Lake Falls, Illinois

Lake Falls in mid-April 2012

This appears to be my first post about a waterfall in Matthiessen State Park in Illinois. This state park is nearby the more widely known Starved Rock State Park, which is known for its numerous canyons and seasonal waterfalls. Honestly, I had better luck with the waterfalls in Matthiessen State Park. Since both parks are within miles of each other, take the time to visit both.

Lake Falls is the uppermost of the falls in the Dells region of the park. Though not seen in this picture, there is some man-made object above the falls. This has led to the suggestion that the falls might be a man-made product, though there is no indication of this (at least none that I can remember). The falls are directly under Lake Matthiessen. There is an oddly complex trail system around the Dells, so just try to explore a little bit. A map can be found online.

The falls aren’t extremely tall, somewhere in the 20-30′ range. In mid-April, there was some water flowing, which was more than could be said for some of the falls in the canyons at Starved Rock. As with most of the falls in the area, I’d expect the falls to disappear as the summer progresses.


  1. Exit I-80 and head south along IL-178 toward North Utica (a small town).
  2. Keep heading south on IL-178 past the entrance to Starved Rock State Park. The entrance to Matthiessen State Park will be on your left (if you’re heading south).
  3. Head to the parking area, and then start hiking in the Dells Area. As mentioned above, the trail system is a little bit odd and complex, so just try and wander around. It’s pretty difficult to get completely lost.

Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate)
Height: 25′
Length of Hike: 1.5 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Lake Falls?

LaSalle Canyon Falls, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon Falls in mid-April 2012

I’ve always been a pretty spontaneous person when it comes to travel. I may decide to go somewhere to see waterfalls without any significant amount of planning. For certain waterfall destinations, though, that can be problematic. Hocking Hill State Park in Ohio is one example, and Starved Rock State Park in Illinois is another. The issue is that there is often only a limited “viewing” period for the falls in those parks before they dry up for the summer. I haven’t visited Hocking Hills yet, but earlier this year, I decided to plan a visit to Starved Rock State Park in April, when I hoped there would be some remnants of waterfalls.

And I was partially lucky. While there were a few falls that had almost ceased to exist until the next intense rainfall or snow melt, a few others still hung around to make the trip worthwhile. LaSalle Canyon Falls might be one of the main highlights from my visit to Starved Rock State Park. Even at the falls, there wasn’t a massive amount of water flowing, but still some. And sometimes you just have to accept “some”! This particular falls is really a pleasure to photograph. You can walk very close to the falls to get one perspective, and then hide behind the surrounding cliffs to get another viewpoint. I believe the shot shown here was at the closer viewpoint.


  1. Starved Rock State Park is not particularly difficult to visit. The park is only a few miles south of I-80 between Ottawa and LaSalle.
  2. You can exit onto IL-178 (from I-80), and head south for something like 3 miles.
  3. The entrance to the park will be on your left shortly after crossing the Illinois River.
  4. From the main parking area, you can start along the hike to the various falls. In this case, you will be hiking to your east. (There are other starting points along IL-71, but I did not explore those other options.)
  5. Initially, the options can seem overwhelming.  If you just want to head toward this set of falls, veer left early, trekking with the river usually in view. It is at least a mile in, if not further.
  6. In this case, a map does help with navigating the trails. If I remember correctly, there will be a sign directing you to LaSalle Canyon. (If you were originally heading east, this will be to your right.) A boardwalk will lead you to the falls.

Accessibility: 8/10 (easy/moderate)
Height: 12′
Length of Hike: 4.0 miles round-trip (from visitor’s center)

Where in the World is LaSalle Canyon Falls?

Wildcat Canyon Falls, Illinois

Wildcat Canyon Falls in April 2012

I’ve wanted to visit Starved Rock State Park for some time. It is one of the few places in Illinois where there are waterfalls, and there are a “significant” number of them in a small space. One issue with the waterfalls, though, is that they seem to have a very short lifespan. Choose the time of your visit carefully…

Visiting in March or April seems to be the best bet for seeing at least a few of the falls. They are definitely fed by snow melt, which there is clearly less of compared to places further north. When I visited in mid-April, it was obvious that some falls were already dry. Wildcat Canyon Falls was one that had a small amount of flow. The other two in the park had more water, but this was the first that I saw along the hike.

As for the hike, it’s pretty enjoyable, and if the correct path is chosen, it’s relatively simple. The signage can get a little bit confusing though. Essentially, you want to follow the River Trail (or head in that general direction whenever you get the chance). The River Trail allows for the easiest access to each of the falls up close. Walking a few hundred feet into the canyon leads you to a relatively up-close view. This falls can also be viewed from above on the Gorge Rim trail.


  1. There are different parking areas in Starved Rock State Park. To most quickly access Wildcat Canyon Falls, go into the entrance leading to the visitor’s center. This is found off of IL-178 south of North Utica.
  2. From the parking area, head toward the visitor’s center, and then follow the trail. Try to head downhill if you have the chance to best maximize the likelihood of finding the River Trail.
  3. Head “upstream” to get to Wildcat Canyon Falls at the appropriate sign.

Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate)
Height: ~50′
Length of Hike: 2 miles round-trip (from visitor’s center)

Where in the World is Wildcat Canyon Falls?