Summary: Illinois may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of national parks, but this state has its share of natural beauty. One of the most charming features of Illinois’ national parks is its waterfalls. Here’s a look at some of the best national parks in Illinois with waterfalls.
1. Starved Rock State Park
Located roughly 100 miles from Chicago, Starved Rock State Park boasts 18 canyons and 13 miles of hiking trails, including the well-known Wildcat Canyon trail. Among the most prominent waterfalls at Starved Rock is French Canyon Falls, which spills over vertical limestone cliffs into a serene pool below. Other waterfalls include St. Louis Canyon Falls and LaSalle Canyon Falls. As one of the busiest national parks in Illinois, it is advisable to plan your visit in advance.
The park offers year-round visits, with winter being a popular time for ice climbing enthusiasts.
When visiting Starved Rock, be prepared with proper hiking shoes, bottled water, a map, and sunscreen. There are also picnic areas and overnight accommodations available for visitors.
2. Matthiessen State Park
Matthiessen State Park is another popular destination for waterfall lovers. Located just south of Starved Rock State Park, it has five miles of hiking trails which wind through canyons and sandstone formations. The park’s main waterfall feature is Lake Falls, which cascades down a rocky ledge into a small pool. Other waterfalls within the park include Cascade Falls and Giant’s Bathtub Falls.
Matthiessen State Park is open year-round, with camping facilities available during certain months. Fishing, picnicking, and horseback riding are also popular activities within the park.
Visitors should note that the park can be quite crowded on weekends and holidays during peak season, so early arrival is recommended.
3. Ferne Clyffe State Park
Ferne Clyffe State Park is a unique attraction located in the southern part of Illinois, encompassing over 2,400 acres of natural beauty. The park features glacial bluffs and stunning rock formations along with hiking trails and several waterfalls. The most notable waterfall here is the thirteen-foot Ferne Clyffe Falls, which cascades down from a limestone bluff. Other water features include Rocky Bluff Falls, Big Rocky Hollow, and the Devil’s Backbone.
Camping and picnic areas are available for visitors, and the park also offers fishing opportunities in the 18-acre lake within the grounds. Birdwatchers will enjoy spotting over 80 species who call Ferne Clyffe home.
When visiting the park in the summertime, be prepared with bug spray, and wear clothing suitable for warm weather conditions. Many of the hiking trails are also rocky and uneven, so plan accordingly.
4. White Pines Forest State Park
Head to White Pines Forest State Park for a peaceful retreat into nature. This scenic park sits in Northwestern Illinois and offers six miles of hiking trails, many of which take visitors along the Rock River. The park is also home to White Pines Inn, which was built in the 1930s as part of a Civilian Conservation Corps project.
The park’s showcase waterfall is the Pine Creek Canyon Falls, which runs year-round and flows into Pine Creek. At certain times of the year, visitors can attend programs held by park staff, including nature walks, animal presentations, and star-gazing events.
White Pines Forest State Park also offers opportunities for camping, fishing, and picnicking. Visitors may spot wildlife include bald eagles, beavers, and even river otters.
5. Castle Rock State Park
Castle Rock State Park in northern Illinois is known for its rugged terrain, scenic overlooks, and, of course, waterfalls. Visitors can enjoy a six-mile hike through the park, which includes stunning views of the rocky peaks and valleys. The most notable waterfall at Castle Rock is appropriately named the Castle Rock Waterfall and flows into the Kishwaukee River. Other cascades within the state park include Deer Leap Falls and Hidden Canyon Falls.
The park offers camping facilities, picnic areas, fishing, and hunting opportunities seasonally. Guests can also find shelters available for rental for group outings or rustic wedding venues.
Visitors should come prepared with sturdy hiking shoes, plenty of drinking water, sunscreen, and insect repellent in warmer months. Winter activities include cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
Whether you’re a waterfall aficionado or just looking for a peaceful escape from the city, Illinois has plenty of national parks to explore. From the iconic Starved Rock to the secluded Ferne Clyffe, each of these parks boasts unique natural features and wildlife. Before any visit, be sure to check each park’s website for entrance fees, maps, and park guidelines. Proper planning and preparation will ensure you have a memorable visit!