Whether you’re looking for an exciting place to cool off in the hotter months or just looking to escape the urban monotony to revel in nature’s beauty, visiting a waterfall is never a bad idea.
There is something so refreshing for the mind, body, and soul about witnessing the calm chaos of water cascade down into a misty pool below. But whilst states like Oregon and Washington have over 200 waterfalls, there is somewhat of a limited supply in Illinois.
Finding a waterfall close to the urban jungle that is Chicago can be a little difficult and so we’ve rounded up some of the best waterfalls near the Windy City where you can escape and admire nature’s magic!
Waterfalls very close to Chicago:
North Park Village Nature Center
Located on the northwest side of Chicago within the 155-acre North Park Village campus, North Park Village Nature Center offers another natural sanctuary for busy Chicagoans. The park provides a fantastic day’s respite from downtown monotony where couples, families, and friends can enjoy a breath of fresh air and the serenity of nature.
Here too a waterfall can be found amongst a plethora of flowering trees and plants. The waterfall itself pours over a beautiful stacked stone lagoon and into a calm pool below. You’ll often find birds and sometimes deer enjoying the surroundings of this natural paradise.
North Park Village Nature Center is open 7 days a week from 9 am to 4 pm Monday through Saturday and from 9 am to 12 pm on Sundays. More information can be found at chicagoparkdistrict.com/north-park-village-nature-center.
Location: 5801 N. Pulaski Road, Chicago, Illinois
Chicago Botanic Garden’s Waterfall Garden
Among Chicago Botanic Garden’s 385 acres of landscaped gardens and its myriad of stunning plants and flowers is a tranquil waterfall garden. Numerous peaceful pools offer 45-foot worth of waterfall cascading down the hillside. It’s one of the best waterfall experiences you’ll find in our urban jungle and provides immediate relaxation.
Situated in the Chicago Botanic Garden, visitors must pay the entry fee to enjoy this waterfall and the abundance of natural beauty that surrounds it. Entry for Cook County residents starts at $14.95 for adults and $12.95 for children ages 3-12 while children under 3 go free. Chicago Botanic Garden is open 7 days a week from 10 am to 7 pm. More information can be found at chicagobotanic.org.
Location: 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, Illinois
Anderson Japanese Gardens
Just off Rock River in the heart of Rockford are the sublime Anderson Japanese Gardens. Another botanical paradise home to an ethereal waterfall, the award-winning Anderson Japanese Gardens have been consistently named one of the highest quality Japanese Gardens in North America. A magical twelve-acre landscape of streams, waterfalls, winding pathways, and koi-filled ponds offer an abundance of area fit for adventure but the West Waterfall pictured above is the crowning jewel. More information can be found at andersongardens.org.
Location: 318 Spring Creek Road, Rockford, Illinois
Lake Katherine Waterfall
Another essential waterfall for any local waterfall bucket list is the manmade system of waterfalls at Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanic Gardens in Palos Heights. The Cook County Forest Preserve District has transformed the nature center into a vibrant natural paradise over the last couple of decades. Lake Katherine now consists of 158 acres including several miles of hiking trails, forested areas, prairies, an arboretum, a wetland restoration project, the Navajo Creek, the Calumet-Sag Canal, and a beautiful waterfall area that provides a calming natural retreat that is easily accessible to those in the south of Chicago.
Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanic Gardens is situated just south of the Cal-Sag Channel and just west of Harlem Avenue (Route 43). Directions from all parts of Chicago can be found here and a map of the area can be found here whilst more information about the nature center in general can be found at lakekatherine.org.
The Nature Center is open from 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays, 10 am to 4 pm on Saturdays, and is closed on Sundays and Holidays.
Location: 7402 W. Lake Katherine Drive, Palos Heights, Illinois
Rocky Glen Waterfall in Glenn Forest Preserve
Another peaceful waterfall can be found in Darien’s 2,500-acre Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. This area of gently rolling terrain is popular with hikers, horseback riders, fishing groups, and in the winter months cross-country skiers too. Named for several waterfalls on Sawmill Creek, the largest and most impressive in Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is Rocky Glen Falls, a natural dam located in a valley. At just half an hour outside of Chicago, Rocky Glen Waterfall offers an impressive and conveniently located natural retreat away from the hustle and bustle of Chicago.
The falls and quite small and manmade but it means you can wade through the shallow waters around the low waterfalls on a hot day or enjoy the peaceful sound of gently falling water from the abundance of open space alongside it. There are over 300 species of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles that live in the area.
Dupageforest.org writes “to reach the Rocky Glen waterfall parking lot, take Cass Avenue 1.5 miles south of Northgate Road to Bluff Road. Take Bluff Road 0.3 mile east to the lot.” The waterfall is about 1 mile from the Bluff Road entrance where you’ll find a map and signs pointing you towards “Rocky Glen Waterfall.” On weekdays you can also take the Metra-BNSF to Westmont and look for the Pace 715 Bus which will take you to Waterfall Glen.
Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is open seven days a week and opens one hour after sunrise and closes one hour after sunset. A map of the area can be found here.
