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Illinois waterfalls: 16 best waterfalls in Illinois ( +tips on how to visit them )

With a countless number of stunning falls, we thought it would be a good thing to create a post about the best Illinois waterfalls.

Illinois is one of the flattest states. Many are indeed surprised to hear that there are waterfalls in Illinois. The falls in the Prairie State can’t compete on a world level but this doesn’t mean they are not worth exploring.

Many falls are also seasonal. Some are reduced to just a small trickle in summer and others completely dry up. To see the Illinois waterfalls in all their glory you will need to plan your visit somewhere around the start of spring when the snow is melting and it increases the flow rate of these cascades.

Illinois falls are hidden all over the state, in beautiful state parks and dramatic canyons.

This post shares 16 of the best Illinois waterfalls.

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Overview of the best waterfalls in Illinois 

Amazing waterfalls in Illinois

Where Height Highlights
Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park Cascade Falls

Matthiesen State Park

45′

A beautiful waterfall in an impressive amphitheater.

Matthiessen state park Illinois Giant’s bathtub Falls

Matthiesen State Park

10′

A small but beautiful waterfall that is less popular and therefore often less busy.

St Louis Canyon

Starved Rock State Park

80′

This is one of the highest waterfalls in the park, it is spring fed which means it is more likely to have water than others. In the winter you can see icicles.

Frozen Lake Falls in Matthiessen State Park Lake Falls

Matthiesen State Park

Unknown

Another waterfall in Matthiessen State Park. While this one is slightly less popular, it is just as beautiful.

Hennepin Canyon Falls

Starved Rock State Park

Unknown

This waterfall is located in one of the less trafficked canyons in the park. It offers a more peaceful experience.

French Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park French Canyon Falls

Starved Rock State Park

45′

A short family-friendly hike to a fun waterfall.

Thunder bay falls is one of 2 amazing waterfalls near Galena in Illinois Thunder Bay Falls

Galena

40′

A wide waterfall that is active year-round and can be seen from the parking lot.

Fall colors seen from the Garden of the gods in Shawnee National Forest in Illinois Garden of the Gods Waterfall

Shawnee National Forest

Several falls of different heights

Waterfall Galore in one of the most awe-inspiring settings.

Ferne Clyffe waterfall Illinois Ferne Clyffe Waterfall

Ferne Clyffe State Park

100′

The breathtaking waterfall located in an amazing setting.

Burden falls are one of the best waterfalls in Illinois Burden Falls

Burden Falls Wilderness area in Shawnee National Forest

100′ (a series of cascades, the biggest single drop is 48′ )

A series of waterfalls in a lush green untouched wilderness area.

Little Grand Canyon

Little Grand Canyon Area in Shawnee National Forest

Unknown

A slightly adventurous hike that has you descending into a canyon right next to a series of cascades.

Jackson Falls

Jackson Falls Area in Shawnee National Forest

40′

A hike in a monumental canyon in Shawnee National Forest with 2 waterfalls.

Double Branch Hole

Hayes Canyon Ecological Area in Shawnee National Forest

Unknown

Two intermittent waterfalls that flow into the same splash pool.

Apple Canyon Lake Waterfall Apple Canyon Lake Waterfall

Apple Canyon Lake near Apple River Canyon State Park

Unknown

A tall waterfall formed by a man-made lake.

Bulge Holes Waterfalls

Bulge Hole Ecological Area in Shawnee National Forest

Several waterfalls of various heights

Waterfall galore for those who like going off the beaten path.

The intermittent waterfall at the start of the Rocky Bluff Trail in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Rocky Bluff Trail Waterfall

Crab Orchard National wildlife refuge

25′

A beautiful two-tiered waterfall

Waterfalls in Northern Illinois

Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park
Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park

Cascade Falls

  • Where: A short walk from the main parking lot of the Dells area of Matthiessen State Park.
  • Height: 45’
  • Highlights: A beautiful waterfall in an impressive amphitheater
  • Best time for pics: Spring or after a heavy rain

Short description of the waterfall

Seeing Cascade Falls is one of the highlights of a visit to Matthiessen State Park.

This park is, like its neighbor Starved Rock, built around stunning canyons and rich forests.

Small streams have been carving out numerous gorges for hundreds of years. The cascade falls are situated in the main canyon and separate the upper and lower dells.

