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Chicago, IL: Matthiessen State Park

A lush, green garden of waterfalls and giant pools awaits on the dells of Matthiessen State Park; this route tacks on a bluff-top viewpoint for 5.8-miles of prime Illinois day-hiking.

Trip Tools

The highlight of 1,938-acre Matthiessen State Park is a narrow, mile-long canyon carved in sandstone by moving water. This moderately strenuous 5.8-mile hike begins by following the edge of the Upper Dell briefly and then dips toward the shady canyon floor. Admire both the top-down and bottom-up views of Lake Falls and be sure to stop for a photo of the aptly-named Giant’s Bathtub. The canyon’s moist, water-carved habitat is perfect for mosses, liverworts, and a several amphibian species—also look for cliff swallows and rock doves in the pock-marked canyon walls. Toward the canyon’s southern end, this route tucks into the Lower Dell for a peek at Cascade Fall’s impressive 40-foot drop before turning toward the park’s southern half.
Though you could spend lots of time exploring the forested bluffs and canyon floor, this route’s mileage comes from a more traditional 3.7-mile out-and-back extension that climbs to an open prairie, and follows a horse trail to several developed picnic areas. The payoff is a bluff-top overlook 150 feet above the Vermilion River.
-Mapped by Ted Villaire

To Trailhead

From Chicago, take I-55 40 miles south to I-80 west and drive 45 miles. Take Exit 81 and turn left onto IL-178 and following it south for 5.3 miles to the entrance of Matthiessen State Park. Turn left onto 25th Rd, the Dells Area parking lot is 0.7 miles west of IL-178.

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