I love waterfalls. There’s nothing better than hiking along and hearing the gurgling of rushing water just before you actually see a waterfall. And sitting by it – or even better, under it, equates to pure bliss. Unfortunately our home state of Illinois isn’t blessed with an abundance of waterfalls…. until it rains!
In the spring or after a heavy rain, Starved Rock State Park in northern Illinois is a waterfall lover’s paradise with over 10 canyons hiding waterfalls descending to the scenic Illinois River.
But beware! Even by mid-June the waterfalls dry up and you may be lucky to see a trickle, not the gushing waterfalls you expected. The best way to avoid disappointment is to call the Starved Rock State Park Visitor Center – 815-667-4726.
And 10 days earlier, early June … with little water trickling over the same waterfall…
Unfortunately, its proximity to Chicago means a less than wilderness nature experience. But during the week, although solitude isn’t likely on the trails, the farther you are from the visitor center, the better the falls and the fewer the people.
The closest two waterfalls to the visitor center are French Canyon and Wildcat Canyon. After a heavy rain, Wildcat Canyon actually had two waterfalls! But also gazillions of hikers/campers…
And what you cannot see in the gorgeous waterfall photo….
French Canyon was closer, but beyond all the waterfall sliding kids, was a beautiful waterfall – shrill with squeals of all ages sliding down the rocks.
After Wildcat Canyon, the trail goes on but the waterfall density is less until you get to the other end of the trail. At the same time, folks along the trail said the best waterfall by FAR was St Louis Canyon Falls — which was the opposite direction of where I was hiking.
Click here for a trailmap. What the trailmap (and signposts) don’t show clearly is that the trail to St Louis Canyon begins behind the lodge. To find the trailhead, walk up the stairs behind the visitor center following signs to overflow parking and the lodge. Then walk behind the lodge, on a sidewalk by the patio bar umbrellas, keep following the sidewalk until eventually it turns into a marked trailhead. Go figure. Being directionally challenged, I had to go back to the Visitor Center for directions twice before I located this one!
On the way to St Louis Canyon are 3 more canyons … The first is Aurora Canyon, maybe this one? Maybe not, so many waterfall photos, everything gets jumbled in my mind!
Then it’s on past Sac Canyon (waterfall with water and with less water photos above) and Kickapoo Canyon to St Louis Canyon. The falls here are higher than most of the others, but there’s less water. Still dramatic!
Six falls in one day – I got carried away and hiked somewhere around 12 miles by the time I decided to turn around past Wildcat Falls and go find St Louis Falls. My feet ached just a bit – I haven’t hiked that far for a few months, but were ready to go again the next morning when I decided to find Ottawa and Kaskaskia Canyons Falls. Although you can hike from the Visitor Center, it’s easier to drive to the designated parking area for these two falls. Just past the trailhead is a most amazing sight … the Council Overhang… A deep overhang likely utilized by Native Americans as a tribal council meeting area or possibly a religious area.
Stopping, soaking in the ambiance, you could easily see the Native American’s council, serious business around the fire with the happy chattering children running around playing games, splashing in the creek not far away and the women grinding corn on a flat stone in preparation for dinner. I could almost smell the smoke from the council and cooking fires.
After a sitting a spell, I hiked on to Ottawa Canyon. For these hikes, I was hiking through the sloshy slidy mud alot of the way. Combine that with the distance from the Visitor Center (not far but far enough to discourage the one stop “been there done that” crowd) and there were almost no people. I passed a lady with a dog and two kids returning on my way to Ottawa Falls and NO ONE ELSE THERE!!! WooHoo – pay dirt!
Ottawa Falls was my favorite – while maybe not quite as much water as St Louis Falls, you could walk behind the falls easily and LOOK at the view!
Hiking the other way was Kaskaskia Canyon Falls.
After two falls, I decided to try the waterfalls in Mattiessen State Park, but no one told me I really needed water shoes.
Nearby is Mattiessen State Park, which has more waterfalls with seemingly more water. However, there’s a small challenge with accessing the waterfalls at Mattiessen State Park. Unlike Starved Rock where there are some canyons accessed from the top and some from inside the canyon itself, all the waterfalls seem to be accessed from the top.
You climb down a set of stairs (or hike down) to access the bottom. The streams cut through the canyons with little choice but to hike in the water to get upstream to see the waterfalls from the bottom. This may not be true all the time, but while I was there, there was nowhere alongside of the streams to walk without walking in the stream. It may look like there are strategically placed stepping stones, but to get to the first stepping stone, you had to walk in the over ankle deep water.
Unfortunately, I had on hiking boots that I didn’t want to get soaking wet for the almost 3 hour drive home. So I didn’t get to see most of the falls, but there’s always next time! Moral of this story is TAKE SHOES that you’re comfortable hiking in ankle deep water!
And so ended two days of chasing waterfalls in Northern Illinois … of all unlikely places!
Anyone have favorite waterfalls in Illinois? Please leave a comment and share! I love waterfalls! Cheers – Jan & David