Getting to the falls from the main parking lot will only take minutes.

You will first arrive at a bridge on top of the falls where you can descend a flight of stairs to descend into the gorge.

Once inside the gorge, you will be impressed by the huge amphitheater that the river has carved out. There are also some caves that are fun to explore.

If you want to see the waterfall it’s best to plan your visit in spring or after a heavy downpour. If you’re here in another season we still encourage you to make the short trip as the amphitheater is a spectacular sight all year round.

Matthiessen State Park is a compact park with a trail system of only 5 miles. Whilst you’re there you might just as well explore some of the other trails and discover some more of this alluring park.

How to get there

From Interstate 39 take exit 57 towards La Salle and Peru. Continue on US-6 West and make a left on IL-351. After 2.5 miles make a slight left on IL-71 and keep following this road until the intersection with IL-178. (about 3.5 miles)

Turn right onto IL-178 and after one mile turn right again onto N25th Rd. Keep following this road until the parking lot.

Conclusion

This is a great waterfall in an impressive setting.

It’s only a short trip from the parking and doable for the whole family.

Kids will love splashing in the water at the bottom of the falls and exploring all the caves.

Matthiessen state park Illinois
Giant’s Bathtub Falls (Photo credits: Tripp)

Giant’s Bathtub Falls

  • Where: In the upper dells area of Matthiessen State Park, along the canyon trail.
  • Height: 10’
  • Highlights: A small but beautiful waterfall that is less popular and therefor less busy
  • Best time for pics: Spring or after a heavy rain

Short description of the waterfall

The Giant’s Bathtub falls are one of the smaller falls in Matthiessen State Park.

They’re situated in the upper dells area and are one of the treats hikers get to see when following the Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail.

The falls are fed by the stream that flows from the Matthiessen Lake to the Vermillion River and are best in spring.

To see them you need to descend into the canyon after crossing the bridge at the dam from where you can see the Lake Falls. A third waterfall in this small but beautiful Illinois State Park.

Even if you only do the upper dells loop of the Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail you will be spoiled with 3 waterfalls.

Being under 2 miles, this hike should be doable for the whole family.

Note though that to get from the parking lot into the canyon there are quite a number of stairs involved.

How to get there

From interstate 39 take exit 57 towards La Salle and Peru. Continue on US-6 West and make a left on IL-351. After 2.5 miles make a slight left on IL-71 and keep following this road until the intersection with IL-178. (about 3.5 miles)

Turn right onto IL-178 and after one mile turn right again onto N25th Rd. Keep following this road until the parking lot.

Conclusion

The Cascades falls in Matthiessen State Park are close to the parking and attract large crowds in peak season.

The Giant’s Bathtub falls will give you a much more peaceful experience. The idyllic clear pool at the bottom of the falls is an ideal place to take a break from hiking.

The tall fall in St. Louis Canyon in Starved Rock State Park is one of the best in Illinois
The tall fall in St. Louis Canyon

St Louis Canyon Falls

  • Where: Starved Rock State Park, 1.5 miles from the visitor center.
  • Height: 80’
  • Highlights: This is one of the highest waterfalls in the park, it is spring fed which means it is more likely to have water than others. In the winter you can see icicles.
  • Best time for pics: Spring or after a heavy rain, winter to see the icicles

Short description of the waterfall

From Matthiessen State Park it is just a short hop to its much more popular neighbor Starved Rock. The St. Louis Canyon waterfall is one of the more impressive falls in this park.

They’re situated in a stunning canyon. A part of the canyon wall collapsed in 2004 and spread across the bottom of the gorge are several large boulders as a witness of this dramatic event.

The falls themselves are impressive as well. They’re 80′ high. This makes them one of the largest falls in the park. They’re also spring-fed which means that they’re active longer than the other falls.

We still recommend planning your visit in spring though as the flow will be reduced to a mere trickle in summer and there are times that it dries up completely.

Winter is also a great time of year to visit Starved Rock State Park. Stunning icicles can be seen in many canyons, including St. Louis canyon.

Ice climbing is even allowed in select canyons as soon as the ice conditions permit.

St. Louis canyon is however not one of them, to see ice climbers you will need to head to Tonti, LaSalle, Wildcat, or Ottawa canyon.

