With a vast expanse of gently rolling fertile plains, Illinois is known as one of the leading agricultural states in the country. It’s also home to the third largest city in the United States, Chicago, with nearly 3 million people. Surprisingly, between the acres and acres of farmland and the myriad sidewalks of the city, adventurers will find a spectacular woodland oasis filled with trails, canyons and waterfalls.
This oasis, known as Starved Rock State Park, features 18 canyons, many of them with unique periodic waterfalls. Weather conditions determine if there are dry canyons or waterfalls. The best time to see waterfalls is after a heavy rainfall or during the spring snow melt. French Canyon, along with Kaskaskia, Ottawa, St. Louis, Tonty, and Wildcat canyons are considered to have the most scenic waterfalls in the park. During the winter, freezing and melting conditions create gorgeous icefalls throughout the park. Ice climbing is permitted in some canyons, with restrictions.
Beginning at the Starved Rock Visitor Center, the well-maintained trail to French Canyon is clearly marked. There are signs pointing to the canyon, and there are also directional markers indicating whether you are heading toward or away from the parking area. The trail leads through a forest filled with deciduous trees and wildflowers. Beware of poison ivy, which may wind across the path. Upon reaching the canyon, hikers can use steps to venture to the top of the canyon for a view from above. Be sure to use caution along the short unfenced portion. Adventurers will want to be sure to carefully walk into the canyon as far as water conditions allow. Will there be a dry canyon showing all the details of the naturally sculpted St. Peter sandstone, or a picturesque waterfall flowing over the steep rock wall? Either way, it’s a surprising woodland adventure in the "Prairie State.”