When we visited Starved Rock State Park, one picture in the visitor’s center caught our attention. A beautiful tall waterfall under a bridge and marked as Matthiessen State Park. Since then the park is always on our list and glad we decided to visit after the first snow of 2021. The park turned out as a winter wonderland elevating our experience.
Matthiessen State Park, pronounced as Muh-thay-uh-sun, is named after Frederick William Matthiessen. He owned much of the area which was later donated to the state. Located in Oglesby, in LaSalle County, Illinois, this park is known for its vivid canyon structures and tall waterfalls.
The Park’s colorful rock formations are due to the minerals in the flowing stream. This is also the reason for the large deer population in the area which made the park called Deer Park.
Matthiessen State Park is the same 2-hour journey from Chicago as Starved Rock but with fewer crowds and interesting trails. And, it is not big as the latter which makes it a perfect and relaxed day trip. It is also free to visit and open from sunrise to sunset. It is dog friendly and the main trails are easy enough for strollers as well.
Enough said, shall we go for a hike?
Park’s notice board has all the information needed. It also has a very helpful QR code to scan and download the map of trails. Parking is relatively small and can be full on weekends. Like any state park, good things come to those who are awake in the morning 🙂
Park’s hiking trails start behind the fort. After several stairs and crossing the bridge, one decision – Left or right.
We went right as there are several people in the canyon to the left. This is Upper Dells and the trail is pretty today with the snow and ice-covered branches. Park officials did a good job in maintaining the trails.
To the end of it is – Cedar Point. We could stand in the middle of the canyon here on the frozen river. The canyon all around is beautiful with different colors with trees standing tall.
Some people walked in the canyon towards the park entrance which takes to the first bridge we crossed. But we came back and went the other way.
This trail is next to a beautiful rock formation. There are very small caves too and the whole scene is interesting.
Further along this trail is Giant’s Bathtub. This is a small waterfall but beautiful because of its position. We walked to the top of the falls on the trail and sat there next to them to enjoy the beautiful sounds of water.
Before Giant’s Bathtub, there is a tall tree with all its roots over the ground. It is right in the middle of the canyons and its grand stature stole our attention for a long time.
Continuing on the trail, a few steps later is Lake Falls. These falls are also under a bridge but not the same one in that picture. Now we know why there are so many people to the left of the bridge.
Lake Falls is good from the canyon but better from the bridge. We are standing right on the top of the falls and the sound of the falls is mesmerizing. The frozen Matthiessen Lake is also fun to watch and walk 🙂
We headed back to the entrance bridge to explore other side of the park.
There are not many interesting places this side as Upper Dells but one place balances out everything – Cascade Falls. But reaching the falls is not an easy task.
Best view comes after the hardest climb.
There are more than a hundred wooden steps with the first few steps covered with ice. Then the pretty walk on the bridge followed by hard stairs full of ice. The next 10 min trail walk to Cascade Falls is easy and pretty though.
The Strawberry Canyon and Devil’s Paintbox are right next to the hard stairs. These are covered in ice now but will be beautiful in fall.
After 10 min trail walk, we are rewarded with out-of-the-world view from Wishing Well.
A beautiful bridge and the double falls right beneath it falling 45 feet to the ground which is so pretty with all the colors from the minerals in the River.
From a distance, the whole place is surreal. It is a half-closed colorful dome with an opening only at the falls and showing off the bridge. There are even small caves all around elevating the surreal experience. We were awestruck with the view and want to enjoy it forever. Sitting there on the snow, we talked about how little we look next to these giant rock formations and how beautiful every place is in its own way.
This is beyond Illinois’ scene. Although Starved Rock has a lot of canyons, Cascade Falls is special. Its dome-like structure is exceptional and the canyons or caves can be fun. With less than 5 miles of trails, Matthiessen State Park can be a quick and relaxed day trip.
Are you a watch person? Check out our Youtube video and enjoy the winter wonderland experience.
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Cheers and Safe Travels!