A Fun-Filled Getaway in the Starved Rock Area
By Marcia Frost
Peru, Ottawa, Utica, Tonica, LaSalle… those might not be the first towns that come to mind when you think of places to go in Illinois, but they have one thing in common that brings them all together: Starved Rock State Park. It’s all less than two hours from Champaign.
Start with your stay…
Terisa King of Starved Rock Kishauwau Cabins was actually the first to approach me about this area. Her 65-acre property over the Vermillion River has 17 cabins for rent.
The cabins are well-equipped with full kitchens and bedding and can accommodate families and couples, with the largest big enough for up to 14 people. (A few of the cabins are also pet-friendly.)
We stayed in the Hunter’s Cabin, which had a bedroom area with a queen size bed, a twin bed off the living room, which had a futon and a large, recliner, comfortable enough to sleep in. It also has a whirlpool tub big enough for two.
The office is a place to ask about the area, pick up coupons for attractions (including wine tasting discounts), get supplies you may have forgotten, and purchase souvenirs. Terisa is usually on hand to answer questions. There is also a huge selection of DVDs to borrow, and Wi-Fi, as there is no television service or internet on the property.
Kishauwau Cabins all have central air and heat so they can be used all year round, and there’s more than enough to keep you busy in the area during every season. Check their website for specials, including 20% off in November.
Starved Rock State Park
Once a spot for coal mining, Starved Rock State Park was formed by glaciers. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
While sand for the oil industry is still in production, this is definitely a recreational area. The number one activity is hiking through the canyons, waterfalls, and bridges. Guided tours are available or follow a map and do it on your own.
We were scheduled for the Visit a Canyon and a Boat Ride, which included a trolley, boat ride, and a hike to a canyon. Unfortunately, there was heavy rain, so we didn’t get to do it all, but we did get to do some.
The trolley, which is fully accessible, took us to a spot that was unaffected by the rain. My friends, Brittany and Amanda, were able to hike about a mile to a beautiful waterfall. It’s one of many beautiful spots in the park to discover.
Since I can’t hike, I stayed on the trolley for a ride through some of the highlights of Starved Rock, including the rare American White Pelicans on plum island, Lover’s Leap, and Starved Rock itself, the highest point in the park.
Starved Rock Lodge has accommodations and two restaurants, the Lodge Restaurant and the Back Door Lounge. Most menu items are available in both places, as are specialty drinks, such as seasonal Sangria or Spiked Coffee. The menu contains a little something for everyone. The grilled salmon and the ribs were excellent, as were the desserts. They also have music in the lounge on Friday nights.
The deck of Starved Rock Lodge is worth exploring, for its sweeping views and folklore. Art is a big part of the Park experience. A map points to the 40 pieces that include paintings, carvings, totems, and wood, bronze and concrete pieces, in the lodge and throughout the grounds. Holiday trolley tours are starting soon.
Local drinks and comfort food…
The newly opened Lodi Tap House is in the quaint town of Utica I wish I had more time to explore. The pub has an array of Illinois brews and wines. We discovered a tasty Raspberry Milkshake IPA from Short Fuse Brewery in Shiller Park, Illinois.
The atmosphere is local and relaxing, but the food is much better than you’d expect in such a casual bar atmosphere. Everything has a special twist, courtesy of the chef.
We started with the Beer Battered Curds, made with white cheddar and served with a aioli sauce, the Banger Shrimps, in a spicy flour breading, the Devil’s Eggs (our favorite), seasoned with honey sriracha and topped with bourbon bacon, and the White Cheddar Curds, also quite good.
Everything on the menu was inviting, and the burgers here are said to be the best, but we were drawn to the Tap House Buttermilk Brined Chicken and Fish n Chips (with cod). They did not disappoint.
Brew and food in Ottawa…
Tangled Roots craft beers include their core ales as well as seasonals, such as Oktoberfest and Winter Porter. Their Farm to Foam is made with barley and hops grown right near their Ottawa location.
The Kit Kuper is the best seller, and it was agreed that was the best, along with the 108 Double Stitch (which refers to the number of stitches on a baseball).
The food at The Lone Buffalo is creative and memorable. Start out with the Chicken Fried Cauliflower and Brewpub Cheese Fries, covered in pulled pork, cheese, and spices. Both are large enough to share.
