A tiny cabin with an outdoor picnic table at Getaway Starved Rock in Illinois, featured on Family Travel with Colleen Kelly
Leave the electronics behind at a tiny house retreat south of Chicago.


I wait until my teens, ages 13 and 15, get into the car after school to head to Starved Rock for our weekend getaway. I figure the resistance to a tech-free weekend will be less with our trip already underway. As we drive off from their respective schools, my son greets this unwelcome news with silent acceptance while my daughter asks me, “But what will I do to stay busy during all that time?”


This is the precise reason I find it necessary to plan a weekend like this. It isn’t just that the brilliant yellow, orange, and red leaves and crisp fall weather will make for wonderful hikes at Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks. It’s the need to show my at times jaded teens that they can engage with something besides phones, tablets, computers, TVs, and Xbox games.


Though it’s less than a two-hour drive from Chicago, we don’t arrive at Getaway Starved Rock and our accommodation until just before dusk. We pull into a compound of 58 upscale tiny homes, tucked into 251 wooded acres off of winding roads, then locate Jackson, our tiny home situated on Ash Fork, not far from the main road.


Getaway Starved Rock is one of 29 outposts of upscale tiny house retreats across the country, each located about two hours from major cities, giving guests the chance to recharge close to home. Cabins at Starved Rock include 41 with single, queen-sized beds, 14 with bunk queen beds, and 3 Outdoor Suites, which feature single queen beds, and are equipped just outside with heated soaking tubs, the use of spa robes, a fire pit, hammock, and outdoor string lights.


As we haul our supplies—three carry-on suitcases, bags of provisions, a duffle crammed with toiletries, books, and games—into the tiny home, my daughter offers up another obstacle to the weekend.


“There are black flies inside here,” she complains. “I want to go home.”

A women sitting on a bed in a tiny cabin looking out the window and drinking coffee. Starved Rock Illinois. Featured in Family Travel with Colleen Kelly
Credit: Getaway

Though I’ll admit we are not among those who elect to camp out in nature, this immaculate, well-appointed tiny house is hardly roughing it. There is a queen-sized bed below a queen-sized bunk, made up with crisp, white linens. A large picture window affords bedside views of the surrounding woods.


The tiny kitchen features a two-burner stove, a mini fridge, and a sink that also doubles as the bathroom sink. There are a few shelves and cabinets with basic kitchen supplies and room to store our stuff. A small table with two chairs and a bench serves as dining and game playing space.


The bathroom is spotless, with a commode and a shower with hot running water, shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel.


My son offers to remove the flies that must have entered during a recent cleaning. An hour later we are fly-free and learning to navigate the tiny space. It turns out preparing food indoors is a bit of a challenge, as is negotiating who moves where and when. My son perches on the bunk ladder while my daughter reads a book and I attempt to prepare dinner.


For those who elect to cook meals outdoors, a fire pit and grill grate, picnic table, and chairs make it easy to dine al fresco. There are also four Adirondack chairs to lounge in—all just steps out the front door.


Finally, in the spirit of our adventurous weekend, the kids don’t complain about the less-than-al dente pasta that I attempt to boil on the burners. We cap off our check-in night with a few board games, and I’m amazed to not only watch my teens get along for more than a heartbeat but also laugh themselves silly. There is no going off to hole-up in separate spaces here; we need to spend our time together.

Credit: Getaway

It’s so quiet amidst the woods, even just off a main road, that we’re tempted to sleep in the next morning, but hiking trails beckon, and on this crisp, sunny fall day I know they are sure to be packed.


Starved Rock State Park, designated Illinois’ second state park in 1911, features more than 13 miles of well mapped and marked hiking trails, many of which are easy for novice hikers, and spread out from the visitor center.


It’s just a 20-minute drive from our cabin, so we plan to spend the morning here before heading into nearby Utica for lunch. Despite the crowds, there is plenty of space on trails for photo ops, views of the Illinois River, shaded canyons, and sandstone bluffs. Maple, oak, hickory, pine, and cedar trees offer vibrant fall foliage.


We weave between couples and families, dogs on leashes, and strollers. In between trails, the visitor center has snack and gift shops, clean facilities, and water fountains to break up the activity. I watch my daughter skip down a trail and my son scout ahead down a winding path wondering why it is that I’ve never explored with them somewhere so close to home.


Many elect to dine at the Starved Rock Lodge restaurant or lounge, and it’s also possible to book activities in advance from the Lodge website, including 90-minute historic trolley tours of the park and downtown Utica, a variety of cruises on the Illinois River (in season), and guided hikes.


Four trails, countless pictures, three sweatshirts, a magnet, and a pair of earrings later, and we head out to North Utica (more commonly referred to as simply Utica) for a well-earned lunch. A one-block stretch of Mill Street is only open for pedestrian traffic, and restaurants’ tables spill out onto the sidewalks and street.

Outside of a tiny cabin in Getaway Starved Rock Illinois. A picnic table and chair sit outside the tiny cabin.
Credit: Getaway
Inside of a tiny cabin in Getaway Starved Rock in Illinois. A bed with a book, reading glasses, and a cup of coffee.
Processed with VSCO with a9 preset

We save room for ice cream treats from trendy Bruce & Ollie’s for dessert. It’s definitely a two-scoop each kind of day. There are plenty of specialty coffees and teas on the menu, as well as gourmet sandwiches and pastries to eat on site or take away for a quick meal elsewhere. We grab our dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast to go in order to maximize our time.


In no time we are back on scenic roads as we wind our way to Matthiessen State Park and five miles of shaded trails encompassing 1,938 acres of uniquely beautiful rock formations. I lose count of the steps descending to the base of the main canyon, steeling myself for the complaints on the way back up.


Once we reach the bottom, sandstone rock curves up and around us in graceful lines, providing plenty of space for the sure-footed to explore. It feels earthy, mystical, and magical, like we’re separated from everything up above, if only for a few moments. We help each other over slippery rocks until it’s almost closing time. Racing back up the many steps, the kids leave me lagging behind. I don’t hear a single complaint.


For those who want to spend more time here, there are picnic tables and restroom facilities, and a restored fort representative of the fortification utilized by the French in the late 1600s and early 1700s in the Midwest.


We opt to head back to our tiny house cabin for a casual sandwich dinner but for those who wish to dine close to Getaway Starved Rock, you can also drive seven minutes across the Illinois River to the larger city of Ottawa, where there are plenty of dining and shopping options.


That night, we tuck into our private, technology-free haven. The only fights are over which game to play first and what time we should finally turn off reading lights and head to sleep. A weekend isn’t nearly enough time here, but with the ease and convenience of Getaway Starved Rock, I know we’ll return whenever I feel the urge to go off grid and reconnect. I’m already planning on which outpost to visit next.


For more information on this and other Getaway locations, visit www.getaway.house.


Cover photo credit: Getaway


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