Read Also:

If you plan a trip to Starved Rock, the following posts will help you plan an amazing trip:

How to get there

These falls can be accessed along the 1.5 miles trail from the visitor center.

These are the directions to the visitor center:

From Interstate 39 take exit 57 towards La Salle and Peru. Continue on US-6 East for 2.9 miles and make a right on Richard Hallett Rd. At the end of the road make a right again on N Division St (Route178).

Once you arrive in Uttica the name of the street will change to N Clark St. Go straight on for another 1.5 miles. After you’ve crossed the river there will be a street on the left. Turn left here and follow this street, it will lead you to the parking lot near the visitor center.

Turn right onto IL-178 and after one mile turn right again onto N25th Rd. Keep following this road until the parking lot.

For a shorter hike you can park your car at the St Louis Canyon car park. This parking lot is located just south of the park entrance on Route 178. It’s 0.6 miles from the canyon and the hike should take approx. 10-15 minutes.

Either way, there will be a steep staircase climb involved to enter the canyon.

Conclusion

The St. Louis Canyon Falls are a favorite amongst visitors to Starved Rock State Park. They’re only a short walk from the visitor center although the steep staircase may make the trip a little more challenging if you have mobility problems.

They’re definitely one of the must-see falls for visitors to the park.

Frozen Lake Falls in Matthiessen State Park
Frozen Lake Falls in Matthiessen State Park

Lake Falls

  • Where: In the upper dells area of Matthiessen State Park, along the canyon trail.
  • Height: unknown
  • Highlights: Another waterfall in Matthiessen State Park. While this one is slightly less popular, it is just as beautiful.
  • Best time for pics: Spring or after a heavy rain

Short description of the waterfall

The Lake Falls make the list of pretty waterfalls in Matthiessen State Park complete.

They are at the far north edge of the park, at the dam of the Matthiessen Lake.

It’s here that the stream has carved the sandstone canyon, which is the main attraction of the park, makes a dramatic entrance.

To get to the falls you need to follow the bluff trail north from the Dells area parking lot. Once you arrive at the bridge near lake Matthiessen you will be able to see them.

We advise returning via the canyon trail so you can also see the Giant’s Bathtub waterfall and the Cascade Falls.

Matthiessen State Park is a compact park, it covers just 1.938 acres and is less-visited than its neighbor Starved Rock.

It is a short 5-minute drive between the two parks which makes it extremely easy to visit both on an Illinois waterfalls road trip.

Accommodation is plentiful in the charming town of Ottawa.

How to get there

From Interstate 39 take exit 57 towards La Salle and Peru. Continue on US-6 West and make a left on IL-351. After 2.5 miles make a slight left on IL-71 and keep following this road until the intersection with IL-178. (about 3.5 miles)

Turn right onto IL-178 and after one mile turn right again onto N25th Rd. Keep following this road until the parking lot.

Conclusion

Matthiessen State Park only draws a fraction of the crowds of its bigger and more popular neighbor Starved Rock.

While the latter is undeniably home to larger waterfalls, those who crave more solitude will love the peaceful experience of Matthiessen State Park.

Hennepin Canyon Falls

  • Where: Starved Rock State Park
  • Height: unknown
  • Highlights: This waterfall is located in one of the less trafficked canyons in the park. It offers a more peaceful experience.
  • Best time for pics: Spring or after a heavy rain

Short description of the waterfall

The Hennepin Canyon Falls may well be the hidden gem of Starved Rock.

The trail can be relatively quiet, even on a busy Sunday.

One reason might be that the canyon is located in the far eastern section of the park. The hike is a little over 3 miles, something that many visitors don’t fancy doing with so many other impressive falls requiring less effort.

This canyon is not inferior to any of the others you can find in the park.

Quite the opposite is true. It’s one of the tallest gorges in the park and inside it is one of the best waterfalls you will come across. The icefall in winter is just as impressive.

Starting at the visitor center, you can either follow the bluff trail or the river trail to reach the falls. The route will take you past numerous canyons and several beautiful viewpoints. Taking one on the way out and the other on the way back will give you the best of both worlds.

Once you arrive at the Hennepin canyon you can follow the bluff trail. This will lead you further along the edge of the gorge.

Don’t skip the Hennepin overlook near the river shore, it offers distant views over the Illinois River and inside the gorge.

