The problem with Illinois State Parks is that nothing is marked appropriately. Unless you know where you’re going, parks in this state are hard to find. Just keep your eyes open for the Matthiessen State Park sign.
Take I-74 West towards Bloomington, IL (44 miles)
Stay straight onto I-55 North (1 mile)
Merge onto I-39 N/US-51 N via EXIT 164toward Rockford.(49 miles)
Take EXIT 48 toward Tonica. (.3 miiles)
Merge onto N 20th Rd. (.9 miles)
N 20th Rd becomes N 2101st Rd/County Hwy-14. (3 miles)
Turn left onto E 8th Rd/IL-178. Continue to follow IL-178. (2.7 miles)
What You’ll Need
Hiking Shoes-the main trails run along a creek, so you’ll want to make sure you don’t mind these shoes getting muddy
Sandals or other shoes for your way home
A change of clothes and a towel
Picnic: We took fried chicken, fuji apples and waters from Mahomet IGA
A hiking backpack
Waters for the trail
Park Admission is free
Our Day at the Park
I will admit, I wasn’t expecting much from Mattiessen State Park. I took my two youngest children, luring them with the word “hike,” but I just expected some flat trails near water. Boy, was I surprised when we got there!
We started off eating our picnic in the picnic area right next to the parking lot. The picnic area is very shaded, so that was very nice. There is also a restroom located at the head of the trail.
You know, you drive for miles and miles in this state, looking at field after field of corn or soybeans. And then, hidden throughout the state are these little gems that make you feel like you’re just discovering the world for the first time. After walking down quite a few stairs, we approached a bridge overlooking two canyons.
We decided to explore the upper canyon first, although we could see a lovely waterfall overlooking the lower canyon. My kids had fun skipping over stones placed across the creek, and then once we were on the banks we enjoyed looking at the way the water reflections danced on the rock and talked about erosion.
You could tell the water had been higher along the banks recently, and there were plenty of places for the kids to get muddy, but there were also plenty of places for them to walk without getting muddy, too. The trail was quiet and peaceful, and the kids really enjoyed being there with me.
We then climbed up another set of stairs to get on the longer trail, but then found the entrance to the lower canyon. The stairs down were steep, and we wondered if we’d have enough energy to get back up, but once we reached the bottom of the canyon, we knew the trip would be well worth it. The lower canyon was muddier than the upper canyon, but again we were able to maneuver around. *Side note: my kids don’t like to get dirty. They never have. But I am all for them rolling around in the mud like the other kids. And there were plenty of kids there doing that.
The highlight of this trail is the beautiful waterfall at the end of it. The kids found a “cave” before we made it to the waterfall, and I let them go in just thinking it’d be a little hideout. But they found a trail that wrapped around and enjoyed climbing through the rocks.
The waterfall drops about 45 or 50 feet into a small pool of water. The great thing about this part of the canyon is that you can climb up into the bowl and hike underneath the waterfall. My kids loved this!
I stayed on the main trail to take pictures, but while they were climbing I enjoyed watching the Swallows chase each other between the trees and blue sky.
The kids and I talked about horseback riding while we hiked because one of the park entrances pointed to horse trails. When we drove back to the horse trail, we asked a local where the stable was, and he said they do not rent horses out in the area anymore. He told me to drive up to Starved Rock (5 miles away) to ask if they had horses at that park, but the girl I asked said they did not.
At this point, it was about 5 p.m., so we decided to come back home, although we want to go back soon to explore Starved Rock and try out the river rafting sign we drove past.
Matthiessen State Park is an Illinois must see! And if you take a few days up there, I’m sure you could experience everything the area has to offer!