Starved Rock at Winter - An Aspen Lodge Experience in Ottawa, Il.

Starved Rock Lodge at night


I have heard that Vermont at winter time is magical.  When the snow blankets the earth people really do flock to intimate lodges to warm up by the fire and toast themselves well into the night.  That is to say that everything in White Christmas is true.  But alas, I live in Chicago and experiences like that are far away.  Unless one travels the eighty some miles to Ottawa, Illinois and spends a few days at the Starved Rock Lodge.  The skiing is nothing to write home about, but the hiking is world class and includes a total of eighteen canyons with colorful names such as Aurora and Kaskasia Canyon. 

Fourteen of these canyons have waterfalls and they are just as beautiful frozen as they are flowing.  Occasionally, deep into winter, one can watch experienced climbers ascending these falls.  Above ground there are several vantage points where one can look out toward the Illinois River and the surrounding forest.  This river is interrupted by a dam which creates a powerful churning in the water.  This churning attracts a variety of fish which provide tasty snacks to the dozens of bald eagles that fish the Illinois River year round.  Come late January, those eagles are joined by migrating eagles from up north and the state park celebrates this with several related festivals.  Those weekends are usually crowded, but otherwise one can expect to have the trails to themselves.  However, one trail that is never too lonely is one leading up to where once sat a French fort.  No evidence of the fort remains, however it is a great spot to look for eagles.  There are also several signs relaying the legend of Starved Rock which involves a small band of Native Americans who were besieged on top of a hill top and eventually starved to death.  When hiking in Starved Rock it is important to stay on the trail and to watch small children as several trails hug the cliffs very closely. 


Starved Rock at Winter


The short days of winter lead to longer nights and the Starved Rock Lodge is more than up to that challenge.  The lodge is made of two parts.  The older wing was built as a CCC project in the 30s and includes a very dramatic Great Room that has a double sided stone fireplace and a vaulted log ceiling.  Every winter night involves families playing board games and jostling for prime sitting spots close to the fire.  There also is a friendly restaurant specializing in comfort food and an enticing bar called the Back Door Lounge.  Both establishments share the same kitchen and one can have the restaurant’s lunch menu at dinner time in the bar.  The food at the lodge is OK, but if one is staying more than one night they might prefer to drive the few miles into Ottawa.  The newer wing also has a smaller sitting area as well as several song birds and a stuffed black bear.  After a big dinner and several board games by the fire, my family will usually make good use of the swimming pool.  In addition to an Olympic size pool, there is also a good sized hot tub and a kiddy pool as well.  There also exists a very informal video and board game library to even better entertain you during those cold winter nights.  

Rooms at the lodge run about $110 a night.  The “historic” wing boasts knobby pine walls and ultra small rooms.  The newer wing has much larger rooms and will cost you ten dollars more.  There are also several cabins dotting the hotel grounds, some with fireplaces.  Inter woven around these cabins as well as in the lodge itself are dozens of impressive wood sculptures that invoke nature, Native American, and other themes.  Other than the skiing, the only thing Vermont has over the Starved Rock Lodge is a singing Bing Crosby.   

See more here 

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