Illinois may be known for its corn fields and urban sprawl but the state is also home to a number of top-tier waterfalls. These natural wonders can offer a breath of fresh air for those seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Located in rugged glens and surrounded by impressive rock formations, these waterfalls are not to be missed. So grab your hiking boots and let's explore the best of Illinois's natural beauty.
Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is one of the most ecologically diverse forest preserves in DuPage County. It contains 740 native plant species and is home to a wide variety of animals and birds year-round or during migrations.
The forest preserve also offers a 9.5-mile gravel trail system that winds through the gently rolling terrain and includes educational signage along the way. It is one of the best hiking experiences near Chicago and features Rocky Glen Waterfall (pictured above) and Sawmill Creek bluff overlook.
It's also a great place to take the family for a picnic. A shelter near the Des Plaines River scenic overlook is a good spot to have a meal.
Often referred to as the state’s “waterfall capital,” Bulge Hole is a natural wonder that combines unique rock formations and a variety of waterfalls. There are 2 main falls that can range from 6 feet to 25 feet, and dozens more appear after heavy rains.
This area is great for adventurous explorers who want to get off the beaten path and experience something different. It’s also a popular spot for photographers, so be prepared for the crowds!
The hike to this waterfall is a bit difficult, but well worth it. The views are incredible and there are plenty of other smaller waterfalls to explore along the way.
Elk Creek Falls is a cascade of three waterfalls that drop over ancient lava walls. The original hunting community at Elk River was built around the falls and today they are a popular spot to hike, swim or picnic.
In May, when I last visited Elk Creek Falls, the Middle and Upper falls were awash in rushing water. There are a couple of short spur trails off the main trail, Trail #742, that take you to a viewpoint for each.
While in the area, be sure to stop at Perkins Cedar Grove to see Idaho’s largest tree, a giant western red cedar with a trunk 18 feet in diameter and 177 feet tall.
After that, jump off the Elk River Falls to catch some exercise – but be careful! Despite the beauty of this location, there have been many accidents and serious injuries. After an incident last year, emergency services have been working to educate people about the dangers of jumping off the falls.
Galena is a charming river town that hugs the banks of the beautiful Galena River. Its historic downtown Main Street is the perfect place to shop, dine and enjoy a wide range of fun activities.
It’s also a popular destination for fall foliage. You can hike the Horseshoe Mound Preserve, bike a portion of the Galena River Trail or go whitewater rafting on the Mississippi River.
Located off the beaten path, Galena Falls is a pretty waterfall that can be found near the shores of Lake Galena. The falls are spring-fed and flow year-round, however, the water level can increase after a heavy rain or during the melting season.
While in the area, be sure to visit one of Galena’s many fine wineries. Fergedaboudit Vineyard & Winery offers live music all throughout autumn and Rocky Waters Vineyard & Winery has a stunning deck that looks out over the stunning fall colors.