If you’re visiting Chicago or live in the Chicagoland area, and are yearning for a magical woodland getaway, Pedis N Passports hit the jackpot this past Easter weekend. Brooke and I just returned from an amazing experience, beginning with a convenient one hour drive from our home in Naperville, Illinois. We had the pleasure of staying at Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort, the ideal oasis when visiting Starved Rock.
Starved Rock State Park was like nothing we’ve ever experienced in Illinois! Even before entering the park, you are transported back in time. The town of Utica is so quaint– population a whopping 1,400!
The most adorable rustic and colorful row of shops catches your eye. Brooke, and her girlfriend, who joined us for this getaway, almost catapulted themselves out of the car when they spied these scrumptious shops.
How fun are these:
And yes, there’s the Illinois River Winery, but this was not the time nor place. (Trust me, I’ll be back sans kids).
The entire time we were exploring this quaint country town, Brooke was insistent that we had been transported to the American West. “There is no way we are still in Illinois, Mom… and this is certainly not 2017!”
After our sweet tooth fix, we hopped back into our portal/time machine and headed for Starved Rock for an afternoon of hiking. As we crossed over the bridge with the expanse of the Illinois River flowing below, we knew this was not the flat farmland Illinois we had grown accustomed to. Starved Rock was an alternate Midwest dimension!
The meandering tree-lined entrance built up our anticipation for the lushness and natural beauty that led us to the even more thrilling… free parking! For some reason I wasn’t expecting that bonus! Perhaps we can use the extra funds designated for parking to purchase the Chocolate Covered Bacon on our way home tomorrow! (Just can’t mention that to vegan Brooke).
Anyhow, we entered the spacious convention center to learn a bit about Starved Rock prior to hiking. Here’s what a very sweet and knowledgeable ranger shared with us:
The Legend of Starved Rock
Starved Rock State Park gets its name from a Native American legend dating back to the 1760’s. Legend has it that the Illiniwek tribe killed Pontiac, chief of the Ottawa Indians. To avenge the killing, the Ottawa along with the help of the Potawatomi tribe, chased members of the Illiniwek up to a cliff, cornered them and forced them to stay there until they starved. Needless to say, Brooke and her friend bombarded the ranger with hundreds of questions! He was thrilled to answer them all.
He also informed us that spring is a great time to visit because the waterfalls are active after the seasonal rains. Our visions of Illinois waterfalls were two feet trickles down a few pebbles. Boy, were we ever surprised!
(This is no leisurely stroll through the park)
In our over zealous minds, we were ready for the 13 miles of trails and 18 canyons to explore in the 2340 acre Starved Rock Park. We were actually pondering the idea of a canoe ride after our trek; needless to say that did not occur for we were beyond ready to call it a day after conquering only two canyons and six miles of terrain. That was an ample amount of movement for these fatigued feet to handle.
The sandstone cliffs were incredible, as were the scenic lookouts of the Illinois River.
Our Starved Rock Advice when visiting in the Spring:
- Bring a backpack
- Bring water
- Wear a bathing suit
- Wear old hiking shoes or sneakers
- Bring a pair of flip flops for the waterfall fun
- Bring baby wipes to remove the mud that will cover your entire body if you choose to swim as Brooke did
- Brooke’s advice–pet every dog that you pass along the way-47 was her end-of-day count
- Don’t race through–stop to admire the view every bit of the way
- Realize the stairs and paths that lead downward must go back up again!
- Breathe, smile, live in the moment
Heading to Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort
By 4:00 pm, we were ready to call it a day. We headed back to the car and the girls immediately asked how long the drive was going to be to get to the resort. Before they had finished the sentence, we were pulling into the parking lot! Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort was literally a two minute car ride away!
The girls wanted to shower and clean up right away, but I informed them not to bother for there was some information I had withheld–Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort was a Water Park Resort! I’m sure their screeches of delight were heard around the world!
With body and tube water slides, a lazy river, riptide and wave pool, hot tub and The Wave Cafe (as I like to call Mom’s Margaritaville) this is the ideal resort for fun and excitement. While it is not the size of the monstrous resorts at the Dells, that certainly goes in the positive column on my resort check list–no worries as to where the kids are and a fraction of the noise and chaos. In my opinion, the focus of this weekend should be on the great outdoors, with the water park being an extra nugget of fun for the kids after a long day of fresh forest air.
Prior to arrival, I honestly had no idea what to expect from our stay here. I have stayed at campground resorts growing up and figured this would be similar. However, upon entering the resort, I was so pleasantly surprised. The Northwoods decor was adorable. We were given a lovely suite that sleeps six, with a balcony in the main resort area.
On site at Jack’s Grizzly Bear Grand Resort, there are also beautiful vacation villas and cabins nestled in the woods with living rooms, patios, and fireplaces. These are the ideal haven for a family reunion or special occasion–although, in the near future, we hope to stay in a villa for no reason whatsoever.
After a few hours at the water park, we all headed outdoors for a game of mini golf which far exceeded expectations. We felt as though we were transported to a course in Colorado.
I’m not usually a mini golf gal, but as you can certainly see, the serenity of the environment made it more like meditative mini golf!
We had certainly built up an appetite and headed to the main restaurant which offered American cuisine–there was something for everyone–from a plethora of appetizers, salads, burgers, and pizza, we thoroughly enjoyed our delicious meals. We were also very excited about the incredible Easter Brunch to come the following morning!
If you are craving some late night decadence or a delicious cup of coffee, the Honey Pot Sweet Shop is the perfect stop.
After dinner, the girls headed back to the water park and arcade, while I chose to partake in the adult amusement park for a bit, then back to the lovely suite to unwind.
With the adorable small town of Utica, the exhilarating hiking, breathtaking canyon views, water sports and ideal waterpark resort, we rate this trip a 10/10! It was really hard to believe we were in the Midwest. A wilderness fantasy located 90 minutes southwest of Chicago is the perfect weekend escape any time of year.
Have you ever been to Starved Rock or stayed at Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort? Are there other activities you’d recommend in the area?
We are hoping to return Summer, Fall and Winter to enjoy this fun and relaxing haven year round.
Thank you again to the staff at Grizzly Jack’s for making us feel so welcome. We’ve definitely found a home away from home!