ElevationAscent: 410' 125 m
Descent: -411' -125 m
High: 649' 198 m
Low: 486' 148 m
GradeAvg Grade: 3% (2°)
Max Grade: 18% (10°)
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“One of the best runs Southern Illinois has to offer. A must see! Also the best place for rappelling and rock climbing.”— Ed Glass
Features Cave · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Spring · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Also, there are two emergency backboards with First Aid buckets attached. One is located at the bottom of where you climb down, and the other is located about a mile to the south on the east side bluffs. This is a very remote area. If you plan on climbing, keep these locations memorized!
Jackson Falls can get very busy in warmer months. It's undeveloped seclusion is part of the draw. Another big part of the draw... THE ROCKS! My god, this place has big rocks! Sheer rock walls that go on for miles. Large house-size rocks that sheared off eons ago and now just add to the beauty. I've been countless times and never get tired of this place.
It also has two really nice waterfalls. The biggest one is just down the trail from the parking lot. This is a very short trail. But that's when you start to see what is down there. And if you want to really see, cross the creek and follow Trail #048C east along the bluff tops. About 0.25 miles down 48C, you'll come upon a small wooden bridge over the east falls. This fall is smaller than the first but still very nice after a rain. Cross over the bridge and start up the bluff line once again, but just 100ft or so. Look right for the only way down into the bottom. You're going to have to climb down. This part is kinda dangerous. There are no stairs. There is no handrail. It looks horrible! It's really not as bad as it looks, but use extreme caution. Do not do it unless you're sure you can make it.
So you made it down alive! Here's where wow starts. Some like to go right/north on Trail #049 and just run to the falls. You'll see why. It's an easy scenic trail with lots to offer. Just follow the bluffs west. The views through this section rival some of the best there are anywhere. Take your time and explore.
Want a longer run? Go left/south where you climbed down. Do the entire 049 loop. Run through some very impressive rock formations and stacked boulders. Explore around here, too. It's very cool. Continuing south, you'll see more epic photo-ops than you know what to do with. Bluffs for miles! They just don't stop! And so many big, honking rocks to run amongst, you'll find yourself off-trail often. But don't worry, 049 is easy to see/find when you do.
As you near the end of the bluffs on the east side, the trail comes to a small horse camp-like area and turns right off into the valley you've been running beside. This part is not very exciting, but it does cross a couple small creeks. The water in all these creeks is pretty clean, but I'd run a filter just to be sure. Also, keep an eye on the left side for a turn in the trail if not using GPS. The trail looks like a ditch due to washouts.
As you near the bottom of the long descent, you'll come to a trail intersection. Trail #049 goes left and Trail #049D straight ahead. 049D follows the creek a little ways, crosses, then ties into Trail #049E. 049E then goes pretty much straight to the main falls area should you want to skip the west side bluffs. Heading to the west side? Hang a left and cross the creek. Normally, it's easy to cross via rock stepping stones without getting wet. Actually, two creeks converge here. After crossing the first one, the trail goes right alongside the second creek and continues west for about a 0.25 miles then loops you under even taller bluffs.
Continue on at the base of the bluffs, now heading back east, and you'll be treated to another onslaught of magnificent views. You'll likely encounter a few, or possibly many, rock climbers along this stretch depending on the weather/time of year. It is the Mecca for rock climbing in Southern Illinois and is one of only two places that it's publicly allowed.
After about a mile down the bluff line, you'll be at the base of the main falls of Jackson Falls. This is a really cool area! Check downstream here, too, for neat little nook and cranny falls and pools.
After crossing the creek at the falls, there are many user-created trails along the base of the final epic bluffs. Trail #049 is not marked well through here, but if you stay close to the bluffs, you'll walk right to the East Falls and the point where you climbed down into the canyon to begin this trail. From here, just retrace your steps along Trail #048C and Trail #048 back to the trailhead.
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Flora & Fauna, Runner Notes, History & Background
Land Manager: USFS - Shawnee National Forest Office