prairie and forest combine to delight visitors at Matthiessen State
Park. Located in central LaSalle County, approximately 4 miles
south of Utica and 3 miles east of Oglesby, Matthiessen is a
paradise for those interested in geology as well as recreation.
Visitors can expect to see beautiful rock formations in addition
to unusual and abundant vegetation and wildlife. All of this, along
with park and picnic facilities, make Matthiessen State Park a popular
choice for a special outing.
State Park was named for Frederick William Matthiessen, a prominent
industrialist and philanthropist from LaSalle. He originally purchased
the land near the end of the 19th century and operated it as a
privately owned park for many years. Mr. Matthiessen employed about
50 people to construct trails, bridges, stairways and check dams.
The area was originally referred to as Deer Park, in
reference to the large deer population. The original 176-acre park
consisted primarily of a long, narrow canyon with a small stream
flowing through it. At that time these formations were called dells,
a name that has stayed with the park. After Matthiessens death,
the park was donated to the state of Illinois, which opened it as
a public park. In 1943, the state renamed the park in honor of Matthiessen.
Since then, the park has grown to 1,938 acres and includes much
of the significant natural areas along the main dell, some former
prairie land, and some forest land south of the original park.
The many unusual
and beautiful rock formations make a trip to Matthiessen State Park
an educational as well as a fun experience. Exposed sandstone can
be seen throughout. The main canyon, consisting of the Upper and
Lower Dells, provides an unusual and interesting walking tour. The
Upper Dell begins at Deer Park Lake and continues to Cascade Falls,
where the canyon drops 45 feet and the Lower Dell begins. The canyon,
formed by water erosion, is approximately 1 mile long, from Deer
Park Lake to the Vermilion River. Visitors may observe ground water
seeping out along the sandstone of the canyon walls. Minerals carried
in solution in the ground water contribute to the beautiful coloring of
Several mineral springs, with the park were popular salt lick spots for the large
delight at the abundance of plant and animal life. The park is alive
with common and uncommon species of flora and fauna. The canyon
provides a perfect habitat for many mosses and liverworts which
thrive on the damp, shady walls. Ferns also grow in the rich soil.
Other vegetation in the canyon interior is limited to the simpler
or lower orders of plant life, because most plants cannot root
on the steep rock walls. Cliff swallows and rock doves may be seen
perching on the canyon walls, while frogs, toads and salamanders
seek out the cool, moist canyon floors.
Along the dry,
sandy bluff tops near the canyon edge, black oak, red cedar and
white oak grow in abundance. White pines and white cedar also
are found here, carried south by the glaciers of long ago. Shrubs common
to this area include serviceberry and northern honeysuckle. Scarlet
tanagers and cedar waxwings can be seen feeding on the berries of
these shrubs. Holes made by yellow-bellied sapsuckers can be found
on the cedar trees, as these birds feed on the sap and small insects
located there. In the spring, beautiful magenta-colored blossoms
erupt on the shooting star plants and the bright orange of the columbine
delights the eye. By summertime, a rainbow of color emerges with
the yellow partridge pea, violet spiked lead plants and purple
square-stemmed mint plants.
from the bluffs, bur oak and hickory grow. At the foot of these
trees grow American witch hazel, black huckleberry and bracken fern.
Nuthatches and chickadees can be seen feeding on the nuts, seeds
and insects here.
pastel-colored hepatica and delicate pink spring beauties blossom
in the shaded forest soil during the spring. In the area where the
sun breaks through the trees, black-eyed Susans and pink, spiked
tick-trefoils bloom through the summer. Raccoons and flying squirrels
spend hours among the trees searching for and gathering berries
Along the forest
edges, bright blue indigo buntings fly among the wild crabapple
and plum trees. Cottontail rabbits scamper through the bluestem
and Indian grasses. Red-tailed hawks soar overhead searching for
field mice. Three-leaved poison ivy plants are found in all areas
of the park, growing both as a vine and as an individual woody plant.
Its greenish-white berries are a prime source of food for many
The Dells Area
of the park provides a perfect setting for picnics and an afternoon
of relaxation. This area has picnic tables, water fountains and
playground equipment, as well as a large parking lot and toilet
facilities. An added attraction is the restored fort representative
of the fortifications the French built in the Midwest during the
1600s and early 1700s. The main trail to the Cascade Falls area
originates in this area.
To the south,
at the Vermilion River Area, additional picnic shelters, picnic
tables, grills and drinking fountains provide convenient picnic
Alcohol is prohibited
Jan. 1 through May 31 in the picnic area.
The park has 5 miles of well-marked, well-surfaced hiking trails for a relaxing walk or a vigorous hike. Large trail maps are located at all major trail intersections so visitors can choose a variety of routes. The upper area and bluff tops are easy hiking paths for the novice, but the trails into the interiors of the two dells may be difficult to negotiate, particularly during spring and early summer. Hikers must stay on marked trails, as steep cliffs and deep canyons can be dangerous. Hikers will marvel at the plant and animal life along the trails, and have an unparalleled view of geological wonders as they travel through the park. Alcohol is prohibited on all trails.
Cross Country Skiing
There are 6 miles of cross-country ski trails with ski rental available weekends from December through March. Alcohol is prohibited on all trails. Call (815) 667-4726 to check conditions and status before coming to use these facilities.
Horseback Riding/Equestrian Camping/Mountain Bikes
The park provides 9 miles of multi-use mountain bike/ horseback riding trails for those who own their own horse or mountain bike. The trails are color coded and marked with the yield order triangle which symbolizes that all users yield to horse riders. (see the map here) Alcohol is prohibited on all trails.
An equestrian campground for horseback riders and their horses is located west of Route 178 between Route 71 and the Dells Area entrance. Alcohol is prohibited in all campgrounds.
The horseback riders camping and multi-use trails are open from April 15th (weather permitting-determined by park staff) to October 31st. Call 815-667-4726 to check conditions and status before coming to use these facilities.
Mountain bikes and horses are prohibited on all other trails throughout Matthiessen State Park and Starved Rock State Park.
A field archery
range with a sight-in area and four separate targets is located
in the northwestern portion of Matthiessen State Park near Deer
Park Country Club just off Illinois Route 71.
model airplane field is located at the Vermilion River Area.
Hobbyists and visitors will enjoy flying or watching as these crafts
are maneuvered around this open field area.
- PLEASE NOTE! It is a state offense to remove any archaeological or Native American
material from any Illinois state park.
- No camping,
rappelling, or rock or ice climbing are allowed.
- Hike only
the marked trails. Unmarked areas are dangerous.
Numerous people have been seriously injured or killed in this
park. Be off the trails by dark.
- All pets
must be on a leash.
- In case of
an accident, notify the Park Business Office, 815-667-4868,
or Starved Rock Park Office, 667-4726. After 4 p.m., notify
the State Police, 815-224-1150.
Off of Interstate 80 take Exit 81, Rt. 178 to Utica, IL then five
miles south on Rt 178.