Starved Rock State Park & Matthiessen State Park

In case you were wondering, this blog is my online journal with slightly filtered thoughts.  As a result, you’re going to get a lot of that mixed in with the pictures.  This isn’t one I’m expecting too many to read through, but I like to document/remember things and this is more doable than scrapbooking for me. 😉

It was time for a vacation.  Other than a trip to Indiana (with only two kids to keep track of) to visit old college friends, we hadn’t really done anything worthy of the title “vacation” since our honeymoon to Colorado!  Partly, this was due to the fact that we lived long drives away from our parents (okay, like four hours, but with kids it felt really long) until the last almost 2 years.  We spent more than enough time traveling with kids and never felt too excited about doing more of it. haha  We haven’t had to drive too far recently though and that helped our motivation to make something fun happen.

Cabz and I both like the outdoor style of adventure and fun, but there are only so many options with four kids 3 and under….  After some online searching, and multiple recommendations from my aunt, we decided to try out some hiking at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.  One of the worst parts of vacationing is the drive, so this was a perfect option.  It was about an hour and a half drive for us.  Cabz has been really swamped studying for his next actuarial exam, coming up in early November, so I had to kind of head up the planning for this trip and make it happen.  First on the list, I had to make sure Trisha and Justin were on board.  There was no way we were going to get much hiking in if Evie had to walk the whole way, but we were both going to be carrying the babies.  Plus, a vacation with my sister sounded pretty great!  They said “yes,” and my planning began in earnest.

Initially, I was thinking a cabin would be fun.  I have been terrified of hotels since hearing one too many bedbug stories…. ugh.  I do not want to bring those nasty things home.  EVER.  A cabin sounded like the perfect option.  It wouldn’t matter if it rained.  Less stuff to pack.  What could go wrong?  Well, unfortunately, all the cabins we found nearby were already booked for one or both of the nights we had in mind!  On to plan B.  I decided, why not?  Let’s try tent camping!  We will have the initial costs of buying a tent, some stakes, and sleeping bags for the girls, but it will save money in the long run if we like it.  We can attempt future camping trips and make it count!  The weather could completely bomb this for us, but….. we’ll hope and pray for the best and see what happens!

We reserved our campsite around a month ahead of time.  If we cancelled it within seven days of the dates they would charge us for one of the days, which I thought was annoying.  You’re not going to be able to bail due to weather until almost the day before, so that wasn’t really helping us out much.  Since we were going out of state, we had to get permission to take our little guy along.  I had to contact my worker, who had to contact the judge, who had to give the okay.  I sent her the dates and didn’t hear back from her for a week or so.  I finally decided to e-mail her to check in, which was a really good idea.  She was going to be out of the office for a week starting at noon the day I e-mailed her!  She sent back the okay from the judge and all was good.

As our trip approached, I was getting SUPER EXCITED!!  I LOVE stuff like this, and we hadn’t been able to for so long.  I think it was just deciding to go for it with the realization that we were going to have rough nights and the kids weren’t always going to be perky and great, but it could still be really fun.  The couple of weeks leading up to our trip, the weather was GORGEOUS.  I mean, it was perfect.  Super beautiful, sunny days.  Perfect temperature for camping nights.  I was terrified to look at the forecast for our trip weekend….  Justin finally bit the bullet and looked it up.  Rain.  Cold.  It looked rough.  I asked a few people to pray for us to have decent weather anyway and we all kept praying too.  I checked the weather a couple times.  The day before, I looked and it was 90% chance of rain almost the whole time.  For Saturday, there was even a 100% chance over the lunch hour.  Are you even kidding me?  I told Cabz that night and he was a little worried.  I had seriously been looking forward to this trip almost every day since we booked the camping sites.  There was just no way I wanted to be on the safe side and call it all off.  I had spent days making a meals and packing list.  It was our last chance before it would be way too cold to take all the kids camping.  I had worked on packing all day.  I had bought all the food.  The kids were SO pumped!!  We decided to keep praying and go for it.