As is the case with almost all of the falls in this list you will need to plan your visit in the melting season to have the full experience.

How to get there

These falls can be accessed along the 3.1 miles trail from the visitor center.

The directions to the visitor center are the same as for the St. Louis canyon.

For a shorter hike you can park your car at the small parking lot along E 11th Rd, just off Route 71. From the parking lot you will then follow the bluff trail along the canyon’s edge until you arrive at the overlook.

Conclusion

A hike to Hennepin Canyon and waterfall is a great plan if you’re visiting the park on a busy day. If you want to extend your trip you can pay a visit to the nearby Ottawa and Kaskaskia canyons.

French Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park

French Canyon Falls

  • Where: Starved Rock State Park, near the visitor center.
  • Height: 45′
  • Highlights: A short family-friendly hike to a fun waterfall
  • Best time for pics: Spring or after a heavy rain

Short description of the waterfall

The French canyon waterfall is close to the Starved Rock visitor center.

This makes it a favorite amongst most visitors which means that it does get crowded at times.

To reach the falls you only need to hike 0.4 miles.

First, you will arrive at a lookout point over the canyon. It’s also possible to enter the canyon but it may involve getting your feet wet. The only way in is by following the creek.

Depending on when you visit this can be anything from a narrow stream that you can walk next to, to a wide river that you will have to step into.

The canyon and waterfall are worth getting your feet wet and kids love sliding down the mini-falls at the entrance of the canyon.

The waterfall turns into a stunning icefall in winter. You will need ice cleats if you plan on visiting it during this season.

The entrance of the canyon will be very slippery at this time of year and other parts of the trail system in Starved Rock may be icy as well.

Read Also:

If you want to purchase your own pair of ice cleats, check out the following posts:

How to get there

These falls are just a short walk from the visitor center.

The directions to the visitor center are the same as for the St. Louis canyon.

Conclusion

You will not regret a stop at the French Canyon Falls even though the canyon may be a little too crowded for some at times. .

Thunder bay falls is one of 2 amazing waterfalls near Galena in Illinois
Thunder bay falls is one of 2 amazing waterfalls near Galena in Illinois

Thunder Bay Falls

  • Where: Galena, 10 minutes from downtown off Thunder Bay Rd.
  • Height: 40′
  • Highlights: A wide waterfall that is active year-round and can be seen from the parking lot
  • Best time for pics: The waterfall can be seen year-round

Short description of the waterfall

Right outside Galena is beautiful Lake Galena, a piece of nature deeply cherished by the town’s residents. On one side the man-made lake spills over in the Smallpox Creek creating the stunning Thunder Bay Falls.

The first thing that will strike you is how wide the falls are. They’re truly spectacular and thanks to the surrounding landscape very photogenic.

The lake is spring-fed which means that the falls are flowing year-round. The flow will be more intense after a downpour or in the melting season.

If you love some true waterfall action you should plan your visit around these times.

The falls are located on the grounds of the Eagle Ridge Resort and can be seen from the parking lot along Thunder Bay Rd.

It is a short and sweet stroll from the parking lot to the bottom of the falls but it is not quite clear if everybody is allowed on the path or only guests staying at the resort.

Once you get closer to the falls you will feel the mist. Two viewing platforms are created giving you ample photo opportunities.

Galena is a charming town rich in history. It has over 800 properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Take some time to stroll along the town’s Main Street if you’re there.

How to get there

From Galena turn left onto US-20 E and follow this road for 3.1 miles.

Turn left onto W Mt Hope Rd (there will be a sign for the Eagle Ridge Resort).

At the end of the road make another left onto Thunder Bay Rd. The parking lot will be directly on your right.

Conclusion

The width of these falls is what makes them stand out of the pack. In summer the experience won’t be as impressive because they tend to be less wide, be less noisy and you may not feel the fog.

Waterfalls in Southern Illinois

Here we share a list of amazing Southern Illinois waterfalls.

Fall colors seen from the Garden of the gods in Shawnee National Forest in Illinois
Garden of the gods viewpoint on a sunny day

Garden of the gods waterfall

  • Where: Garden of the Gods section in Shawnee National Forest.
  • Height: Several falls of different heights
  • Highlights: Waterfall Galore in one of the most awe-inspiring settings
  • Best time for pics: Wet season or after several days of heavy rain

Short description of the waterfall

The Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest is incredibly stunning any time of year.

