Starved Rock State Park in Illinois

by  guest-paddler

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

Any Illinois paddler should make the trek to the centrally located Sarved Rock State Park, as did about 10 paddlers in June 2007, of which I was one. Bill68 and LittleRed were courteous enough to suggest a Peru, IL put-in, driving to Peru on Interstate 39, and taking Route 251 to south of the Illinois River Bridge, turn onto County Road 2551 (Ben Samek Road), take the first true right to the Sportsman's Club and Public boat launch. The launch is off a sandy beach. Then the paddle is approximately 7.4 miles to Starved Rock State Park upstream, and the same distance back for a total trip of about 14.7 miles. Side paddles up the Vermilion River can add some distance. For this trip, the weather was cloudless, sunny and 78F with gentle winds. We had paddlers from central WI, Downers Grove, Lemont, Bloomington and Champaign. Props to for allowing us all to communicate about this trip and to arrange it online.

Great day. Highlights include: cell-to-cell with Chuck_IL en route up. Gathering at the "staging area" (see, I know my paddle jargon). Bill68, outstanding directions to the put-in. Thanks.

Getting the boats finally in the water at 0840 after waiting to make sure no one else is running later... and right then having MagicPaddler and Quentin tear into the dirt parking lot with two canoes ablaze in a cloud of dust. We eventually launch.

The team paddling noticeably upstream (1.5 mph water movement makes a big difference). Qunetin and I took a side paddle about 1/2 mile up and back on the clean Vermilion River while the group passed on the main IL River.

We caught up to the group and bingo, a new paddler, Fishdoc! Where did he come from? He arrived 30 minutes after we took off paddling, and stroked that Swift Shearwater fast enough to catch the team. Can you say Canoe Police Vehicle? Kudos, FDoc.

Plenty of strong paddlers in our group, such as Chuck_Il, who is always the de facto trip guide on water as he paddles to and fro and joins each individual pocket of paddlers, from rear to front, to keep everyone on the same page. And Silverwave, a very proficient paddler in Bohemia's old Necky Chatham 17... you rock, girl. Strong strokes, great form, and easily slices that boat upstream. Hard charging toward each big boat wake. Did I say fearless, too?

Magic forgets his backband and finds a plank - probably men have died walking off that thing from Illinois pirates - and uses it to stabilize his aching spine. Nice.

Judy patiently paddling the canoe, sroke by stroke, upstream. Very nice for an initial paddle from an infrequent paddler who was clearly "on her game" that day.

Then... duh duh.... duh duhh... da da da DUHHHH. The dreaded Asian Carp. At first, magnificent... Q and I saw ours before Vermilion... 30 or so huge silver fish jumping in school about 3-6 feet out of the stinkwaters! All in a circle about, oh, what would you say, 15 feet. Agitated by out blades, seemed like an impromptu display of fireworks. Big fireworks, these fish were 8-15 lbs! Each!

Happens again. And yet again when we hook up with our paddle group. Man, these are getting kinda close to the boats, no?

Next one is a violent torrent of silver fish that is literally a maelstrom (good word, eh) around the boats. Quentin gets one in his freaking (another good word) Kevlar canoe, and it thrashes violently and is bigger than we thought! Meanwhile, my Avocet is in the thick of it, and a big daddy jumps out and throttles me around the head and neck, thrusting me to the right for an unexpected Illinois River stinkwater capsize! In the carp frenzy, no less.

Chuck_Il and I perform a rapid and very smooth two person rescue and pump. No time for t-rescue to drain water, I gotta get back in the boat. That better be my bathing suit drawcords that I just felt against my privates. Help me, Chuck_IL! Once in boat, Chuck mentions my scratched cheek from that beast. Beast 1, Cooldoctor 0.

