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Matthiessen State Park: Breathtaking Views & Amazing Hikes

Stepping stones and waterfall at Illinois' Matthiessen State Park.

Located in central LaSalle County around four miles south of Utica and three miles east of Oglesby, Matthiessen State Park presents a stunning getaway with rivers, forests, and prairies. This midwest park in the State of Illinois is a mecca for geologists, outdoor enthusiasts, and nature lovers alike. The park is nestled just minutes from the equally-awesome Starved Rock State Park on the Illinois River.

The abundance of wildlife, flora, and fauna makes for ample opportunities to connect with mother nature. You can witness beautiful rock formations, deep canyons (made up of the Upper Dells and the Lower Dells), waterfalls, Deer Park Lake, and the Vermilion River. The thriving deer population can be observed as the deer love the park’s mineral-rich springs and dense forests.

History of Matthiessen State Park

This land has a deep-rooted Indigenous history and according to the Native Land map, this land belongs to the Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Peoria, Kaskaskia, Sauk and Meskwaki, Myaamia, and O?héthi ?akówi? tribes.

After colonization, Frederick William Matthiessen, an important philanthropist and industrialist, purchased the land at the end of the 19th century. Matthiessen employed approximately 50 people to construct roads, bridges, dams, and more. Originally, the region was known as Deer Park as the land had such a huge deer population.

When Matthiessen passed, the park was graciously donated to the State of Illinois, which opened the park to the public shortly after. Operated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Matthiessen State Park now features over 1,900 acres of prominent natural areas, including the Lower and Upper Dells, a chunk of the surrounding prairie, and even more forested land.

What to See & Do

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Matthiessen State Park has five miles of hiking trails ranging in difficulty and terrain. These trails are all posted on the trail maps throughout the park, which make it easy for hikers to decide what adventures to partake on. Popular hikes include Cascade Falls, Bridge Dam/Lake Falls, and Devil’s Paint Box. The park highly encourages visitors to stay on the marked trails as it can be difficult to navigate the deep canyons, steep cliffs, and canyon walls.

At the north end where the Dells Area entrance is located, there is a parking lot that establishes the trailhead for nine miles of equestrian trails. The horse rental facility is situated on Route 71 a half-mile west of Route 178. Rentals are available on weekends in April and November, as well as on Wednesday through Sunday from May to October.

In the winter months, there are six miles of cross-country ski trails and rentals are accessible on weekends from December through March.

Important Park Information

The main entrance is located at 2500 IL-178, Oglesby, Illinois 61348. There is no camping at the park but there are lots of options for nearby accommodations listed on the park’s website. Please adhere to posted guidelines and social distancing protocols when you visit this Illinois State Park.

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