The Top 10 Waterfalls in Illinois

Published on September 29th, 2021

Illinois is all too often overlooked, dismissed as a flyover filled with corn fields. But those in the know know that this midwestern state is chock full of a diversity of natural beauty to enjoy — including several top-tier waterfalls.

The Top 10 Waterfalls in Illinois

1. Thunder Bay Falls

2. Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve

3. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

4. Starved Rock State Park

5. Cascade Falls

6. Giant’s Bathtub Falls

7. Ferne Clyffe Waterfall

8. Burden Falls

9. Jackson Falls

10. Double Branch Hole

Visiting Waterfalls in Illinois

Here are the top ten waterfalls worth seeking out in Illinois — and the information you need to get to them.

1. Thunder Bay Falls

Thunder Bay Falls near Galena Town of Illinois

Okay, for starters: this impressive waterfall is on private land within the Galena Territory, so be sure you’re obeying all posted signs and local rules when you visit. If you are lucky enough to see them, though, you’ll be impressed: their broad width and gradual, step-wise fall down a gorgeously carved rock face make them truly one-of-a-kind, and they’re especially strong in the springtime as a consequence of the rain the area sees at the time. These falls are fueled by a beautiful freshwater spring, and rather than a hike, these falls require only a short walk from the parking area to access.

Things to do near Thunder Bay Falls: The sweeping Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, whose land these falls sit on, has so much to offer visitors, including golf courses and kids’ clubs. It’s all situated only half an hour from Dubuque, Iowa, or about ninety minutes from Rockford; here are some local RVshare rentals to consider.

2. Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve

Chicago-area waterfall

Tucked along the Fox River where the vast Chicago suburbs start to thin out, the Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve is a popular getaway spot for city dwellers thanks not only to its beautiful waterfall, but also the hiking and biking paths that criss-cross this little wilderness. Spring-fed and only ten feet high, the waterfall flows down a beautiful, natural stone staircase, and is just as stunning — if not even more so — when its surroundings are covered by a scrim of snow in the winter. The park also offers a boat ramp, picnic areas, and historic sites to ponder.

Things to do near the Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve: This little slice of wild is located only an hour or so from Chicago (pending traffic), and is nestled right into a largely urban landscape — making it easy and accessible for a quick getaway. Here are some excellent Chicago-area RVshare rentals to consider, as well as local campgrounds and RV parks to take them to.

3. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Sawmill Creek spills over a beautiful waterfall on a spring day at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois.

Another easy-to-get-to urban waterfall, Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve was created primarily to showcase this small-but-stunning cascade, which is manmade and was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC. Despite its “unnatural” origin story, though, the waterfall is no less scenic, and thousands of walkers, joggers, hikers, and bikers enjoy its beauty and the calming sound of its trickling waters as they make their way around the trail loop, which also wends its way through forest, hills, prairielands and a savannah-like ecosystem.

Things to do near the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve: Given its location only about 40 minutes from Chicago including traffic, the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve has understandably gained a lot of popularity with local outdoorsy types — and those just looking for a place to go on a quick jog after work. This southwestern part of town is also home to a zip line adventure outfitter and several other preserved green spaces, so if you’re looking to get away from the hustle bustle, you found our spot. Here are some area RVshare rentals and campgrounds so you can stay and play.

4. Starved Rock State Park

Twin waterfalls crash into Tonti Canyon on a spring day at Starved Rock State Park

Some people are surprised to find the surreal landscape of Starved Rock State Park located right in the heart of what so many mistakenly think is a totally flat state. Characterized by well-carved stone canyons and beautiful, lush greenery, this state preserve is home to not one or two but fourteen waterfalls, which cascade over the lip of as many canyons. (There are 18 canyons in total.) To best see as many of these waterfalls as possible, you’ll need to do some hiking — you can choose from a range of trails suited to your interest and skill level, but none of them are easily seen without a bit of a walk. Good thing the park has a campground right on-site, so you can stay right in the heart of the action!

Things to do near Starved Rock State Park: Located just east of the town of Peru, Starved Rock State Park is within easy reach of many smaller area cities, and is less than two hours from Chicago. Plus, nearby Matthiessen State Park has plenty of waterfalls of its own to offer (we’ll get there in just a second); here are some local RVshare rentals so you can stay as long as you like in comfort!

5. Cascade Falls

A beautiful waterfall in the canyons of Matthiessen State Park in Illinois.

Tumbling some 45 feet into the clear, turquoise-blue waters below, Cascade Falls is one of the most sought-after destinations inside Matthiessen State Park, tucked deep into the heart of a mile-long sandstone canyon. You can see them from a bridge suspended over the falls or by hiking down to their foot along one of the park’s many walking trails — but don’t bring your bathing suit, because swimming is not permitted at any of the park’s many bodies of water!

Things to do near Cascade Falls: The large forest preserve that is Matthiessen State Park offers several waterfalls to meander by, strewn through its series of well-carved sandstone canyons. Along with hiking, this park is also popular amongst horseback riders, and does offer on-site camping for those who want to dally a while. Here are some local RVshare rentals to consider.

