Cascade Falls was the lone waterfalling attractive that we were aware of in the state of Illinois. Unfortunately, as you can see from the photo at the top of this page, it wasn’t flowing. Given the vast cornfields surrounding the immediate area, we suspect that the already constrained waterflow of the creek responsible for the falls was being further robbed to feed the crops. Moreover, a dam further upstream (resulting in the formation of Deer Park Lake) may have further choked off the flow of the creek, meaning that this waterfall would only flow during the Spring months unless there were some out-of-season rains or thunderstorms that might temporarily replenish the flow. The falls was said to be 45ft as it separated the Upper and Lower Dell.
Despite the lack of waterflow during our visit, the gorge it was in was quite impressive as it featured overhanging walls, alcoves, and even serene ponds where spontaneous splashes seemed to be caused by frogs or other wildlife that might have been allowed to thrive here thanks to protections under the watch of Matthiessen State Park. Some of the gorge walls even had some interesting colors to them (from reds to greens) as there were mineral-laced springs that would seep out of the sandstone canyon walls and leave behind the color-causing solutions on them. Such scenery was reminiscent of the kind of slot canyons typically found in Southern Utah, and the fact that such an unusual feature occurred less than two hours drive from Chicago made it worthwhile and fun to check out.
From the car park for Cascade Falls (see directions below), we followed a series of steps leading past some shelter and some other log house down to the bridge right above the waterfall (roughly 0.1 mile from the car park). A sign on the far side of the bridge pointed right for the Upper Dell and pointed left for the Lower Dell. Looking upstream from the bridge, we could see steps leading down into the gorge for the Upper Dell. Apparently, the trail kept going all the way out to Deer Park Lake, where nearby was the Mathiessen Lake Falls (or just Lake Falls). We didn’t bother going out that far since we could see that there would be no flowing water.
I looked for a way to get into the Lower Dell since I had already seen people down there. So without crossing the bridge above the falls, I proceeded along the trail following the rim of the Lower Dell gorge in the direction of Strawberry Rock. After about 0.3 miles downstream from the bridge above Cascade Falls (and shortly after a hairpin turn above a dry gully), I then encountered stairs leading down into the gorge. After going down the stairs (not crossing another bridge spanning the Lower Dells Gorge), I was then inside the gorge itself, where I then walked back upstream in the direction of the falls.
At this point, the trail was quite pleasant as I was surrounded by the impressive gorge walls with interesting formations, patterns, and even alcoves. Most of the walking here was pretty straightforward as some boards were placed in some of the muddier stretches while a trail of use hugging the right side of the gorge further ensured to keep my feet dry. There was one crossing of the creek though it was nothing more than a muddy patch during my visit and was quite easy to cross. Shortly after this crossing, I then reached the head of the Lower Dell where there was the dry Cascade Falls fronted by a very calm but large plunge pool. The acoustics of this area meant that the conversations from the people who were already down here would echo. I could only imagine how alive this place would be had the creek been flowing. Overall, I had spent about an hour and 15 minutes away from the car. The hiking itself was probably a little over a mile round trip.
Finally, the signs here indicated that the park was named after Frederick William Matthiessen (in 1943), who employed people to construct the infrastructure that allowed me to access Cascade Falls (among other sights in the park). Prior to the dedication of the park to Matthiessen, apparently the area was known as Deer Park due to the large resident deer population back before the end of the 19th century. Some of the features still retain place names referring to the deer heritage like “Deer Park Lake.”
Even though we visited Cascade Falls as part of the very long drive from Indianapolis, Indiana to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, we’ll describe the driving route as if you were coming from the Chicago O’Hare Airport, which was northwest of downtown Chicago.
From the O’Hare Airport, we would go onto the I-294 south (this is a toll road; if you don’t have spare change on you like we didn’t, it’s possible to pay after the fact on the Illinois Tollways website). We’d then follow this freeway for about 17 miles to the I-55 south. Continuing just under 27 miles southwest on the I-55, we’d then continue west on the I-80 for the next 44.5 miles to the exit at East 8th Rd (Route 178). Going south on E 8th Rd (Route 178) for 5 miles, we then turned right onto North 25th Rd, and we followed this road to the car park after 0.7 miles.
This drive took us roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes.
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