Illinois is known for its iconic skyline and bustling urban areas, but it also offers some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the Midwest. With over 60 state parks and countless trails, hikers have plenty of options to explore nature’s beauty in Illinois. If you’re looking for a picturesque adventure, hiking trails that lead to stunning waterfalls should be at the top of your list.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the best hiking trails in Illinois that feature awe-inspiring waterfalls as their main attraction. So, grab your hiking boots and get ready for an adventure you won’t forget!
Best Hiking Trails in Illinois with Waterfalls
1. Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park is a must-visit destination for hikers in Illinois. The park boasts 18 canyons, each with their waterfalls that make for an unforgettable experience. The trails in the park vary from easy to difficult, catering to hikers of different skill levels.
The most popular hike in the park is the French Canyon Trail, which takes you through a scenic canyon with cascading waterfalls and towering cliffs. For those looking for a more challenging hike, the Wildcat Canyon Trail offers stunning views of the Illinois River and stretches across rugged terrain with steep inclines.
Aside from hiking, Starved Rock State Park also offers camping facilities, picnic areas, and boating activities on the Illinois River.
2. Matthiessen State Park
Matthiessen State Park is a popular hiking trail destination located in LaSalle County, Illinois. The park boasts of its stunning natural beauty, which includes canyons, cliffs, and waterfalls that are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. The park is spread over 1,700 acres of land and has several unique features that make it an ideal place for outdoor activities.
The park has many trails to choose from with varying difficulty levels. For easy hikes, visitors can follow the lower trail that leads to Dells Canyon and Lake Falls. The hike takes about an hour or less depending on how fast one walks and offers spectacular views of the waterfall. For those who want a more challenging hike, there is the upper trail loop that covers 4 miles of steep terrain leading to Matthiessen Canyon and Cascade Falls.
3. Shawnee National Forest
Shawnee National Forest is a beautiful and scenic hiking trail located in southern Illinois. It offers a wide range of activities, including hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife watching. One of the most popular attractions in Shawnee National Forest is its stunning waterfalls.
The forest has several waterfalls that are accessible to hikers. These include Ferne Clyffe Waterfall, Jackson Falls, and Burden Falls. Each waterfall has its unique features and characteristics that make it worth seeing. For instance, Ferne Clyffe Waterfall is a 25-foot cascade surrounded by towering bluffs while Burden Falls drops 35 feet into an enchanting pool at the base of the falls.
Hiking through Shawnee National Forest provides an opportunity for visitors to explore nature’s beauty up close while getting exercise.
4. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is a beautiful and serene area located in the picturesque state of Illinois. It offers visitors an opportunity to explore nature’s beauty while enjoying a hike along its stunning trails. The preserve has become increasingly popular over the years for hikers, joggers, and mountain bikers due to its scenic views and well-maintained trails.
One of the most alluring features of Waterfall Glen is its magnificent waterfalls that attract tourists from all over the world. The preserve boasts several waterfalls, including Sawmill Creek Falls, Rocky Glen Falls, and Kettle hole Falls. These stunning natural wonders are truly a sight to behold. Visitors will be enchanted by the sound of cascading water as they marvel at nature’s beauty on display.
Beyond the waterfalls, Waterfall Glen offers more than nine miles of interconnecting trails that are perfect for hiking enthusiasts looking for an adventure in nature.
5. Little Grand Canyon Trail
The Little Grand Canyon Trail is located in Southern Illinois, It is one of the gems that will take you on an unforgettable journey through stunning landscapes, waterfalls, and diverse wildlife.
The trail is located in Shawnee National Forest and extends for 3.6 miles, making it a perfect day trip destination for hikers of all levels. At the beginning of the trailhead, visitors have access to a picnic area with tables and grills where they can rest or enjoy lunch before starting their adventure.
As they walk along the marked path towards the canyon’s edge, hikers are met with breathtaking views of rock formations sculpted by erosion over millions of years.
6. Rock Cut State Park
Rock Cut State Park is one of the most beautiful and scenic spots in Illinois for hiking. It boasts a wide range of flora and fauna that makes it a perfect destination for nature lovers. The park features over 3,000 acres of rolling hills, dense forests, and sparkling streams that feed into several waterfalls.
The park’s main trail is an approximately 4-mile loop through the woods to Pierce Lake Waterfall. Along with this popular trail, there are numerous other trails available to hike depending on your skill level and interests. Some trails lead to hidden waterfalls while others offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape from high up on bluffs or ridges.
One unique aspect of Rock Cut State Park is its two-tiered waterfall system which includes Pierce Lake Falls as well as some smaller cascades throughout the park.
7. Forest Glen Preserve
Forest Glen Preserve is a natural gem nestled in eastern Illinois and offers a breathtaking hiking trail with several waterfalls that attract adventure seekers from all over the state. The park spans over 1,700 acres of diverse landscapes and habitats, including forests, prairies, wetlands, and creeks. The preserve’s topography features rolling hills and deep ravines carved by glacial activity millions of years ago.
The hiking trail at Forest Glen Preserve is impressive as it caters to hikers of different skill levels. Some trails are easy-going while others test your endurance as you traverse steep inclines. However, regardless of the route you choose to take, there’s always something remarkable to see along the way.
With several waterfalls dotting the landscape, exploring this area can be an excellent opportunity for photography enthusiasts looking to capture some stunning shots.
8. Illinois and Michigan Canal State Trail
The Illinois and Michigan Canal State Trail is a great hiking trail to add to your bucket list if you’re looking for an adventure that combines the beauty of nature with history. The 61-mile-long trail runs from LaSalle to Joliet, following the historic route of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Along the way, hikers can witness breathtaking views of rolling prairies, woods, wetlands, and waterfalls.
One of the highlights of this state trail is the scenic waterfall located in Starved Rock State Park in Utica. Known as St. Louis Canyon Waterfall, it’s a beautiful sight that’s worth checking out while on your hike. The waterfall cascades down a series of rocky ledges into an enchanting pool that offers a refreshing break from your trek through nature.
In conclusion, Illinois surprises with its hidden hiking trails adorned with captivating waterfalls. Beyond their scenic charm, these trails provide opportunities for adventure and education, inviting hikers of all skill levels to explore and appreciate the state’s natural wonders. So, venture forth and embark on a journey through Illinois’ enchanting landscapes, where the harmony of cascading water and lush surroundings will leave an indelible mark on your soul.