“A delightful loop that travels around and through the canyons of Matthiessen State Park.”
— Eric Ashley
Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildlife
Matthiessen State Park is open year-round from dawn to dusk.
Wading and swimming are prohibited in the state park.
The Matthiessen State Park Loop is an exciting tour that roams high and low around bluffs, through deep canyons, and past beautiful waterfalls. You're sure to find a lot to appreciate on this short, unique run.
Need to Know
There's a decent chance your feet will get wet. Bring a spare pair of shoes and socks to change into at the end of the run.
This run makes for a very interesting day, filled with enough staircases and rock-hopping to make a cardio-rich obstacle course.
From the parking area, descend the Entrance Stairs Connector
and head across the middle bridge, taking a moment to get an overhead view of each of the Dells. On the other side of the bridge, head right on the Bluff Trail
for a little ways until reaching an inlet to some wooden stairs.
Follow the stairs down to the canyon bottom and get ready for something a little different. The Interior Canyon Trail
makes use of stairs, rock hopping, and bench-cut trails throughout its short length as it travels to the top of the Upper Dell. When you're not busy figuring how best to get from point A to B, the canyon provides a wonderful array of waterfalls, crevices, and pools to fawn over. Note that when water levels are higher, it's unlikely you'll make it through with dry shoes. Look for the stairs near the base of Falls Lake.
Once on top, head right on the Bluff Trail
for a top-down look at the waterfalls as they drain from the lake. The perspective from the large concrete bridge is pretty unique at any time, but best when the water is flowing strongly. Follow the Bluff Trail
for a gentle climb and descent around the Upper Glen to return to the Entrance Stairs Connector
Head over the middle bridge again, but this time turn left, following the Bluff Trail
down around the Lower Glen and eventually descending a long set of wooden stairs. Enjoy a bird's-eye view from the lower bridge and then head down the Interior Canyon Trail
on the other side.
A cement staircase soon spirals runners down to the bottom of a wide canyon. Again, depending on water levels, it may be difficult to keep your feet dry. Head north to the end of the canyon to a point where Cascade Falls are nicely framed by the middle bridge. When ready, return up the concrete stairs.
The last portion of the run follows the Bluff Trail
past the Bluff Trail Extension
to return to the Entrance Stairs for a final climb back to the parking area.
Flora & Fauna
The park is home to a rich array of plants and wildlife that ranges from mosses and ferns to raccoons and flying squirrels.
History & Background
Matthiessen State Park was originally named Deer Park. However, its name was changed after it was donated to the State of Illinois by the heirs of Frederick William Matthiessen. Matthiessen developed the area near the end of the 19th century, outfitting it with bridges, dams, and stairways. Since the state acquired the 176-acre private park, they've expanded it to over 1,900 acres. Today, it's a popular area for visitors to enjoy nature and see an unexpected side of Illinois.