Winter Wonderland: Tips to hike the tranquil trails at Starved Rock

Starved Rock State Park is a popular tourist destination throughout the summer season, but for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle, there’s no better time to hit the serene trails than in the winter.
“It’s a whole different world out here in the winter,” said hiker Joe Jakupcak.
Jakupcak has been a guided hiker leader for five and a half years at the park and said the winter season is his favorite.
“First of all, there’s fewer people and the views you get when the leaves are gone are much more extensive,” Jakupcak said. “You also see more animal tracks if it’s snowing.”
Jakupcak said the winter season allows for a more personal and quiet hiking experience than can usually be expected in the summer and fall seasons when visitor turnout is high.
You may also have a higher chance of seeing an eagle or two, or 30.
Jakupcak said just this past year he counted 33 eagles during the second weekend of January. The Illinois River thaws near the dam which makes the site a popular place for eagles to congregate looking for lively fish.
“They’re getting easy meals, I guess you could say,” said Site Superintendent Kerry Novak.
Novak said the lack of leaves on the trees may make it easier to spot a deer or one of the many winter birds in the park.
Thousands of visitors pile into the park looking for waterfalls in the warmer months and Novak said that remains the same in the winter as the colder temperatures lead to beautiful icefalls across the park.
“It has to get pretty cold to get them frozen and then of course once they’re frozen most of them on the north side don’t catch any sun so they’ll stay for quite awhile,” Novak said.
Novak said the icefalls could feasibly remain at the park until the end of March.

Winter precautions
Many precautions remain the same for all seasons, such as staying on marked trails, but Novak said as long as hikers are properly dressed they’ll have a great experience on the park’s snow-covered trails.
“You need to keep in mind that if we have really, really heavy snowfall it might take us awhile to get the park open, but generally the guys are here early to get it done,” Novak said.
Jakupcak said layers are key when visiting the park in the winter and said hikers should look into getting thermal clothing, hooded sweatshirts, insulated vests, stocking hats and gloves.
He also suggested hikers look into placing rubber bands over their boots for extra grip or stop into the Starved Rock Visitor Center to pick up some Yaktrax, which are attached to footwear to help when navigating snow-covered terrain.
If the weather does start to get under your skin, hikers are always welcome to stop by the toasty Starved Rock Lodge where the fireplace is roaring all day long.
Jakupcak said the park is most tranquil during the colder months and hopes other hikers have the opportunity to stop by.
“Don’t let the temperature discourage you. Just dress for it and as you walk you’ll warm up and maybe peel off some of those layers,” Jakupcak said. “It’s a fantastic time to be in the park.”

Starved Rock State Park winter events

America’s State Park’s First Day Hike: 1 p.m. Monday, Jan. 1, Starved Rock Visitor Center.
Hikers will climb to the top of Starved Rock and into the bottom of French Canyon while learning the history and geology of the park. Hike lasts one and a half hours.
Winter Wilderness Weekend: 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20, and Sunday, Jan. 21, at Starved Rock Visitor Center. Starved Rock guides will take hikers to see the icefalls at the park and hikers will learn about the history and geology of the park.
Eagle Watch Weekend: Saturday, Jan. 27, and Sunday, Jan. 28. Birds of Prey shows and family activities will take place at the Starved Rock Visitor Center, Starved Rock Lodge and Illinois Waterway Visitor Center throughout the weekend. For a full schedule of events, visit illinoisaudubon.org.
Cross-Country Ski Weekend: 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, and Sunday, Feb. 4. Matthiessen State Park dells area. Meet at Matthiessen State Park for basic cross-country ski instruction with ski rentals available.
Winter Drum Circle: 1:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, Starved Rock Visitor Center. Local musician Dave Peterson will lead an interactive drum circle featuring African percussion and Native American flutes. It’s an experience for all ages and ability levels. Drums will be provided and the program lasts for one hour.
Native Americans of the Starved Rock Area Historic Tribes: 1:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 19.
Historian Mark Walczynski will present a program exploring the history, culture, population and location of village sites of Indian tribes who lived in the Starved Rock area. Tribes mentioned will include the Illinois, Miami Potawatomi, Mohegan and others.
Irish Storytelling with Bill Myers: 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 11. Starved Rock Visitor Center.
Local storyteller Bill Myers will share Irish tales. The storytelling session is for all ages and lasts one hour.
Story by Brent Bader, photos by Tom Sistak

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