Cascade Falls

Matthiessen State Park / Oglesby / Utica, Illinois, USA

About Cascade Falls

Hiking Distance: 1 mile round trip
Suggested Time: 60-75 minutes

Date first visited: 2015-10-06
Date last visited: 2015-10-06

Waterfall Latitude: 41.29707
Waterfall Longitude: -89.02731

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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.

Mathiessen_SP_091_10062015 - Hiking within the Lower Dell on the way to Cascade Falls
Hiking within the Lower Dell on the way to Cascade Falls

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.”

Mathiessen_SP_003_10062015 - The busy car park for Cascade Falls at Matthiessen State Park
Mathiessen_SP_004_10062015 - The shelter at the top of the stairs leading down to the rims of the Upper and Lower Dells
Mathiessen_SP_126_10062015 - The log cabin opposite the shelter at the top of the stairs
Mathiessen_SP_121_10062015 - Looking back towards the parking lot from the top floor of the shelter
Mathiessen_SP_012_10062015 - Descending the long series of steps leading down the bridge above Cascade Falls
Mathiessen_SP_014_10062015 - Approaching the bridge right above Cascade Falls
Mathiessen_SP_015_10062015 - Looking upstream at the Upper Dell from the bridge
Mathiessen_SP_021_10062015 - Looking downstream over the brink of Cascade Falls into the Lower Dell
Mathiessen_SP_024_10062015 - Julie and Tahia on the trail leading to Strawberry Rock before they changed their minds and left me to hike into the Lower Dell myself
Mathiessen_SP_109_10062015 - A horseshoe bend at the head of a dry gully near the formal descent into the Lower Dells
Mathiessen_SP_026_10062015 - Approaching the start of the descent into the Lower Dells
Mathiessen_SP_029_10062015 - Descending past the bridge spanning the Lower Dells to go further down into the bottom of the gorge
Mathiessen_SP_096_10062015 - Looking back towards the bridge spanning the Lower Dells as well as the spiral steps taking me down to the bottom
Mathiessen_SP_041_10062015 - The trail within the Lower Dells mostly hugged the right side of the gorge next to the overhanging gorge walls
Mathiessen_SP_046_10062015 - Looking back at the intriguing walls flanking the Lower Dells
Mathiessen_SP_048_10062015 - This part of the trail had to cross the creek, which was basically a marshy bog during my Autumn visit. Some boards were placed here to make the crossing easier
Mathiessen_SP_088_10062015 - Approaching the head of the Lower Dells and the full context of Cascade Falls
Mathiessen_SP_075_10062015 - A closer look at Cascade Falls from next to an alcove by its plunge pool
Mathiessen_SP_095_10062015 - Heading back to the stairs leading me out of the gorge as more people were going in the opposite direction coming towards the falls
Mathiessen_SP_101_10062015 - Looking downstream from the bridge spanning the Lower Dells


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.

360 degree sweep from the plunge pool at Cascade Falls showing the impressive gorge scenery before examining some of the coves further then ending off with a direct look at where Cascade Falls should be

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Tagged with: matthiessen, state park, oglesby, utica, lasalle county, illinois, waterfall, chicago

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