When the weather starts warming up, but with just a bit of briskness in the air, my family loves to go hiking. If it’s a one hour day trip or a few hours away for a long weekend, it is nice to get away and enjoy. Commune with nature!
My favorite spot to visit is twofold Starved Rock State Park and Matthiessen State Park just down the road. Both are a little over an hour away in Utica, Illinois. Whether you like a leisurely stroll or an intense hike, be prepared to feast your eyes on nature’s beauty. Waterfalls, canyons, sandstone rock formations, and flora and fauna greet you. I find the canyons breathtaking. I can’t say enough for the place. There is no fee to enter the park, they only ask you take out what you bring in (i.e. food wrappers etc….) and enjoy the sites. Horseback riding trails, campgrounds and a nature center are available. Nearby is Starved Rock Lodge if you want to stay the night or perhaps have a rest after your hike. The town of Utica also offers a vineyard with tours and a yummy Cajun restaurant that we make it a point to stop in after a long hike every time we go. You can find information on both parks at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources http://dnr.state.il.us/
The other spot we enjoy visiting is Turkey Run State Park located outside of Bloomingdale, Indiana. It’s about a 3-4 hour trip from our area. Turkey Run is a bit more rustic, but the natural beauty is perhaps more breathtaking. Your hike can take you into ravines and sandstone gorges where the hiking is not for the weak hearted. There is even the infamous trail #3, where you will climb up the sides of sandstone cliffs using ladders and climb out of a gorge through a waterfall. They sell “I Survived Trail 3” shirts at the lodge. I made it through once clinging to a rock wall on a ledge!! For those not quite up to that, there are easier trails where you can just walk and enjoy nature at its finest. Horseback riding trails, campgrounds and a nature center, that has the most amazing area to view a large variety of birds feeding, are on site. The nearby lodge is not as upscale as Starved Rock, but it’s clean and very relaxing. The nearby towns are small so don’t expect a multitude of places to shop or eat. You can find out more information on Turkey Run at http://www.turkeyrunstatepark.com/
If you decide to visit either place, dress wisely. Hiking boots are recommended, especially if you want to do a more intense hike. For the lighter hiker, gym shoes are fine. Bring your family, both parks are very family friendly! And don’t forget your camera!