We headed out on a Friday morning.  Our hopes were high, but the sunshine was not.  We pulled out with a super cloudy, foreboding sky.  I called Trisha and we talked part of the drive.  They were going through drizzling and full out rain the whole time we were on the phone.  It started drizzling on us when we were about twenty minutes from the park.  I was trying really hard to stay positive and hopeful, but it was a little discouraging.  We didn’t really have a second plan.  We were hoping to hike.  If it was pouring rain, there was no way we could have fun sloshing through mud carrying babies and trying to keep everything breathable under drenched ponchos.  When we were about 12 minutes away, I saw a thin stream of brightness across the horizon.  Everywhere else was dark, gloomy, and it was still raining on us.  I excitedly pointed to the strip of clear sky and exclaimed, “See, Cabz???  THAT is the park!  God gave us clear weather, just like everyone was praying!”  He looked at me with his, “I really hope it is, for your sake, but…. maybe you shouldn’t have your hopes quite so high” look, but I was frantically hoping.




Guess what?  We got to the park and it really WAS clear.  It wasn’t sunny or super warm, but it was dry and the sky was less dark.  We arrived about half an hour before the Nelsons and used the time to potty everyone, bundle everyone up, and get situated.  It’s amazing how quickly our kids can completely eat up thirty minutes, one need after the next. haha  As the Nelsons pulled up, we realized it was virtually lunch time, and we weren’t really set up to haul our food out on a hike.  Everyone was hauling babies!  We headed over to the nearest shelter and enjoyed….

Meal #1: honey ham sandwiches.  Trisha was mid bite here, but Belle was loving her auntie, so it gets posted.  Sorry.


After finishing up lunch, we got our bearings, packed some snacks and water, and hit the trails.  When we first started out, it was downright chilly and we were all bundled up.  Surprisingly, it warmed up quickly and we were taking layers off before too long.  We checked out the Starved Rock Overlook to start with.



It was a lot of steps, which took a little finagling.  Trisha was limping a little with sore legs due to something with running (more reasonable, considering she is marathon training again), and I had my lovely runner’s knee thing going on (why? lol).  I pretty much tried to keep my left leg straight as much as possible during hiking, which was most exciting on the stairs.  The overlook hike wasn’t the best start, since it had a lot of high points and was generally a bit terrifying for me, but you’ll be happy to hear I survived.  We had Evie walk that whole thing, since it wasn’t too far and we wanted to wear her out a bit too.


After this, we loaded Evie up on Justin and went to check out Wildcat Canyon.  Evie was not happy about getting in the backpack carrier at first.  She hadn’t had enough warm up to Justin time, but I eventually distracted her with a fruit strip.  The best part is, she quickly decided she loved Justin carrying her around and we had to force her to walk once in a while.  Didn’t see that coming…… *rolling eyes*


Scouting out the map to decide where to go.


Hiking to the canyon.





Wildcat Canyon was really cool.  Of course, the pictures never do nature justice, especially when I had to use our lower quality camera.  It was such a fun area to explore.




The girls loved running around and finding things to climb on.  Of course, our little scientist (Abigail) was finding interesting bugs all over too.





Hiking selfie!


After Wildcat Canyon, we headed back to the vehicles to fetch a bottle for our little guy.  Bottle feeding is kind of annoying to me, since I’ve been so used to nursing my babes.  It’s so much easier not to worry about hauling bottles and formula all over the place!  It’s just one more thing to have to think about and plan out I guess.  Once we were at the vans, we were feeding and pottying kids left and right.  It was getting close to mid afternoon and we decided it might be nice to get to the campsite, unpack, set up, and get situated for the night.

Our campsite wasn’t part of the park (their campground was all reserved by the time we looked into it), but it was only about a five minute drive away.  We found it without a problem, checked in, and headed to our sites.  Disaster. haha  It was two, super puny spaces with absolutely no where to park, and of course coated in bugs.  We were trying to make the best of it, when Justin and Trisha suggested asking if there were any better spots.  Great news!  There were.  They had a lot of empty spots in the “Highland” area (I think we had reserved spots in “swampland”) and said we could take our pick.  It was about a hundred times better up there.  Less buggy, way bigger spots, lots of room to park.  We took some spots near a few trees and were feeling much happier.


We were grateful for Justin’s help with setting up our tent.  It was brand new and we would have done a trial set up if we were going on our own, but Cabz figured Justin would be able to help him out and he did.  He made it look easy to whip together.


The guys had a great spectator crew while they set up.


Snacks were a major highlight of the girls’ trip.