Location: Close to Bluff Road between the towns of Darien and Lemont, Illinois
Blackhawk Waterfall in Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve
Located along the Fox River in South Elgin, the nearby Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve is home to an unnamed hidden 8-foot high waterfall. The waterfall is sometimes referred to as “Blackhawk Waterfall” after a wood-carved statue at the preserve’s entrance representing the Sauk leader Black Hawk and the namesake for the Black Hawk War of 1832.
The waterfall is by far the area’s biggest crowd-pleaser and for a long time remained the area’s best-kept secret. The falls are modest but cascade into a clear rippling creek and offer a quiet oasis in the middle of the suburbs fit for either romantic walks or adventures with kids. You can find the “Blackhawk Waterfall” near the intersection of McClean Boulevard and Route 31 and can be found by following the Riverbend Bike Trail south.
Location: 35W003 State Rte 31, South Elgin, Illinois
Waterfalls in Starved Rock State Park:
A little journey outside of Chicago, but still just a one-tank trip under 100 miles away is Starved Rock State Park. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, Starved Rock is an incredible spectacle offering over 13 miles of hiking trails, numerous cascading waterfalls, and 18 different canyons.
There are several different waterfalls to be seen here all of which are some of the most impressive in Illinois. Our picks of the bunch are Wildcat Canyon, St Louis Canyon Falls, and Tonti Canyon Falls.
Wildcat Canyon waterfall
One of the most amazing spectacles in Starved Rock State Park is found in the deepest canyon in the park – Wildcat Canyon. There, just 1 mile from the visitor center, you’ll find the largest and most impressive waterfall and canyon combination which consequently becomes a popular ice climbing spot in the winter months.
Tonti Canyon falls
Located 1.9 miles from the visitor center, Tonti Canyon gets a mention because it boasts not one but two waterfalls that combine to provide an astounding sight and a remarkable natural spot.
LaSalle Canyon falls
Located at the end of LaSalle Canyon Trail, LaSalle Canyon falls are 2 miles from the visitor center. These are most likely to have water flowing in the middle of summer but they also get a special mention because they offer visitors the opportunity to perch behind the falls and admire them from a perspective you don’t often get to see.
Note: French Canyon Falls, St Louis Canyon Falls, and Ottawa Canyon Falls are more beautiful waterfalls also situated in Starved Rock State Park.
Waterfalls in Matthiessen State Park:
A few miles from Starved Rock State Park also located in La Salle County lies Matthiesen State Park. It doesn’t receive nearly as much love as its better-looking neighbor but when it comes to waterfalls it more than holds its own. Here are our picks of the bunch:
When it peaks, one of the most impressive waterfalls in the state of Illinois is easily Matthiessen State Park’s Cascade Falls. A stream flows from Matthiessen Lake to the Vermilion River and along the way Lake Falls drops into a canyon. Here Matthiessen puts forward its own astounding natural spectacle to rival any others in Illinois. Water plummets down canyon walls overgrowing with ferns and moss offering a Jurassic Park-looking sight that does not disappoint.
Continuing downstream from Lake Falls, smaller waterfalls flow into a serene area by the name of the Giant’s Bathtub. Here wooden stairs and round stone steps lead along the stream bed allowing you to navigate around the area. Though the waterfalls themselves are a fraction of the size of Lake Falls, the spot is a wonderfully calm and picturesque part of Matthiessen State Park.
Separating the upper and lower dells in Matthiessen State Park, the 45-foot-tall Cascade Falls are a sight to behold but can be mercurial. In spring steady waterflow makes it a stunning spectacle but by July you’re far from guaranteed to see much more than a trickle. Regardless it is another astonishing natural escape and another of the best waterfalls in Illinois.
Waterfalls further away from Chicago:
If you’re underwhelmed by the waterfalls on offer in Chicagoland and are prepared to head out further afield there are some spectacular waterfalls in other parts of Illinois but they require a few hours of driving to the furthest parts of our state. Here are five of the most spectacular waterfalls in Illinois if you don’t mind the length of the journey:
Thunder Bay Falls in Galena
Heading up northwest, Galena is home to its cherished 225-acre Lake Galena. A spillway at one end creates a beautiful 40-foot waterfall called Thunder Bay Falls.
Jackson Falls in Shawnee National Forest
A popular natural retreat for many different groups, Jackson Falls in the Shawnee National Forest is a climbing and bouldering paradise as well as a frequented hiking and equestrian destination. A picturesque waterfall plunges into a calm pool below offering a celestial experience in a very scenic glen.
Bork Falls in Ferne Clyffe State Park
Ferne Clyffe State Park, part of the Illinois Ozarks, is home to another brilliant waterfall by the name of Bork Falls. We had to include this one because, unlike the others, the wider expanse and tranquil oasis beneath the falls allow those who dare the opportunity to swim beneath the cascading water. Ferne Clyffe State Park has plenty of limestone bluffs, cliff caves, and waterfalls to explore but it’s Bork Falls that is the most majestic of all the natural attractions found here.
[Featured image from Shutterstock]