It is the most visited area of the forest and it gets a lot of attention on social media, more than its namesake in Colorado.

There is indeed also a Garden of the Gods in Colorado where you find a 7-storied waterfall, make sure not too mix these two up if you’re looking for information.

Waterfalls come and go in the Garden of the Gods.

If you’re here in summer there may not be a single cascade but after some days of heavy rain the area all of a sudden turns into an amusement park for waterfall lovers.

Waterfalls will appear all over the Garden of the Gods wilderness area and you can organize a kind of geocaching hunt with your friends to find the most.

Don’t take any risks by going off the trails, you will be able to see a plethora of falls by staying on the trails. Wear sturdy footwear as parts of the path will be wet and slippery.

How to get there

From Interstate 24, take exit 16 for IL-146 E (follow signs for Golconda). After 0.2 miles turn left onto IL-147 E and follow this road until it merges with IL-145.

Keep going straight until you arrive at the intersection with IL-34, where you make a right.

Follow this road until you pass Harbison’s country market and a fuel station. Make a left on Karbers Ridge Rd (right after you’ve passed the market).

After 2.8 miles you will arrive at an intersection with Garden of the Gods Rd, make a left, and keep following this road until you arrive at the parking lot.

Conclusion

The Garden of the Gods is beautiful any time of year and although your pictures may be more beautiful on clear and sunny days these waterfalls make a trek to the forest on an overcast and rainy day worthwhile.

Ferne Clyffe waterfall

  • Where: Ferne Clyffe State Park
  • Height: 100′
  • Highlights: The breathtaking waterfall located in an amazing setting
  • Best time for pics: Wet season or after several days of heavy rain

Short description of the waterfall

Ferne Clyffe State Park is the place to go to see waterfalls in Southern Illinois.

The park is traversed by several creeks and is home to many cascades after heavy rainfall and during the melting season.

Most of the creeks dry up quickly though. You will need to time your visit well if you don’t want to return disappointed.

The Ferne Clyffe waterfall is the icing on the cake, the 100-feet drop is truly breathtaking and it sits in an amazing setting, surrounded by impressive rock formations.

The falls form an excellent place for a picnic in the park.

Children can play in the pristine pool at the bottom of the waterfall or try to climb to the top.

Two trails lead to the waterfall. They are both 0.75-mile out-and-back trails. The big rocky hollow trail is a nice wide path that is mostly flat. The waterfall trail is a little more adventurous. It’s possible to combine both into a loop.

There are 18 different trails in Ferne Clyffe state park and numerous other activities. If you want to explore some of the other areas of the park you can consider staying overnight at one of the campgrounds.

How to get there

From Interstate 24, take exit 7 toward Goreville/Tunnel Hill. Follow Tunnel Hill Rd westwards until you arrive at IL-37. Make a left on IL-37 (S Broadway) and follow this road for 0.6 miles.

You will see signs for Ferne Clyffe State Park.

The entrance of the park is on your right.

Depending on which hike you wish to do you will then need to follow the signs for the campground or drive all the way to the end of the Big Rocky Hollow Trail Rd.

Conclusion

The hike to the Ferne Clyffe waterfall is short and sweet.

You can opt for the relatively flat Big Rocky Hollow Trail or the waterfall trail is you want more of a workout.

Burden falls are one of the best waterfalls in Illinois
Beautiful Burden Falls in Illinois

Burden Falls

  • Where: Burden Falls wilderness area in Shawnee National Forest
  • Height: 100′ (a series of cascades, the biggest single drop is 48′ )
  • Highlights: A series of waterfalls in a lush green untouched wilderness area
  • Best time for pics: Wet season or after several days of heavy rain

Short description of the waterfall

Burden Falls is an intermittent waterfall in the expansive Shawnee National Forest. It is located in the Burden Falls Wilderness Area of the park, close to the northern border in Pope County.

This wilderness area is very scenic with rugged rock formations and dense hardwood forests. The area is completely untouched, you will find no rails or bridges.

The upper falls can be seen from the parking lot. They’re branched out in several places which has turned them into a wide photogenic curtain. This is however just a little teaser for what is about to come. If you follow the creek downstream you will arrive at the main drop.

