not frozen over to fish, and there’s no better area for eagles to fish than the base of Starved Rock dam. Some years, upwards of 40 eagles can be seen on Plum Island, just across from the rock. These majestic hunters are a special treat for the park’s winter guests.
Length from the Visitors Center: .3 mile
Difficulty: Two staircases must be climbed. First a short one of 25 steps, then a longer one of approximately 65 steps. Between the two the trail, while paved, is on an incline, and can be hazardous in wet or snowy weather. The trail on top of the rock is boardwalk.
Parking: Visitor Center
Top View: Yes. Visitors may experience views of the park, lodge, and Illinois River from the highest point of the park!
Interior Canyon View: No
Flora and Fauna: This is the premier bald eagle viewing area in the park during January and February when the Illinois River freezes and the lock and dam keeps the water churning providing an excellent fishing area for both eagles, gulls, and terns. White pine, eastern red cedar, and northern white cedar or arbovitae cling the sandstone face of the rock providing perfect perches for bald eagles, nesting areas for indigo buntings and ruby throated hummingbirds, as well as hiding areas for nesting cavities made by rough winged swallows. Raccoon and fox tracks can be seen on, under, and around the boardwalk after a fresh snow.