Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hiking Matthiessen State Park

Frederick Matthiessen of LaSalle, Illinois, was a wealthy man and also an extremely charitable man well-known for his philanthropy. He provided his community with a high school, a gymnasium, an athletic field, a public library, a hospital, and an electric light plant, among other improvements. And he developed a private jewel of a retreat named Deer Park, which his heirs donated to the State of Illinois in 1940 with the stipulation that it be preserved as a nature area and wildlife sanctuary.  It was later renamed Matthiessen State Park in his honor.

The park is centered around a stream that flows from Matthiessen Lake to the Vermilion River. The stream has cut partway through the sandstone layers, leaving interesting rock formations and drops. The Upper Dells begin at Matthiessen Lake with the Lake Falls, which drop into the canyon below and continue downstream to the 45-foot-tall Cascade Falls where the Lower Dells begin.

The park has grown to 1,938 acres with the addition of former prairie land and forest land south of the original park and significant natural areas along the main canyon. The canyon itself provides a perfect habitat for many mosses and liverworts that thrive on the damp, shady walls. Ferns abound, and throughout the entire length of the canyon, falling water and marvelous rock formations delight visitors.

Matthiessen State Park is located a few miles south of the more famous Starved Rock State Park on Illinois State Route 178 just south of Utica, Illinois.  Its principal attraction is the mile-long canyon which is nearly 100 feet deep in places and from 50 to 140 feet wide.

It's a well-developed area for hiking and offers a network of staircases and bridges, where visitors can stand and marvel at the beauty not only surrounding them, but far below. In more than one place, the steps lead to the very floor of a gorge where clear, ice-cold water is dotted with stepping stones. Be prepared for mud in many places!

At the end of the Lower Dells, there is a cave with two entrances you can hike through, seen in the photo below...

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