This Memorial Weekend, we had too much going on for a camping trip, but we still set aside a day to get out into nature. Instead of visiting one of our usual destinations in Indiana, we drove 3 hours northwest to Utica, Illinois, where the Illinois and Vermilion rivers have cut into sandstone creating multiple state parks in the area. Our destination was Matthiessen State Park, which features a mile long canyon system with an upper and lower dells, several waterfalls, caves, and a man-made lake. It did not disappoint! Our only complaint was the lack of trail maps, and the trails not being marked clearly. It created a lot of confusion for us first timers to the park, but we figured it out.
We ventured around the upper rim of the lower dells until we found a concrete bridge and stairway down.
Once to the bottom, it’s like stepping into a different world. Canyon walls 100 feet high, it’s sides pocked with nooks, crannies, & small caves. A shallow stream flowed through it’s center, with sides that were extremely muddy in some areas. Off to the side was the Devil’s Paint Box, a circular canyon with a small waterfall. Further down the main canyon we found Cascade Falls, caves we could walk through, and lots of interesting carvings in the rock faces.
[Click on Pics to Enlarge]
After getting our feet wet, we headed back up the stairs and across the bridge to hike the upper dells. Though the canyon walls in this section aren’t quite as high, they are equally spectacular, if not more so, for all the formations from erosion.
Matthiessen Lake is a man-made lake. The original resident of this land in the early 20th century had a dam built at the end of the upper dells, and went to great lengths to make it look natural. The upper half of the waterfall is concrete, but it blends in seamlessly with the canyon walls.
This isn’t even half of the photos I took, it’s just an awesome park for people (such as myself) who love geology featuring canyons. Being Memorial Weekend, it was overcrowded, which was really our only complaint. If you really want the full experience, the next best thing to going there yourself is to watch the video of our experience. Enjoy!