Get a solitude adjustment
Escape traffic, smog and other urban irritations for these quaint and quirky getaways.
Starved Rock, Illinois
Distance 94 miles
Travel time 1½ hours
Don’t miss Ice formations in the state park canyons
On the western end of the State Park’s 13 miles of hiking trails lies Starved Rock Lodge (Rtes 178 and 71, Utica, 800-868-ROCK, starvedrocklodge.com; $80–$250/night), a good lodging option for people who want to be surrounded by nature, so long as there’s central heating and a TV. The rooms in the lodge have a motel feel, so opt for the cabins. Just be aware you’ll either have to book both halves of the two-room pioneer cabins for privacy, or you’ll have to deal with ultrathin walls that allow you to hear your neighbors’ every move.
Most of the socializing and activities take place in the Great Hall, a massive room with vaulted ceilings, exposed beams, plenty of couches and a central fireplace. The adjacent Back Door Lounge has a neighborhood pub feel and live music. During the day, the real attractions await out on the trails. November through March, bald eagles call the area home (you’ll likely spot a couple even without going on one of the eagle tours), and the waterfalls freeze into beautiful ice formations.
Hungry after all that hiking? While you’ll do okay with the Lodge’s Sunday breakfast buffet (a massive spread that locals flock to as religiously as they do church), head to nearby Ladd for Rip’s Tavern (311 N Main St, 815-894-3051, ripschicken.com). Townies line up in the bar area sipping cold beers while waiting for a table, and everyone orders the fried chicken. A grease-soaked paper boat of battered bird and fries is a steal at $3.
To counter this decidedly divey option, class it up in Utica at August Hill Winery’s (106 Mill St, 815-667-5211, augusthillwinery.com) tasting room. Step up to the wooden bar and get six free tasting pours, then grab a bottle of the bubbly Frontenac Rose, the best kind of souvenir. That is if you’re not looking for a velvet-handled sword or Viking-inspired horned helmet. In that case, make Haggars (723 S Clark St, Utica, 815-667-7197), a medieval Spencer’s of sorts, your last stop in town.