Located in the town of Oglesby, IL, Matthiessen State Park is about an hour and a half drive from Chicago. We arrived in the very cute town of Utica at just around lunch time. We stopped in their tiny but picturesque downtown area to have lunch at Canal Port, a restaurant/bar with a great beer and whiskey selection. We both ordered sandwiches, which served as excellent pre-hike fuel.
We also stopped at Mill Street Market to pick up some ice and firewood for our campsite. The store had general grocery items and all the last minute camping supplies you could want/didn’t know you needed, like extendable forks for cooking over the fire. From there, we drove to the park, which is just past Starved Rock State Park. We had to park in the overflow parking lot in the Delta Area of the park, so we went into our hike knowing that it might be a little crowded. And it was, near the entrance to the trail and at the base of the waterfalls, but along the trails, we didn’t pass very many people.
As we walked up to the trails, we passed the “fort”, a log cabin building that was currently hosting a graduation party, and walked down a flight of stairs and across a bridge to a fork in the road. We chose to hike the Upper Dells trail first, a path that took us up past one canyon and down into another. The stairs led down into the moss-covered rock canyons, the walls rippling upwards, pockmarked with small caves. The creek running through the canyon was shallow and clear.
We followed the creek towards a small waterfall that we had to cross rocks and 2x4s to get too, only to realize that there was another, larger waterfall beyond it. To get the larger waterfall, we stripped off our shoes and socks and walked through the creek. We zigzagged across to each side until we got up to the bottom of the waterfall, the view was absolutely stunning. At the moment we reached the waterfall, it started to rain, and it didn’t fully stop for the rest of our time in the state park.
Luckily, the foliage above provided great coverage for most of the trails. After slipping our shoes back on, we climbed up a set of stairs that led out of the canyon and over a bridge that stood directly above the falls. On the other side of this bridge, there is a dirt, illegitimate path that takes you up to the side of the waterfall and provides a gorgeous view, too good to miss. The actual path from the bridge leads through the woods back to the fort again, in a roundabout way.
We took the other path next, to the Lower Dells. The path brought us directly to yet another set of stairs, leading down to another bridge. We crossed, went down another set of stairs, and that’s when it really started to rain. The bottom of this canyon was 100% mud, and the rain made it one big mess.
After a pep talk from Michael, we went through it towards the next waterfall anyways, despite the obstacle. It really is a miracle that neither of us didn’t fall face first into the muck. We picked our way carefully across the well trampled path, and splashed through the streams to rinse off our shoes. The last waterfall seemed to be the most beautiful because it was the hardest to get to.
It had the largest pool at the bottom of it, people were swimming, kids were sliding down the rocks and everyone seemed determined to ignore the rain. The caves around the cave were climbable and fun to explore. We crawled through them, dodging ankle-twisting holes and daddy long legs.
The way back to the head of the trail was just as slippery and treacherous, but we made it! Those stairs were a little bit harder on the way up then down, and by the time we made it back to the fort, we were exhausted. We headed back to the car, ready to start the second leg of our adventure, camping at KOA campground.
Have you ever been to Matthiessen State Park? Which trail was your favorite?