These falls are called twin falls. After a small first drop, the water plunges 48′ feet lower on the canyon floor.

If you have the time you can extend your visit to the Burden Falls Wilderness area by hiking one of the trails.

How to get there

From Interstate 24 take exit 14 and follow signs for Vienna. Stay on US-45 N for 9.8 miles until the intersection with Ozark Rd.

Then turn left onto Forest Service Road 402 also called Burden Falls Road or McCormick Road. Travel down this gravel road until just after the creek crossing.

You will see the small, gravel parking area on the left side of the road.

Conclusion

The lack of any artificial improvements adds to the charm of this place.

This waterfall is not a single awestruck high drop but a series of smaller cascades each with its own charm.

(Photo credits: Kevin)

Little Grand Canyon

  • Where: Little Grand Canyon Area in Shawnee National Forest
  • Height: Unknown
  • Highlights: A slightly adventurous hike that has you descending into a canyon right next to a series of cascades
  • Best time for pics: The creek will dry up. Plan this hike after several days of rain to see the waterfall.

Short description of the waterfall

What sets this waterfall apart isn’t its height or flow rate, but rather the hike that takes you there and has you clambering awkwardly next to it.

Little Grand Canyon can be found in the Shawnee National Forest.

To see the falls you follow the Little Grand Trail. This loop can be done in either way, no matter in which direction you start you will first arrive at an overlook over the deep-box canyon before descending into it.

The first part of the trail leading to the lookout points is flat and easy, but the part where you descend into the canyon can be tricky, especially if the waterfall is flowing, which is of course the reason you’re here in the first place.

Depending on how hard the water is flowing the path down the canyon will lead you through the creek bed or right next to it.

All the same, you will be walking on slippery rocks and good footwear will be required to get down in one piece.

The canyon has lush green vegetation and you can see raccoons, minks, foxes and even deer and bobcats. The path can be very muddy though and chances are it is flooded in the wet season.

Be prepared for mosquitoes, there will be hordes of them in summer.

How to get there

From Interstate 57 take exit 54 and keep left following signs for IL-13. Merge onto IL-13W. Stay on IL-13W for 16.7 miles. Turn left onto Old Hwy 13 and after 4.6 miles make another left onto IL-127.

Turn right onto Hoffman Rd. At the end of this road make a left onto Hickory Ridge Rd and keep following this road until you arrive at the intersection with Little Grand Canyon Rd.

Turn right onto this road and continue until you get to the parking lot.

Get directions here

Conclusion

Strictly speaking, this is more like a series of small cascades on a rock bed that creates a steep drop in the creek bed.

The waterfall in itself is not all that spectacular but the descend into the canyon to see it is all the more so.

You should hike the trail after several days of heavy rain to see the waterfall but be very cautious as many people have injured themselves because of the slippery rocks.

Jackson Falls

  • Where: Jackson Falls Area in Shawnee National Forest
  • Height: 40′
  • Highlights: A hike in a monumental canyon in Shawnee National Forest with 2 waterfalls
  • Best time for pics: Both waterfalls dry up. Plan this hike after several days of rain to see the falls at their best.

Short description of the waterfall

With Jackson Falls we have one more waterfall in the Shawnee National Forest.

It is located in an area of the park that is particularly popular with rock climbers but you don’t need to bring your mountaineering gear to explore the region.

To see the falls you need to follow the Jackson Falls trail.

Already after 0.25 miles, you will arrive at the top of the waterfall. To reach the bottom, from where you can really appreciate its beauty, you have to take the long way around.

The trail follows the edge of the glen and will take you past another cascade, the North Side Falls, before leading to a place called the “Dog Walk”.

The collapsed rocks form a staircase through which you can descend into the canyon. The scenery at the bottom of the canyon is pretty impressive. You will pass large boulders and several caves are waiting to be investigated.

Jackson Falls is an intermittent waterfall that is at its best in spring or after heavy rain. Several hikers state that they were underwhelmed by the falls if the conditions were not right. The area is still spectacular making this a hike that you can take any time of year.

The full hike is 3.7 miles and is seen as moderate because of the rock clambering that is involved to get in and out of the canyon.

