Matthiessen State Park is just a few miles away from popular Starved Rock State Park and offers great trails and beautiful scenery for families looking to enjoy a hike and some time in nature. It’s one of my family’s favorite hiking destinations.
Many people don’t even know that Matthiessen State Park is near Starved Rock, which is a very popular destination for Chicagoans. Matthiessen State Park also has some stunning features, but it is usually far less crowded than Starved Rock.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Starved Rock State Park was closed by noon because it had reached capacity, but Matthiessen remained open. Signs on the highway indicated that closure, and I’m sad to think that some people turned around and headed home without knowing that Matthiessen was an available option just five minutes past Starved Rock.
Even if Starved Rock is open, Matthiessen is worth checking out as a great destination. Matthiessen isn’t nearly as large as Starved Rock, but it has some great features, including easy trails, waterfalls, and pretty amazing geologic formations, but without the crowds that are often found at Starved Rock.
Things to know before you go:
Location: Route 178, North Utica, IL 61373 (it’s about 4 miles south of the main entrance to Starved Rock)
Entrances: There are two entrances to the park, which take you to different trails.
The Dells entrance is my favorite. It offers some stunning geologic views of the canyon and a few waterfalls. A fort representative of the fortifications the French built in the Midwest during the early 1700’s is also there.
While this isn’t my first choice, it’s a good option on busy weekends.
(Both entrances were open on Memorial Day weekend but there wasn’t any parking in the Dells area so we moved on to the River entrance, which was much less crowded.) The trails there are good, but the scenery isn’t as breathtaking. There are no waterfalls and it’s more wooded and there aren’t cool rock formations. That said, we had driven an hour plus and didn’t want to just turn around and head home, so that hike was definitely better than nothing. But it didn’t provide the ooh’s and aah’s that the Dells trails do.
Trails: There are 5 miles of trails, and they are good and pretty easy.
Horses: Are welcome, and we saw a few on our hike there last week, which was a fun treat.
What doesn’t it have?
Unlike Starved Rock, there is no lodge, no cabins, and no restaurant at Matthiessen State Park. It is quite a bit smaller, with around 5 miles or so of trails, so less than Starved Rock. There are picnic areas and restrooms.
According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Frederick William Matthiessen was a prominent industrialist and philanthropist from LaSalle, Illinois. He bought the land near the end of the 19th century and operated it as a privately owned park for many years. 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.
Pro tip: Check the weather and the park closures page on the DNR website (Matthiessen is in the Northeastern Illinois section) prior to departure because the park can flood. It’s location next to a river makes that likely in the event of heavy rains. That said, we went one time when it was open after a big storm and while there were parts that were flooded, it was navigable, and pretty amazing to see. Just be sure to use your common sense.
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