Matthiessen State Park
Dells Area Trails


The Dells area of Matthiessen State Park is a joy to hike. There are beautiful waterfalls, tall sandstone bluffs, paths that tunnel through heavily wooded forest, and best of all, a trail that runs right along and often through the river that formed it all.

When I hiked this path with my son the water level was fairly high, and I needed to do a lot of rock hopping and log balancing to make it without getting my tennies wet. My son was much more wisely dressed in sandals and simply went wading.
The tactile joy of the water and finding ways through the ravine made this one of our favorite hikes, and the sheer beauty of the lower Dells will draw me back time and again.

From the intersection of Interstates 39 and 80 near Peru, Illinois, head east roughly 2 miles to IL-178.
Take IL-178 southbound 5.1 miles to N25th Rd, which is the entrance road to Matthiessen State Park.
Take a right and follow the park road 0.9 miles to the parking lot.
Coordinates for the hike: 41.2959010,-89.0258000
Parking / Trailhead amenities
The parking lot is paved, level, and has lots of room for cars. There is a restroom and some soda vending machines adjacent to the parking lot. There is a sign in the parking lot warning you not to leave valuables in your car.
Trail observations
The trailhead exits the parking lot across the road from the restroom.
The trail immediately starts descending a flight of wooden stairs. Follow this till you reach an intersection where you can follow a trail to the right. You will follow this trail along an arm of the Dells, then cut back through the woods till you reach a waterfall.
Soon after the waterfall you will descend into the upper dells via another wooden stairway. Traversing the upper dells requires some creative footwork, at least when the water is high, because the path crosses the river a couple of times.
The upper dells extends from the base of a waterfall to the top of a second. You'll leave the upper dells via wooden staircase. Be sure to take in the view of the lower dells from the bridge over the second waterfall.
From the second waterfall you will follow the edge of the lower dells until you come to a gradually descending boardwalk which leads to a bridge that crosses the lower dells. At the edge of the bridge is a squared-off spiral cement staircase that gives you access to the lower dells.
Follow the trail through the dells to the waterfall, then return, climb the spiral stairs, and follow the trail back to your car.
Trail statistics
The trail is 3.49 miles long. The sum of all the uphill climbs is 235 feet.
Trail waypoints
0.03 miParkingParking lot
0.06 miTrailhead Trailhead
0.10 miGo down stairsHead down the stairs (mapboard, trail brochure)
0.15 miGo rightTake a right at bottom of stairs - yellow dot trail
0.52 miStay leftStay left to go straight (Bench)
0.70 miTee - go leftTee - go left
0.84 miSidewalkPath turns to sidewalk - bench
1.14 miCross bridgeIntersection - go straight and cross bridge over waterfall
1.22 miGo left and downBranch - go left and down
1.26 miLeft down stairsGo left and down the wooden stairs into the dell
1.29 miCrossthe riverCross the river on the cement stepping stones
1.64 miRight at bottomClimb then descend stairs, head right towards Cedar Falls at the bottom
2.02 miGo up the stairsClimb out of the gorge via the wooden stairway
2.07 miHead left on trailAt the top of the stairs, go left on the main trail
2.07 miStay rightStay right on the trail - go past the bridge
2.30 miLeft to boardwalkBranch left onto the descending wooden boardwalk
2.40 miLeft into gorgeAt the end of the bridge, go left down into the gorge
2.68 miLower dells fallsAt the falls, retrace path to the top of the stairs, then continue left
3.28 miStay leftBranch - stay left
3.34 miHead up stairsTake a right and head up the stairs to the parking lot
3.49 miEnd of trailEnd of trail
Trail map - Dells Area Trails
Altitude chart - Dells Area Trails Trailheadopts.6.0 Junctionopts.8.0 Waypointopts.12.0 Waypointopts.15.0 Waypointopts.18.0 Waypointopts.19.0 Junctionopts.20.0 Junctionopts.22.0 Junctionopts.25.0 Junctionopts.26.0 Junctionopts.27.0 Junctionrecord.27.0 TrailTypeopts.29.0 TrailTyperecord.30.0 Junctionopts.31.0 Junctionopts.34.0 Junctionopts.35.0 Junctionopts.36.0 Waypointrecord.39.0 Junctionopts.40.0 Junctionopts.42.0 Junctionrecord.42.0 End of trail
Difficulty: Easy
Terrain : Flat
Terrain : Streambed
Trail surface: Dirt
Trail surface: Gravel
Trail surface: Paved
Trail surface: Rock
Trail surface: Stairs
Type: Loop
View: Enclosed
View: Open
View: Wooded
County: Bureau
State: Illinois
Country: United States of America
Illinois DNR site
Wikipedia article
Printable trail map in PDF format (50 Mb download)
Printable trail map in PNG format (5 Mb download)
Waypoints in CSV format
Waypoints in KML format
Instructions on using a trail description page
Instructions on using a trail map printout
Trails in the surrounding area
Area map for Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin (1 additional trail)
Area map for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin (1 additional trail)
Area map for Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri (No additional trails)
Area map for Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan (No additional trails)