How to get there

From Interstate 24 take exit 14 and follow US-45 toward Vienna for 9.8 miles. Make a right onto Ozark Rd and stay on this road until you arrive at the intersection with Glen St Falls Rd.

Turn right onto Glen St Falls Rd and follow this gravel road until the trailhead. There is no parking, you can park on the side of the road.

Get directions

Conclusion

This is a highly-rated trail in Shawnee National Forest. Some say that the waterfalls can be underwhelming if you don’t plan your visit well but the hike stays impressive nevertheless.

Double Branch Hole

  • Where: Hayes Canyon Ecological Area in Shawnee National Forest
  • Height: unknown
  • Highlights: Two intermittent waterfalls that flow into the same splash pool
  • Best time for pics: Both waterfalls dry up. Plan this hike after several days of rain to see the falls at their best.

Short description of the waterfall

Double Branch Hole can also be found in the Shawnee National Forest.

Here, in the Hayes canyon, an large sandstone gorge, two waterfalls flow into an idyllic swimming pool.

Towering above the falls are rugged sandstone glades and dense forests that give the scene a true wilderness feeling.

Hayes Creek Canyon Campground is close to the falls. It’s a horse camp but if you ask the owners they probably won’t mind you parking there to view the falls.

You will see signs for a trail that leads to the double branch hole. This is a bridleway so mind your step, there can be a lot of horse poop.

There’s no trail leading down to the pool at the bottom of the falls but if you walk along the edge of the bluff you will find some areas where it is possible to scramble down. Be cautious though as the rocks can be slippery.

This trail is located on private property and a small fee needs to be paid to use the trail network. ($2 in 2021)

How to get there

From Interstate 24 take exit 16 for Golconda and merge onto IL-146 E. After just 0.1 miles make a left onto IL-147 E and follow this road for 12.7 miles.

Turn left onto IL-145 N and follow this road for 5.4 miles. This will take you to the intersection with Main St. Turn left, you will now drive through Eddyville. Follow this road until you see the Hayes Canyon Campground on your left.

Get directions

Conclusion

Maybe it is because there’s no trail leading to the pool at the bottom of the falls or it could be due to the low fee for the trail. Whatever it is, these falls are not as popular as the others in Shawnee National Forest.

If you have a horse this is an excellent place to stay. There are loads of trails, enough to spend several quality days with your four-legged friend.

Apple Canyon Lake Waterfall
Apple Canyon Lake Waterfall (Photo credits: Joseph Gage)

Apple Canyon Lake Waterfall

  • Where:  Apple Canyon Lake near Apple River Canyon State Park (15 minutes by car)
  • Height: unknown
  • Highlights: A tall waterfall formed by a man-made lake
  • Best time for pics: Any time of the year

Short description of the waterfall

Apple River Canyon State Park is a relatively small park although it features numerous activity options including hiking, fishing, and more.

Most visitors combine a visit to the park with an excursion to Apple Canyon Lake.

This is a large man-made lake. It features a private recreational community with several amenities such as a 9-hole golf course, a pool, a beach area, and an archery range.

Most are for members only but the golf course is open to the public and if you’re hungry you can stop by the restaurant for lunch and dinner.

On one side the lake spills over into Hell’s branch, forming a magnificent cascade. The lake is located in the hilly northwest corner of Illinois making this waterfall one of the tallest in the state.

The waterfall is not an activity destination. There are no trails in this area, all trails are located within Apple River Canyon State Park which is 15 minutes away by car. All you can do at the falls is stop and take a picture.

How to get there

From Interstate 90 take the Freeport-Cherry Valley exit and merge onto US-20 W. Turn North on Canyon Park Rd and then West onto Townsend Rd.

Make a right onto Scout Camp Rd and then left on E Lake Number 3 Rd. At the end of the road, turn left again on E South Apple Canyon Rd. After about 1.6 miles you will see the lake on your right. The waterfall is at the end of the lake.

Get directions

Conclusion

This is one of the tallest falls in the state. It doesn’t get much attention as there are no trails or activities in the area. Those who want to get a workout or just want to spend some extra time in the area can head over to Apple River Canyon State Park.