We bought an 8 person tent, and although we could have fit in something smaller, we enjoyed the size.  It held our pack ‘n’ play, rock ‘n’ play, two girls in sleeping bags, and air mattress (roughin’ it) very comfortably.


Justin set up a pretty sweet tarp rain shelter, just in case.


While he was working on that, the kiddies had fun on the playground close by.






Swinging is so fun!


Meal #2: Taco in a Bowl.  Justin brought along his “camping stove” and heated up the meat so we could really live it up.




We had some fun with the two hammocks the Nelsons brought along.




Getting the fire started on night one.



The girls enjoyed their very first s’mores!


They also had a blast shining their brand new flashlights in all of our faces….




The first night was pretty rough.  We usually try to space bedtime activities out, for a smoother experience with all our littles.  With the tent, we had to pretty much attempt everything and everyone at once, because once they were inside and in jammies, they couldn’t really leave it.  There was a decent amount of tears involved, but eventually everyone was tucked in and semi-quiet.  The “big” girls finally drifted off around 9.

There were a couple RVs in the Highland area, as well as one group of tent campers.  They weren’t right next to us, but close enough that we were kept up by their noise during our initial 1 1\2 hours of peace.  Paybacks are rough though.  Elly decided to wake up screaming at 10:30 p.m..  This created a chain reaction and our little guy started bawling as well.  I tried nursing Elly again, but she was livid that we weren’t at home like normal and she wasn’t about to quiet with that nonsense.  Cabz finally took her out for a stroll around the tent and that worked pretty quickly.  Realistically, there was screaming for about ten minutes straight, but it felt much longer.  Elly didn’t have anymore long screaming sessions, but to give you an idea of how my night went…… she woke up crying somewhere between 20 – 30 times and would ONLY stop with nursing.  PARTY TENT for the win.  I think the rest of the people in our tent slept pretty decently though.  Abby didn’t stir until morning.  Evie needed the potty once and whined maybe once or twice other than that, and Little Guy slept well after the first bawl session.  It drizzled rain a few times, but we stayed nice and dry.  We also heard an owl!  So….. we survived night one.  How does Elly look so wide awake and proud of herself while I was ready to fall over?


Meal #3: Fiber One bars, apples, cuties, bananas, applesauce squeezers, dry cereal bags, and raspberry yogurt muffins


We hit the trails as soon as we were up and going.


We stopped at Bowel Canyon…. er, I mean Owl Canyon on our way to LaSalle Canyon.







Back on our way to LaSalle.  We referred to ourselves as “The Baby Brigade.”  There were stairs in the beginning and end, but the middle was a pretty flat dirt path walk along the Illinois River.  We saw a MASSIVE dead spider on the way, which was mildly frightening.  Good thing we didn’t see any live ones….  ugh.




I find this picture so funny.


We made it to LaSalle Canyon!  This was my favorite place we saw at Starved Rock.  I am in love with water, especially waterfalls.  Abby was loving it too.  The two of us couldn’t get enough of it.  Justin ran into a guy who recommended we try Matthiessen State Park since it had some pretty great waterfall stuff.



After we hiked back, we had a break for lunch.  Abby got to ride for a tiny bit here.


This was the day there was a 100% chance of rain over the lunch hour, and it proved true.  The good news was, it started as we got to the vehicles and we managed to get the kids and food all under a shelter at the visitor center without getting noticeably wet at all!

Meal #4: Our own version of “lunchable” pizzas.  Pita breads, pizza sauce, diced ham, turkey pepperoni, and lots of cheese!



Every time we tried to eat food near the park, the bees were atrocious.  I literally popped open the pizza sauce lid and they were swarming us.  It was a bit annoying.  They never stung us, but were super aggressive about getting in our food.  They would fly right into it as we were trying to eat.  One flew straight into our pizza sauce jar and got stuck.  I promptly scooped him out with a spoon, and smacked the living daylights out of him with the shredded cheese bag.  Too bad I forgot he was covered in sauce.  It was a little bit of a splat.  Oops.



