Can you believe it’s already May?! This year is flying by. I’m excited the weather is finally starting to turn around. After two weeks of almost constant gloomy weather, I was so ready for a nice weekend day to come about.
For a few years now, I’ve been talking with several friends about going hiking at Starved Rock State Park. Every time we tried to go, the weather wouldn’t turn out, or we’d have an unexpectedly busy weekend. We had this weekend in mind about a week before, but throughout the week we got nervous. The weather forecast predicted rain on the days leading up to it and on and off rain for Saturday. We kept a close eye on the weather as the week went on and it was constantly changing. When Friday night comes around, the weather was looking sunny and 60s and a clear schedule for Saturday, my roommate Mike and his cousin, Milee, decided to check it out.
Starved Rock State Park is located just about two hours south-west of Chicago along the Illinois River. I’ve never really been anywhere in Illinois besides Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.It was nice to get out of the city and check out some nature for a little while. The drive wasn’t bad at all once we got out of the city. The one thing that surprised me was just how flat and straight the highway was. I mean, I know it’s the midwest, but it’s a whole other thing to actually experience that. Thankfully, Mike was driving. I think I’d get too tired doing a straight, flat drive – no matter how long it is. Remember, I’m a New Englander. We’re used to our hilly and constantly curving roads. It keeps us on our toes 😉
On our way to the park, we passed the cute small town of Utica. It’s clear that it thrives off tourism from the state park. One of my favorite things we spotted were these cute speciality stores that were lined in a row: a cupcake shop, an ice cream/candy store, and a gourmet popcorn store. Clearly the foodie in me was excited as we all knew that one of those places were going to be our treat after hiking, but I’ll get to that more in a minute.
On the drive down, Milee was sure to give me the heads up beforehand that it’s not going to be like hiking I’ve done before. You see, whenever I’ve been hiking, I was in New England or Colorado. Both places have totally spoiled me. Going on a hike in a flat midwestern state was definitely not going to be able to compare. Regardless, I expected it to be a good workout and beautiful nonetheless.
One thing we weren’t expecting was most of the parking lots to be closed. Apparently the river flooded from rain that happened earlier in the week. This made it a little challenging to figure out where we could go. We didn’t want to come all the way over here just to be turned away! After driving around for 15 – 20 minutes trying to figure out a parking solution, we finally came across a makeshift parking area near the beginning of one of the trails. It wasn’t an official parking lot, but it seemed safe enough to park there. A sign did mention that they’d tow anyone parked there after dark, but we’d be gone long before then.
The three of us hiked along a few of the trails taking in the beautiful weather and the nice scenery for about 3 hours. It ended up being a decent workout and couldn’t have been a better day for the hike. It was 63, sunny, not too crowded, and there were very few bugs that seemed to be flying around.
The one thing that most people know about me is that while I love the outdoors, I absolutely hate flying bugs. I will squeal and run around, ducking and flapping my arms around looking like a complete idiot if a fly, bee or any other creature buzzes past my ear. Yes, I’m a complete baby when it comes to that. I know flies can’t hurt and bees will leave you alone if you don’t bother them. But have you HEARD that sound? Dude, it’s like being at the dentist and hearing the drill on your teeth, but 10 times worse because at least at the dentist you know that’s going to happen. I’m weird about sounds, sue me.
After our hike, we went back to those little stores. While the cupcake shop ended up being closed due to selling out of their goods, we stopped next door at Roxie’s Sweet Confections. I don’t know about Mike or Milee, but my eyes definitely lit up a little. When you first walk in, there’s ice cream to the left, fudge right in front of you, and then candy spread throughout the rest of the small store. It was beautiful. I, of course, ended up with my favorite ice cream flavor: mint chocolate chip. It was really difficult to walk out of there without purchasing fudge or candy, but the adult in me reasoned that nobody needs more than one treat.
The ladies that work at the store were very sweet (pun not intended). One of them mentioned that they make all of the fudge and sweet treats themselves. She even gave me some great tips on how to make caramel, since my only attempt at it did not go very well. It was the perfect ending to a great day trip outside of Chicago.