Bulge Holes Waterfalls

  • Where:  Bulge Hole Ecological Area in Shawnee National Forest
  • Height: Several waterfalls of various heights
  • Highlights: Waterfall galore for those who like going off the beaten path
  • Best time for pics: After heavy rains

Short description of the waterfall

The Bulge Hole Ecological area is a great site for waterfall lovers. The 2 main waterfalls are 6 feet and 25 feet tall and after heavy rains, dozens more of varying heights will arise.

There are no trails leading to the falls. The only option to see them is to bushwhack through the forest and rely on your navigational skills. There’re so many though that if you time your visit well, it will be hard to miss them.

  • Don’t enter the woods unprepared. Cell phone reception is limited and it is easy to get lost in the woods. We recommend taking a GPS device and only venture out with a companion so that you can help each other in case one accidentally trips and gets hurt.
  • The waterfalls are at their best after heavy rains but this will mean that everything will be slick. Be sure to wear appropriate footwear (waterproof shoes/socks) and preferably long pants because you may need to go through briers.
  • Zip-off pants may be an even better choice as you can zip them off if you need to cross creeks.

 

Start your hike by following the trail that leads into the woods on the west side of the road. After a while, you will see a sign indicating that you’re entering the Bulge Hole Ecological Area.

Next, you will cross a creek.

Hop on the trail that runs next to the creek and keep on following the creek. Here your adventure starts. Follow the creek and it will lead you from the waterfall to the next.

You can also come here in winter to see a collection of ice falls.

How to get there

From Interstate 24 take exit 14 and follow US-45 towards Vienna.

Make a right onto Holley Rd and then right again onto Dutchman Lake Rd. Go right at the intersection with Bowman Bottoms Rd.

You will go under the freeway, next the road will curve left, then right, and left again. You will come to an open field on the right and an old roadbed on the left.

This is where you can start hiking.

There is no parking, you can park along the road.

Get directions

Conclusion

Adventurous explorers will have a blast in the Bulge holes ecological area.

The region boasts dozens of cascades after heavy rains.

As you traverse the region, you will discover caves, huge rock shelters, and numerous splendid falls.

The intermittent waterfall at the start of the Rocky Bluff Trail in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge
Rocky Bluff Trail Waterfall (Photo credits: US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Rocky Bluff Trail Waterfall

  • Where:  Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge
  • Height: 25′
  • Highlights: A beautiful two-tiered waterfall
  • Best time for pics: After heavy rains

Short description of the waterfall

The Rocky Bluff Trail is a 2.1-mile loop that is rated as moderate. You don’t need to hike the full trail if you only want to see the main waterfall. You will find yourself at the top of the waterfall almost right after the start.

A steep and moderately difficult path leads to the bottom of the falls. It’s just a short path but some parts will require you to have long legs.

As with most Illinois’ falls, this one is also intermittent. It is dependent on rainfall and it will dry up completely.

If you hike the full loop you may come across some other waterfalls if the weather conditions are good.

You will come past many creeks, impressive cave shelters and other rock formations, and some beautiful overlooks.

Pay caution during and right after downpours as parts of the trail lead along the edge of the bluffs and may be slippery.

You need to pay a $2 (in 2021) day-use fee per vehicle to hike this trail.

Other activities that you can partake at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge include fishing, kayaking, and wildlife viewing.

White-tailed deer and wild turkey are common year-round and bald eagles can be spotted during fall and winter.

How to get there

Directions to the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge visitor center:

From Interstate 57 take exit 53 and head west on Main St following signs for Crab Orchard Lake. Make a left onto IL-148 S. Turn left on Maintenance Rd.

Get directions

Directions to the trailhead:

From Interstate 57 take exit 40 and head west on Goreville Rd. Continue straight onto N Lick Creek Rd and stay on this road for 5.1 miles. (after 3 miles the name of the road changes into Wolf Creek Rd)

Turn left on Tacoma Lake Rd.

Get directions

Conclusion

Rocky Bluff Trail is fun to explore in all seasons. If you time your visit after some heavy rains you can benefit from some extra falls to make the trail even more rewarding.

Conclusion

Even though Illinois is not mountainous it still houses several waterfalls worth exploring.

They are hidden in rugged glens surrounded by impressive rock formations.

The impressive scenery makes a hike to the falls a satisfying expedition worth sharing with friends and family.

Make sure to take your camera so you can cherish and relive these moments again and again.

What is your favorite Illinois waterfall?

See the web story that accompanies this post.

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