Matthiessen State Park is home to waterfalls surrounded by canyons, pines, cedars, and oaks. It has been my favorite park in Illinois ever since I first went there when I was seven. It is the first place I recall being completely amazed by nature. I remember being overwhelmed with joy as I ventured through the streams, jumping from rock to rock, with my family.
Matthiessen State Park was originally privately owned by Frederick Matthiessen, who made it into a park. Within his park, he had bridges and trails built for visitors to enjoy. After his death it was donated to Illinois and made into a state park in 1943.
The large canyon at Matthiessen has a stream at the base with cascading waterfalls throughout. The sandstone walls of the canyon are covered with tree roots and plant life including ferns and moss, but most of it is left exposed. It’s a wonder some trees are even standing, balanced precariously on the edge of the rocks. No matter which way you turn something incredible will be sure to catch your eye.
On our most recent trip to Matthiessen we came a little unprepared. The first snow of the season was melting into the stream, causing a rise in the water level. A good hikers’ tip is to wear rubber boots, which we didn’t have. A big part of the fun is trying to hike through the shallow stream. Though our adventure ended with one wet shoe and the use of a couple hiking sticks, the hike was well worth it. We were able to walk right up to a waterfall that gently flows over a series of “steps” into a pool of water, named Giant’s Bathtub.
Regardless that the water was too high to walk the whole trail, we were able to see Lake Falls which marks the end. There is a bridge that goes over it for a view from the top of the falls. For those that don’t want to walk through streams, there are paths that lead to a good many waterfalls, though you won’t get the best view of all of them. When you hear crashing water you’ll know your are close to Lake or Cascade falls, the two largest waterfalls in Matthiessen, whereas small waterfalls will catch you by surprise.
Matthiessen State Park is a photographer’s dream, with photo worthy landscapes in all directions. People of all ages can enjoy the waterfalls and trails of this beautiful park. It is places like this that children explore and get their first taste of nature that peaks their interest. Though it is not a huge national park, this state park is full of astonishing scenery that will provide adventures for years to come. There are dozens of reasons I love Matthiessen, why not find yours?
Starved Rock has a landscape much like Matthiessen. If you visit one of the parks be sure to visit the other. You will see twice as many waterfalls and canyons as well as rock formations that will keep you wanting to see more. One year we came to Starved Rock, Matthiessen's neighbor, and saw bald eagles which can be found at either park. Many bald eagles migrate to the starved rock area in the winter. The best time and place to see them is in January from the top of starved rock.