Recntly, we were craving and adventure, so we hopped into the car and headed to Matthiessen State Park. Mom was at work, and we guys were feeling the need to get out of the house, and do some exploring. Charlie, our female chocolate lab mix, came along with us, but she pretty much thinks she is one of us guys anyway. We really enjoyed hiking the trails at Matthiessen State Park, and it ended up being a fun, muddy, wet day, for all of us!
Matthiessen is a gorgeous Illinois State Park, between Utica and Oglesby, in LaSalle County, Illinois. It started out as a private park of about 175 acres, owned by LaSalle industrialist Frederick William Mathiessen, name Deer Park. After his death, the park was donated to the state, and since 1943 has expanded to include over 1900 acres.
Matthiessen State Park Necessary Information
Matthiessen is often overshadowed by big sister park, Starved Rock, which is within a few miles. It does not have the reputation of Starved Rock, or all of the amenities, so it receives far fewer visitors. There is no lodging or camping available, nor is there a nature center or museum. While that may be a downside for some people, it was great for us. We were looking for a quieter adventure without so much traffic.
For the overview, Matthiessen is basically separated into two sections that used to be called the Upper Dells and Lower Dells. Now they are more commonly called the Upper Dells, and the Vermillion River area. The upper Dells entry area has picnic shelters, public facilities, a play ground, and a restored french outpost fort, representative of those built in the late 1600s. The Vermillion entrance has additional picnic shelters, tables and grills. Entrance for all the regular activities is free.
There are 5 miles of hiking trails throughout the park, which are well marked. They are also well surfaced, rendering them fairly accessible to people of a variety of different ability levels and ages. There are some challenges though, some areas would not be accessible with a stroller, or a wheelchair.
Matthiessen State Park is amazingly beautiful, with hiking trails that descend into gorges and traverse through canyons, and skirt along creeks and a lake.
Millions of years of erosion have carved through the land, leaving behind the sandstone cliffs, with their stunning display of geology, the canyons, and one more feature special to Matthiessen- several beautiful waterfalls, plunging into shallow pools that are cool and refreshing on a hot summer day.
Be prepared to get your shoes muddy if you plan to really plan to explore Matthiessen.
Be prepared to get wet, at least if it is a hot day, and you really need some refreshment, like Charlie.
Expect to crawl under some overhangs and climb over some fallen trees.
Best of all, most of the time, be prepared to explore on your own.
Other Matthiessen Options
There are a couple out of the norm activities available, such as the multi-purpose trails. These trails are not for hiking. There are nine miles of trails for horseback riding, and trail biking, and an additional 6 miles of trails for cross-country skiing in winter. There are both horse and ski rentals available.
There is also an archery field available in the northwest portion of the park, and a radio-controlled airplane field is available at the Vermillion entrance. We didn't try out any of those things, because we have our budget. But we had an awesome day!
To get to Matthiessen State Park, use Interstate 39, which runs north to south through the center of Illinois. Matthiessen is a couple miles south of the Illinois River, and there are plenty of signs to lead you from the Interstate to the parking area of the State Park.
Contributed by Doug Pusey
We took another handful of great pictures on our adventure. If you would like to see our complete gallery, click the link below!
For more detailed information on Matthiessen, see the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website at:
Mattheissen also has the following Facebook page: Matthiessen Facebook Page