6. Giant’s Bathtub Falls

Giant's Bathtub on a Winter morning. Matthiessen State Park, Illinois, USA

Another Matthiessen State Park must-see, the fancifully named Giant’s Bathtub Falls really does look like what the Jolly Green Giant might use for his nightly ablutions: short but powerful, and tumbling over a series of tiered rock ledges, this waterfall is strongest during the spring season when the rains bloat its flow rate. Additionally, this state park is a great choice for those traveling with kids, since its hiking trails tend to be shorter an easier, and won’t tire out or bore the kiddos. The park even boasts a remote control airplane field, in case anyone in your family is an amateur aviator!

Things to do near Giant’s Bathtub Falls: The nearby city of Oglesby, with its population hovering around 4,000, is robust enough to support whatever needs arise during your vacation while still keeping that friendly, small-town midwestern feel. Plus, its residents offer a great variety of RVshare rentals for you to choose from for your vacation.

7. Ferne Clyffe Waterfall

Ferne Clyffe Waterfall Frozen in Time

Not every Illinois waterfall is beloved enough for an entire state park to spring up around it — but Ferne Clyffe Waterfall is! Tucked inside the 2,400-acre expanse of Ferne Clyffe State Park, this beautiful, mid-size falls draws hikers year-round, though they’re especially strong after the winter snow has mostly melted, in late spring. The waterfall is accessible along several hiking trails, most of which are fairly easy without much elevation gain; the shortest one is the steepest, so you’ll have to choose between walking a few more steps (two miles or so round trip) or adding some incline to your one-mile stroll!

Things to do near Ferne Clyffe Waterfall: Tucked down into the far south extreme of the state, alongside such wilderness expanses as Shawnee National Forest and Giant City State Park, this waterfall is just the start of the natural beauty available to see here in southern Illinois; check out these local RVshare rentals for a great way to enjoy the trip in style.

8. Burden Falls

Burden Falls, Shawnee National Forest, Pope Co., IL

Shawnee National Forest covers a whopping 280,000 acres — but if you have to choose just one place in that broad swath to visit, we highly recommend Burden Falls. One of the largest falls in the state of Illinois, this cascade is set deep into the heart of this lush landscape, and actually have their own smaller 4,000-acre eponymous wilderness. While they do tend to run dry at the height of the long dry summer, during the spring season they rush turbulently forth. The most direct route to the falls is a short, one-mile round-trip out-and-back hiking trail, which sees only about 150 feet in elevation change, but is still rated moderate since footing can be kind of slippery and rocky. Do wear good boots!

Things to do near Burden Falls: Shawnee National Forest is truly an outdoor lover’s delight, with a nearly endless list of recreational opportunities to partake in. The area is supplied by sweet local towns like Carbondale, which have everything you need to make your vacation comfortable and easy — including some great local RVshare rentals!

9. Jackson Falls

Jackson Falls is in Shawnee National Forest
A beautiful hiking trail through Shawnee National Forest leads to Jackson Falls

Another gorgeous Shawnee National Forest waterfall not to miss, Jackson Falls stands tall over the waters below and is a common getaway for those in the area and from further afoot. Along with the cascade itself, the area offers some gorgeous sandstone rock formations, lush greenery, and great color change in the fall — though the waterfall alone is well worth the trip. The best hiking trail to see the falls is Jackson Falls Trail, which runs a little more than four miles round-trip and sees less than 500 feet of elevation gain. There are certainly some steep sections, but they’re relatively short, so as long as you watch your footing and wear good shoes, the hike should be doable, if challenging, if you’re in decent shape.

Things to do near Jackson Falls: Another southern Illinois spot, Jackson Falls is only a short way from the Kentucky border; Paducah can be reached in just an hour. Of course, the smaller towns in Illinois are also well worth swinging through, and there are some great RVshare rentals available in the area.

10. Double Branch Hole

A beautiful waterfall in Southern Illinois

Hayes Creek Canyon, where the Double Branch Hole waterfall tumbles down into the waters below, is a well-known outdoor adventure and camping spot for those exploring the southern Illinois hills. The falls themselves make the trip worth it on their own; small but mighty, the waterfall snakes its way down through sandstone carved out magnificently over the ages, and the trek out to see them is short but definitely interesting; some hand-over foot climbing or “scrambling” is required. These falls run most fervently during the springtime after the snowmelt, though the gorgeous surroundings ensure the trip is worthwhile any time of year. Plus, there’s camping very close by, as well as some great small towns for supplies, eateries, and company.

Things to do near Double Branch Hole: Nearby Eddyville may have a population in the triple digits, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm and friendliness. Additionally, bigger towns and their urban resources are available not far afield; here are some local RVshare rentals so you can get away from it all without sacrificing any of the comforts of home.

Planning an RV Trip to Illinois

If the number of gorgeous waterfalls Illinois boasts threw you for a loop — well, that’s just the first of the many surprises you’ll find if you take the time to explore the Land of Lincoln. An RV trip is the perfect way to string together a long and luxurious Illinois road trip, and we have everything you need to get started!

First things first: we offer the very best peer-to-peer RV rentals in the state, so you’ll be covered when it comes to lodging and transport. Looking for a place to stay? Check out the best campgrounds in Illinois, or one of its many gorgeous state parks, most of which offer on-site camping as well as beautiful natural landscapes to explore. We’ve even written guides to some of Illinois’ biggest cities, just in case you’re after an urban adventure along with all the backwoods wonder.

There you have it, campers. The rest is up to you — so get out there!

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