We paddle on, and PJC, even though he is a wicked low key guy who is like your favorite graduate student in college who has both wisdom and a slight devilish side, is not to be outdone in the fishing derby. Within 30 minutes, another washing machine flurry of fish, this time around him, and he catches a lunker in the bow of his Mad River. That one made it to the take-out before being laid to rest in the sun, and it was every bit as big as Quentin's.

I have never seen Magicpaddler laugh as hard as he did when each of us got lambasted by the schools of carp. I am glad to amuse you. I'm being funny. It was hilarious, truly. Especially when I gulped a bellyful of the swill water in my capsize. The levity was over when someone mentioned a girl geting hit and killed by one, and then seeing the video - In youtube, type jumping carp, and you will see more videos. Scary, and Illinois River is "ground zero" for those carp. We may not be #1 in much, but unbeknownst to our paddle group, we just went to the premier jumping carp waters in the USA. Add that to your National Geographic diary.

Finally to Starved Rock, and PJumper and LRed drive up in matching Nissan SUVs, LRed in her Starved Rock Volunter garb, and we thought the mounties were there to gig us for catching fish without a license! But, they merely wanted us to have a ride to the Lodge atop the hill, thanks for the quick thinking, PJ. You saved these upstream weary paddlers about 30 minutes of climbing. Even Silverwave was wanting a break, and she's the good paddler in our group.

Nice lodge, and thanks sooo much Mystical for saving us that table in the crowded place. Highlight of trip to met you. You seem like a ton of fun, and I know you hiked for about four hours there that morning and had to leave, understood completely. Gotta, and I mean gotta, get out on the water with you. Thanks for hanging for us.

Wonderful lunch conversation with great folks... all great people. Electrified acoustic gig band, plenty of people, burgers, ice cream, water and beer and wonderful stories. Good laughs. And location atop the bluff, with plenty of people around and music and impeccable weather... heaven.

Back to the water, now about 3pm, and off we go this time downstream with LRed in Montauk and PJumper in Kodiak. LRed not a fan of fish, she believes the carp stories; PJumper chiding that they be a fisherman's story concocted by heat weary, dehydrated paddlers. I then pray silently to the god of Starved Rock that PJumper will take one for the team on the way back.

Leisurely ride back (except the boat wakes), and stopped for memorable break at that loved rocky Dell, with a wonderful side amphitheater-like half dome. Simply fabulous, shady and ferny. Fishdoc paddled all the while, getting in at least another mile of paddling right by our breaksite. Like a rubber-band motor in that Shearwater, strong. Judy found the perfect board (even better than Magicpaddler's driftwood backband) for a bed for 20 winks.

Back to the take-out, much--and I mean much--easier paddling downstream on way back. Puddlej and I went up a side stream only about 500 yards and back while the team caught up, and we were whipped but pleased.

Very few carp coming back, likely because of the motorboat traffic and heat of the day. Finally, one large Asian carp broke about two feet off Puddlejumper's boat and almost chewed his hat off (there is a God!), and then it was like "Hallelujiah, I believe!" from PJumper.

This full day trip started at 0800, and ended at about 7pm.
Loved it. About 2 hours from my home. PJC and Judy were troopers to camp there after a longer drive. Let's do it again, team, carp or no carp. Carpe Diem, seize the... carp? Not a bad drive, and what a great group of people. Ciao.


Starved Rock State park has camping and lodging--advanced booking is recommended (although experienced paddler PJC got the last campsite on Friday before our paddle).
Local hotels are available in Peru, IL and just outside Starved Rock. Starved Rock has outdoor dining and simple food (burgers, chips, hot diggity dogs, and the like) and cold alcoholic brew and mixed drinks and Shirley Temple's.


IL License for paddlecraft is mandatory.


As noted in my write-up above. The alternative would be to start at Starved Rock and paddle south to Peru. Note that Starved Rock is prominent on any map of Illinois, and is a glorious park in itself. The trip described here was south of the Starved Rock Dam.


Delorme Illinois Gazetteer.

Trip Details

  • Sport/Activity: Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location