Hike the Matthiessen State Park Loop

Dells Area Parking Lot, Oglesby, Illinois, United States

  • Activities:


  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    5.8 Miles


Canyon, bluffs, waterfalls, and prairie await on this comprehensive hike through Matthiessen State Park.

With 5 miles of trails, which alternate between cliffs, canyons, and bluffs, Matthiessen State Park has plenty to offer. This particular trail also includes three waterfalls, along the way.

From the Dells Area parking lot, head down the steps next to the log fort replica. At the 4-way junction turn right, where the trail follows along the Upper Dell. At the T-junction with Bluff Trail, turn left.

In 0.75 miles you will cross a bridge on Lake Matthiessen, where Lake Falls will be visible. Take another left at the next T-junction and head into the canyon. Here you'll see another waterfall, Giant's Bathtub.

At the T-junction continue straight. Follow the stairs up out of the canyon, then turn left at the T-junction, heading towards Lower Dells. Soon you'll pass by the popular 45-foot Cascade Falls.

As a side trip, you can follow the set of stairs after the bridge, leading you for 0.3 miles through the canyon, up to a prairie, and then back to the parking lot.

Photo Credit: Tom Gill

Pack List

  • Hiking boots
  • Water
  • Sun protection
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Everybody in the area always talks about Starved Rock as the place to go but seems to pay no attention to this gem just on the other side of the highway. Matthiessen still remains one of my favorite spots in the state, and I much highly prefer it over it's cousin Starved Rock. I have been in the middle of the summer and saw less than 10 people throughout the entire hike. It is complete with canyons, waterfalls, rivers, you name it! I'm already planning another trip out there this month.

9 months ago
9 months ago

What used to be hidden gem in Illinois is now the popular place to go. Matthiessen State Park is now bustling weekdays and weekends with avid hikers, adventurers, and everyday go-getters. The park's history is interesting to read into, but seems to be not well emphasized by the park. Instead, the park looks to interest their visitors with the picturesque views. The park has two main waterfalls with several smaller cascades hidden throughout enormous canyon walls. The park, once untouched, is now graffiti ridden. The problem lies with the state of Illinois. Without proper budget funding, the park has less money to work with to uptake and maintain a clean status. Nonetheless, the park is a wonder to see and view yourself. With miles of hiking trails and plenty to see and explore, you will be tired by the end of the day, going home. Matthiessen, while not always uptaken properly, is a park that anyone living or visiting Illinois, should see.

11 months ago
11 months ago

I honestly think that this is one of my beautiful waterfalls i have experienced in the midwest. I am glad I took the time to visit here before heading over to starved rock. I visited during the summer months when the falls were flowing. I would definitely go back during the winter months

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Utica/starved rock is just an hours drive for us and a place we like to frequent. But just a mile down the road from starved rock is the entrance to Matthiessen state park, if you want to walk up and down flights of stairs then head to starved rock but if you want your feet on natural ground take the extra ten minute drive to Matthiessen. A small parking lot with a restroom placed near a pond hides a staircase that leads down into the canyons at the beginning of a waterfall. You can follow the canyon along many paths to the lower dells. Be prepared to get wet on this hike so the right shoes and pants will make a big difference.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

While the trail isn't too long, I have enjoyed my many trips to Matthiessen! There are many waterfalls and usually less people on the trails than the nearby parks. I swim at the base of the waterfall near Strawberry Hill. To get to it, go down the stairs and follow the river east {it may be high so use a walking stick to walk through the waters}. It should lead you to a larger waterfall with a pond at the base. Typically, I swim in this and can slide down the lower portion of the waterfall into the waters! { In the winter, the pond does not fully freeze over. I have witnessed people and dogs fall through the thin ice in hopes of getting close to the fozen waterfall. Please be careful. } The rest of the trail is great and fairly easy. I recommend staying on the lower dells and following the riverbed {you will see more waterfalls and wildlife}

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

This is my third time coming here. The hiking is pretty easy and the waterfalls are beautiful. Heading towards the lower dells is completely muddy during the Spring (rainy season). Be prepared to get wet, muddy and dirty, but all in good fun if that doesn't bother you. We will continue to come here, epically since my 9yr old loves splashing around in the water.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

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