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: -89.0273

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Cascade Falls was the lone waterfalling attraction that we were aware of in the state of Illinois.

Unfortunately, as you can see from the photo at the top of this page and immediately below, it wasn’t flowing.

Mathiessen_SP_077_10062015 - A dry Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park
A dry Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park

Given the vast cornfields surrounding the Matthiessen State Park (where this waterfall sat within), 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.

As a result, I believe 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.

Cascade Falls was said to be 45ft as it separated the Upper and Lower Dell.

The Gorge is the Show

Mathiessen_SP_095_10062015 - Exploring the base of the gorge at the Lower Dell in Matthiessen State Park
Exploring the base of the gorge at the Lower Dell in Matthiessen State Park

Despite the lack of waterflow during our visit, the gorge containing the Cascade Falls was quite impressive.

Indeed, the gorge 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.

The gorge itself was protected under the watch of Matthiessen State Park so it was definitely a pocket of Nature in an otherwise vast sea of agriculture.

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.

Mathiessen_SP_032_10062015 - The scenery near the entrance to the Lower Dell at the gorge floor of Matthiessen State Park
The scenery near the entrance to the Lower Dell at the gorge floor of Matthiessen State Park

Such scenery was reminiscent of the kind of slot canyons typically found in Southern Utah.

That characteristic in a place as unlikely as the plains of Illinois less than two hours drive from Chicago made it so unusual and unexpected that it was worthwhile and fun to check out.

Experiencing Cascade Falls and its Gorge

From the parking lot 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 trailhead).

A sign on the far side of the bridge pointed right for the Upper Dell and pointed left for the Lower Dell.

Mathiessen_SP_012_10062015 - Path descending to the bridge above Cascade Falls at the trail junction for the Lower Dell and Upper Dell
Path descending to the bridge above Cascade Falls at the trail junction for the Lower Dell and Upper 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.

Mathiessen_SP_015_10062015 - Looking upstream towards the Upper Dell from the bridge above the Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park
Looking upstream towards the Upper Dell from the bridge above the Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park

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 Cascade 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.

Mathiessen_SP_029_10062015 - Descending into the gorge floor at the Lower Dell of Matthiessen State Park
Descending into the gorge floor at the Lower Dell of Matthiessen State Park

Most of the walking here was pretty straightforward as some boards were placed in some of the muddier stretches.

Meanwhile, a trail of use hugging the right side of the gorge on slightly higher ground further ensured that I would 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.

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

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.

Some Basic Matthiessen State Park Heritage

Mathiessen_SP_096_10062015 - Looking up at steps and a footbridge spanning the gorge of the Lower Dell in Matthiessen State Park; possibly one of the infrastructure improvements that Frederick William Matthiessen commissioned
Looking up at steps and a footbridge spanning the gorge of the Lower Dell in Matthiessen State Park; possibly one of the infrastructure improvements that Frederick William Matthiessen commissioned

Finally, the signs here indicated that the park was named after Frederick William Matthiessen (in 1943).

He employed people to construct the infrastructure that allowed access to 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.”

Authorities

Cascade Falls resides in Matthiessen State Park near Oglesby and Utica in LaSalle County, Illinois. It is administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Mathiessen_SP_001_10062015 - Julie and Tahia leaving the parking lot and pursuing the trail to lead us down to the gorge containing the Cascade Falls
Mathiessen_SP_004_10062015 - This shelter fronted the stairs leading down to the rims of the Upper and Lower Dells above the Cascade Falls
Mathiessen_SP_126_10062015 - The log cabin opposite the shelter at the top of the stairs to the Cascade Falls as well as the Lower and Upper Dells in Matthiessen State Park
Mathiessen_SP_121_10062015 - Looking back towards the parking lot from the top floor of the shelter fronting the steps leading down to the Dells and the Cascade Falls
Mathiessen_SP_014_10062015 - Approaching the bridge right above Cascade Falls on the rim of the Lower Dell and Upper Dell in Matthiessen State Park
Mathiessen_SP_021_10062015 - Looking downstream over the brink of Cascade Falls into the Lower Dell from the bridge above the falls
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 Dell where I could eventually scramble upstream to the foot of Cascade Falls
Mathiessen_SP_027_10062015 - On the steps descending into the Lower Dells and ultimately the foot of the Cascade Falls
Mathiessen_SP_034_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 as I made my way to the Cascade Falls
Mathiessen_SP_047_10062015 - Scrambling on the floor of the Lower Dell as I continued my upstream pursuit of the Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park
Mathiessen_SP_048_10062015 - This part of the trail to the Cascade Falls 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_055_10062015 - Approaching the upper end of the Lower Dell at the Cascade Falls with some interesting alcoves on the gorge walls
Mathiessen_SP_058_10062015 - Direct look at the Cascade Falls
Mathiessen_SP_063_10062015 - Offset look at the Cascade Falls revealing a deep alcove to the left side
Mathiessen_SP_066_10062015 - Focused look at where the Cascade Falls should be with some fencing beneath the bridge, which I thought was kind of unusual
Mathiessen_SP_075_10062015 - A closer look at Cascade Falls from next to an alcove by its plunge pool
Mathiessen_SP_084_10062015 - Lots of people checking out the plunge pool and the wall where the Cascade Falls should have been
Mathiessen_SP_088_10062015 - Looking back at the head of the Lower Dells and the full context of Cascade Falls
Mathiessen_SP_098_10062015 - Looking towards some kind of side wall where another waterfall should be (almost resembling the Cascade Falls) as I was on my way out of the Lower Dells
Mathiessen_SP_101_10062015 - Looking downstream from the bridge spanning the Lower Dells
Mathiessen_SP_104_10062015 - Looking upstream from the footbridge above the Lower Dells near the steps leading down to the gorge floor to access the foot of Cascade Falls

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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.

The airport 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).

Mathiessen_SP_003_10062015 - Looking back at the parking lot for Matthiessen State Park near the trailhead for Cascade Falls
Looking back at the parking lot for Matthiessen State Park near the trailhead for Cascade Falls

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 parking lot 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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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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