Tonty and LaSalle Canyons
Starved Rock State Park is a great year round hiking destination but there are big advantages of visiting in the winter months. Today we hike Tonty and LaSalle Canyons to experience their unique winter beauty.
By Jim Donovan
Starved Rock State Park is the premier hiking destination in Illinois, located 90 miles west of Chicago, just south of interstate I-80. Starved Rock is a great destination for day trips from Illinois, Indiana, and lower Wisconsin. There are several hotels, lodges and campgrounds nearby if you wish to spend more time in the area.
” This beautiful park attracted over 2 million visitors last year to explore its scenic trails and canyons, dine in its historic Lodge and enjoy the panoramic views from tall bluffs which offer a unique contrast to the flatlands of Illinois.”
The State Park features over twelve miles of hiking trails and scenic overlooks, however, the real attraction is the 18 canyons carved by hundreds of years of erosion by the glacial waters and now streams finding their way to the Illinois River. As a result, 14 of these canyons have waterfalls when the conditions are right. In this series, I introduce the canyons of Starved Rock State Park and in this post we explore: Tonty and LaSalle Canyons.
Tonty Canyon – As you approach Tonty you might sense that this canyon is a little different than the others. One may describe this as a box canyon as it is very rectangular in structure. When precipitation levels allow it features a double waterfall which makes for one of the most picturesque spots in the whole park. This unique double cascade has the potential to form a crystal palace under the right winter conditions, so you might consider a February or March visit.
Tonty Canyon At-A-Glance
Longitude / latitude: 41.316947, -88.973156
Parking: Visitors Center or Parkman’s Plain Lot.
Distance from Visitors Center: 1.9 Miles
Distance from Parkman’s Plain lot: .66 miles
Unique feature: Double cascading falls
LaSalle Canyon – This canyon boasts one of the widest waterfalls in the park and the path into the canyon loops behind the falls and loops you back out along the west side of the canyon. Take your time as the formations and waterfall presents awesome photo opportunities from a variety of angles. The cascading waters form interesting pools that flow out of the canyon. LaSalle is generally regarded as one of the park’s most likely to have water flowing year round.
LaSalle Canyon At-A-Glance
Longitude / latitude: 41.316216, -88.973155
Distance from Visitors Center: 2.0 miles
Distance from Parkman’s Plain lot: .5 mile
Unique Feature: Trail passes behind and underneath the falls.
Now the Rest of the Story
My hiking partner today was an old college friend of mine. Dan and I met the first week of college, we pledged the Fraternity together, and went on to graduate. Dan spent some time out West as a professional ski bum before returning back to the real world of Michigan. A few years later we both ended up in Chicago. Though we don’t spend nearly enough time together, our time today felt seamless. Picking up effortlessly with jokes and exaggerated stories of days gone by.
Anticipating a full day of hiking, we stopped for cupcakes at Two Girls and a Cupcake which is not to be missed on your way to Starved Rock. The bakery closes when they run out of cupcakes so be sure to stop in the morning.
As we pulled into the Starved Rock State Park Visitors Center we were greeted by an unusual experience. Plenty of open parking. A far cry from summer weekend visits. Our 5.2 mile hike started with visits to French and Wildcat Canyons which I have written about previously. Dan is very familiar with Starved Rock and guided us through Tonty and LaSalle Canyons.
What an awesome way to end 2018. Happy trails in 2019!
Starved Rock State Park is open from Sunrise to sunset.
Visit the Visitors Center to check parking, trail and water conditions
Trails can be muddy and slippery, so hiking boots are highly recommended.
Bring a change of shoes and socks for after your hike.
A winter visit provides:
Possibility of seeing frozen falls and ice climbers.
Fewer visitors on the trail and in the canyons.
No Poison Ivy.
Visit the Starved Rock State Park Website for additional planning information
Before setting out on any hike, it is always helpful to make a quick visit to the Starved Rock State Park visitors center to check on the trail, water, and mud conditions. The volunteers in the center can provide insight on parking options, however, you can access all of the trails and canyons from the visitor’s center, depending on how much time and energy you have.
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