After lunch, filling the babies up with milk, and potty breaks, we were trying to figure out what to do.  Although the weather had held out AMAZINGLY for us so far, it was raining pretty solid at this point.  We went back and forth, and finally decided to check the prices on an indoor amusement park nearby.  None of us were super excited about that, but our options were limited if we couldn’t hike.  We got a little lost trying to find it and the rain was looking like it might stop, so we decided to head to Matthiessen State Park and see what happened.  Miraculously enough, the rain cleared out for us yet again as we pulled in to the park.  Thanks to everyone who was praying, because we should have been rained out almost the entire weekend.  Instead, we were blessed with dry weather aside from the little spell over lunch on Saturday!!

We hiked about half of Matthesian on Saturday afternoon.  It was quite a bit smaller than Starved Rock, but SO much more fun we all agreed!!


My absolute favorite hike of the weekend was to Lake Falls.  It was so. much. fun.  SO MUCH FUN.
The whole thing was through and near water.
This would have been an absolutely soaking wet hike if we went in the spring.  As it was, we had a few close calls as we had to leap across a whole bunch of little rock paths through water (some were like these placed stones, others were natural rock paths), all while holding babies.  Some were easier, but some were pretty sketchy.  Justin would lug both our big girls across each time. haha  He had Evie in the pack and would hold Abby.  I have some pretty great videos of that!  None of us ever slipped in, which was pretty amazing. haha
When we got closer to the falls, we reached a point where we couldn’t progress unless we went through water.  The others were fine taking the view from where we were, but Abby and I decided to go barefoot through the chilly water and get a closer look!  It was the best.  Abby told me, “We are just having such exciting hikes!  Everywhere we go, we see waterfall, waterfall, waterfall!!  I am just loving it!”
After enjoying the beautiful Lake Falls, we headed back to the campsite.  We had Evie hit a few stairs on the way out.
Abby enjoyed gathering sticks, er…. twigs, for the campfire.  She thought she was quite the helper.
Meal #5: brats!
We left all the kids with the guys while we drove down to the showers to rinse off quick.  Boy, that was a mistake.  Those showers were RANCID.  Seriously, the water stunk like rotten sewage.  Trisha was laughing at me dry heaving the whole half minute I was in there.  Just enough to wash the bug spray off. haha  Yuck.  You don’t feel “clean” from camping until you get a nice, warm shower back at home.  Feeling grimy is just part of the experience though, right? haha
Another quick round of s’mores and flashlights and it was bedtime again.  This night went about a million times better.  The kids were all exhausted from hiking outside all day and crashed pretty quickly.  Elly did waaaaaaaay better and only woke up unhappy about 5 times and nursing put her right back to sleep.  Five times sounds like a lot compared to my normal nights at home, but after the previous camping night where it was almost constant….. five felt awesome.  It’s all about perspective. haha
The next morning, we were quite a bit slower getting going.  The guys had to load everything up and Cabz had to rearrange our van so we could fit everything back in.
Meal #6: not pictured, but a repeat of the previous breakfast.
The kids enjoyed hanging out and doing a little hammock swinging.
Okay, how cute are these two cousins?!  I told Trisha we had to have them twin it up while we had the chance. haha  SO ADORABLE.
Evie was being stubborn about getting in the hammock, simply because people were trying to talk her into it.
I eventually won her over though and she caved and loved it as expected.
Abby mimicking her doofus uncle peering over the hammock. hahahahahhahaha
Photobombing for Trisha’s viewing pleasure. LOL
Fake sleeping mugger.
 We were finally ready to head out for our last hiking adventure before home.
We did the second half of Matthiessen, with the highlight being Cascade Falls.  There were a ton of pretty cool caves all around the falls, which were neat to explore.
The girls did pretty well on our trip.  Evie was a little rough the first night with having to skip her nap and Abby started getting pretty bucky the last day due to lack of sleep, but overall they had pretty impressive attitudes for being so little.
Abby hiked almost the entire time on her own two feet!!  We did about eight miles altogether.
Meal #7: Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches.  This was the one thing I forgot to pack…. a knife.  Justin improvised with a spoon. lol
Our babies wouldn’t smile at the same time, but they’re still cute as can be.
He got the babies while Cabz photographed for us. 🙂
Heading home, still smiling.  I’d call that a success!  Abby declared she wanted to do “five more nights of camping!!”  Maybe next time, dear.
I asked the girls what their favorite part of our trip was.  Abby, “I loved all of the waterfalls and water!!”  Evie, “Riding the backpack on Justin!”  No surprise.











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