For our 18th wedding anniversary my husband booked us an outdoor adventure. I was excited for us to do something together that involved being outside in the fresh air and something that involved physical activity. He had booked a kayaking tour in Starved Rock Illinois.

The photo below this paragraph is the one used on the Starved Rock Kayak Tours website and the one used as the thumbnail for their promotional video. As Paul and I looked at the website we were so excited to see these extraordinary canyons and gorgeous waterfalls amidst the flat prairies of Illinois.

This excerpt is taken directly from their website: “For this trip we will be kayaking for approx. 2.5-3 hours.  We will kayak back into Illinois canyon (water level dependent).  The views from the water are amazing!”

The words “we will kayak back into the Illinois canyon” alongside the above photo made us believe that this is what we were expected to see on the tour.

Upon Arrival at the Kayak Launch Site

The drive up was not long or difficult; just about an hour and a half. We arrived at a small parking lot where we would launch from a small dock. There were two wood outhouses, picnic tables and a pavilion for campers or a picnic. Near the water’s edge was a storage container with the kayaks, paddles and life jackets. This is where we got our equipment in exchange for our signed waivers. (Remember that as required, we had already booked and paid online.)

What to Bring on the Kayak

Both of us wore moisture wicking clothing (gym clothes) and water shoes. You don’t want to wear cotton or other fabrics that absorb water or weigh you down. Apply sunscreen before you get there and of course bring drinking water on the kayak. (There is a built in water proof section on the back of the kayak to put items such as cameras, wallets, keys, clothing, snacks, drinks, etc.)

The 3 Hour Tour

There was a group of close to 20 people going on the tour. There were two guides, one to lead the group and one to follow at the end. Some people brought their own kayaks and equipment but most were using the rentals. The tour guides opening spiel was a short introduction of each person and then an equally short demo on how to paddle. Then we were off in the water and on our way down the side of the Illinois river.

Right away the tour guide said that the river is swarming with Asian carp and that they will not only be jumping all around us, but also possibly be jumping into our boats. I am not scared of fish so I wasn’t bothered by this, until I saw the size of them not jumping but rather hurling themselves at our kayaks! Then before I knew it a giant Asian carp was heading for my lap! I reacted quickly and raised my hips and thighs up to block the opening to the kayak where I was sitting. As the carp was violently flopping around I began to feel the slime and smell the rotten fish smell. Realizing that I would not be able to grasp the fish with my hands, I thrust my hips up as hard as I could and propelled the carp into the air and back into the water.

Photo credit

We were paddling further on and seeing more of the cliff wall but really waiting to go back into the canyon and see the waterfalls. The guide pointed up at the rock and said “there’s your waterfall”. All of us looked up and there was only a discoloration on the rock where water once ran. Paul and I chuckled simultaneously at her joke but then realized after about 10 minutes that she was being literal. (Wah, wah, waaaaah.)

The “waterfall”.

A little while later it was time to turn around and head back. We were confused. We never ventured into any interesting place, never saw running water and now we were on the hot trek back to the dock.

We didn’t let this dampen our adventure though. I talked about how much fun it was to go kayaking my first time and how funny my encounter with the fish had been.

Paul talked about how cool the overturned trees looked and how nice it was to spend time together.

It really was fun and a really good anniversary gift!

Having seen everything there was to see, we decided to hustle back to the car so that I could wash my body and change my clothing. We paddled so quickly and so furiously that we left the tour behind us and got back with 30 minutes to spare.

At the car we washed, rinsed, dried off and got dressed. Then, with protein bars in hand and ice cold AC blasting our clean skin, we were off for more adventure.

Plan Ahead to be Comfortable and Clean

When packing for the trip Paul and I assumed that we would get wet from the river water and from sweat so we planned ahead by bringing body wipes for washing, water for rinsing, towels for drying off and clean clothes to change into. We also had a waterproof bag to store our dirty laundry. We are SO lucky that we planned for this because the lake water is so dirty and it stinky. Neither of us would have wanted to survive a 2 hour drive home like this let alone get this on our car interior.

Other things to bring would be non-perishable snacks and lots of water (and other drinks if desired) in a cooler. Water bottles for the kayak ride is essential. Sunblock, a hat to block the sun, sunglasses and water shoes or old lightweight athletic shoes are all musts.

I want to go again. Kayaking is fun, especially when the water gets rough and the waves knock you around. Spending time as a couple on kayaks is fun because you can race and exercise, you can float and chill out and you can enjoy each other’s company without life interrupting or getting in the way. (We stayed off of our cell phones.)

If you would like to book your tour go here.

Another thing to note is that we did not have a “tour” meaning that our guide did not talk about our surroundings or anything else. Her job was to go along with us for the 3 hours but not to present us with information. So in our opinion it was not a “tour” but rather an excursion with a guide to lead you along the river bank and to keep track of the time.

Have you been to starved rock? Do you like kayaking?