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.
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.”