For dinner, meat lovers will be completely satisfied by the Cowboy Ribeye with a red wine gorgonzola butter, while the Grilled Stuffed Pepper, stuffed with grains and topped with goat cheese is an excellent vegetarian option.
While in downtown Ottawa, take some time to check out the local shops and historical murals.
A winery you must go to…
When you step into August Hill Winery, you’ll be wondering why you haven’t been here before. This hidden gem offers a big selection of all types of wines, a welcoming atmosphere, and small bites that are worth arriving hungry for.
It’s hard to choose among the many wines and we decided to each pick different ones so we could try as many as possible. Even the flights arrived looking spectacular, and we found some favorites: Brut Ombre Rose, with hints of raspberry; Mardi Gras, a sweet and fruity bubbly; Mulled Spice Caramel Apple, an excellent fall choice; Vignoles, a light white; and Blackberry, fortified with brandy.
The artichoke dip and charcuterie plate were both fresh and tasty, and paired perfectly with the Illinois Sparkling Co. sparkling wines and August Hill still wines. They also offer chocolates and cheeses to go with the wines.
The cozy lounge area, with couches and big chairs, is perfect for a date night or a group. Also check out their unique Mimosa Bar on Sundays. It offers a selection of juices (even lavender) and sparkling wines that you can mix or match to make exactly what you’d like, along with some fresh baked scones.
Spirits among history at Westclox…
Star Union Spirits is one of the most impressive distilleries I’ve ever seen. Located in the historic Westclox building, the spot itself is unique. It’s run by two friends and former winemakers, Jeff Yosowitz and Bob Windy, who took us through the tasting room and production.
They produce award-winning brandies, which include a cabernet sauvignon, cherry, and aged blackberry. There is also rum (made with Louisiana molasses), whiskey, vodka (corn-based), and agave (similar to tequila). Everything is done by hand in small batches.
Cocktails are beautifully crafted and delicious, try The Twilight Hour, with lavender, mint & brandy, and the Pineapple Upside Down, which has Star Union Gold Rum, pineapple and lime and cherry juices.
The tour highlights some interesting processes used to create the spirits, from their stills to the barrels and how they’ve incorporated the buildings history.
Bob Windy and Jeff Yosowitz, the distillery has a public tasting room where guests are able to view the entrancing copper still and the wonders of spirit distillation and production. Curious visitors are able to sample Star Union Spirits’ delicious hand-crafted spirits along with artisanal cocktails.
Other stores and restaurants are coming into this building historic Westclox building bath bombs and soaps at Kristine’s Shower.
A different type of spa…
I love a spa of any kind, and Salt Tree Yoga is one I will definitely return to.
Instead of a menu of offerings done by masseuses and estheticians, this spa is mostly self-service, allowing you to experience the treatments on your own in a relaxing atmosphere.
I started with the Dry Hydrotherapy Bed. It gently rocked me into a nap, like a water ped floating.
My friends did the Ionic Foot Detox, a bath to detox and balance electromagnetic fields in the body, and the Migun Thermal Massage Bed, which, similar to acupressure, gently stretches the spine infrared heat. Both were also restful.
We all went into the Himalayan Salt Cave. It was relaxing and the salt eased allergies and breathing. There wasn’t time to try the Full Spectrum Infrared Sauna, but we took a quick look at the product offerings that included organic soaps and scrubs, CBD and essential oil products, and Himalayan Salt items.
The services at Salt Tree Yoga are very reasonable. The Body Vibration is only $10, while the other options are $25 each (you can also get five for $100). It’s a perfect way to get in a few hours of recouping during a trip of hiking, drinking, and eating.
Do it all with Starved Rock Connections…
With all the things to do spread out in the Starved Rock area, I would recommend Starved Rock Connections. Julie picked us up in her van and took us around the area, giving us lots of history and told us lots of spots to visit next time we are in the area. It’s also a good idea to have a driver when you are sampling the area’s wine, beer, and spirits.
Be sure to Like Midwest Travel with Marcia Frost on Facebook for more information on her trips, and read her stories on her Wine And Spirits Travel blog. You can also follow Marcia @Spiritstraveler on Twitter and Instagram.