With its prime location right along the Mississippi River and its surprisingly varied landscape, it should be no surprise that Illinois has plenty of waterfalls to visit. However, picking which one to see first can be daunting, so here’s a list of the top 10 to help you narrow down your choices.
The Best Waterfalls in Illinois
1. Giant’s Bathtub Falls
There are plenty of things to see in LaSalle County, Illinois, but none are quite as unique and jaw-dropping as the Giant’s Bathtub Falls in Matthiessen State Park.
Though not the tallest waterfall, measuring only 10 feet, the cascade is naturally arranged in a way that promotes tranquility.
In fact, you might even forget you’re in the USA when you visit since the landscape evokes the feeling of being in another country or another world!
The hike to get to the falls is a moderately challenging 1-mile trail, so don’t rush yourself.
2. Worth Waterfalls
Though the Worth Waterfalls may be man-made, they still hold compared to their natural counterparts.
These waterfalls were created to give a little extra peace, tranquility, and beauty to the Worth park.
They’ve certainly succeeded and have quickly become one of the most popular picnic locations in town.
The falls are located a short walk away from the parking area, so they’re very accessible to people of all ages and most physical capabilities.
However, since there is some distance between the road and the cascade, the sound of traffic is drowned out.
3. Thunder Bay Falls
Galena, Illinois, is a quintessential small town with a lot of character. However, what some people don’t realize is that woods surround this small town.
In the wooded Galena Territory neighborhood, you’ll find Thunder Bay Falls, a natural 40-foot waterfall that’s the town’s best-kept secret.
Though the Galena Territory is made up of mostly private property, Thunder Bay Falls is open to the public.
You can see the cascade from the observation area just a short walk from the parking zone, or you can get closer via the short but inclined trail.
4. Cascade Falls
Nestled within Matthiessen State Park is Cascade Falls.
Unlike many waterfalls that are created by a singular stream of water, Cascade Falls is the product of multiple tiny creeks joining together to rush into the sandstone gorge below.
Since this waterfall is dependent on such small sources of water, it’s a seasonal cascade that can be viewed best during the spring and summer months.
To get a view of this 45-foot waterfall, all it takes is a 2-mile trek through the lush Illinois woods. However, the trail is moderately difficult.
5. Apple Canyon Lake Waterfall
Apple Canyon Lake State Park in Jo Daviess County, Illinois, may not be the largest natural park in the state, but it’s one of the most picturesque.
The star of the 1907-acre park is the Apple Canyon Lake Waterfall.
Located just a short, easy walk into the park territory, most hikers won’t have any trouble arriving at the cascade.
This little waterfall is a hidden gem that unobservant visitors could overlook.
However, they offer some relaxation and a little break from the heat and humidity during the hot Illinois summer months.
6. Ferne Clyffe Waterfall
If you find yourself in Goreville, Illinois, and you have an hour or so to kill, consider making a stop at Ferne Clyffe State Park to check out the park’s namesake.
The Ferne Clyffe Waterfall is a famed scenic spot that’s been drawing visitors for over 100 years.
The 1.3-mile looping trail takes you through some of the greenest and most beautiful woods Illinois has to offer.
Though the trail is considered moderately challenging, most hikers can finish in as little as 35 minutes, longer if you decide to explore a little.
7. Burden Falls
Burden Falls may be primarily a seasonal waterfall, but it’s definitely well worth making a special spring or summer trip to see.
Made up of 2 drops, a 20-foot and an 80-foot one, the falls create a terraced cascade that’s truly remarkable to see up close and personal.
This waterfall also has the honor of being the tallest cascade in Illinois.
If you’re up for a moderately-challenging walk, make sure to set aside some time to go on this 1.2-mile looping trail to see the falls in all their glory.
8. Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park is definitely worth visiting at any time of year.
However, thanks to the unique carved-out landscape caused by glaciers, during the spring and summer months, it’s also home to numerous unnamed but majestic waterfalls.
The waterfalls are particularly active in the early spring when the snow has started to melt fully and after summer thunderstorms.
Nearly any trail you take in the park will lead you to at least 1, if not multiple, waterfalls, all you have to do is follow the sound of rushing water while hiking.
9. Double Branch Hole
The Shawnee National Forest has its fair share of waterfalls, but a favorite among visitors is Double Branch Hole and Hayes Creek Canyon.
With a ground elevation level of 584 feet, even if it isn’t the tallest waterfall, it still feels pretty massive.
This area has 2 intermittent waterfalls that form after heavy rainfall and when the winter snow melts.
Unfortunately, that means to see it in action, you need to make sure you visit during the spring and summer months.
However, the falls are just the cherry on top of an otherwise gorgeous wilderness trail.
10. French Canyon Falls
The French Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park is one of the most beautiful natural landmarks all year round.
During the spring and summer, you can take the 2.5-mile trail to the falls while admiring the lush green and local wildlife.
During the fall, you’ll be immersed in the changing colors of the leaves crunching on the ground.
Instead, in the winter, you’ll be treated to a sparkling frozen waterfall that will take your breath away.
Just make sure you’re prepared for a moderately challenging hike before you go.
Featured Image: Illinois DNR
Amar was born and raised in England and embarked on an 11-country round-the-world gap year after graduation and then became well and truly hooked. The first gap year inspired a second, which ended up being a 23-country down-the-world trip from Canada to Antarctica. Since then, Amar has spent the last 14 years traveling the 7 continents.