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waterfall at Matthiessen State Park

Majestic canyons, rock formations, waterfalls, streams, prairie lands, and a hardwood forest of oak, hickory and maple trees surround Matthiessen State Park, just 60 miles west of Aurora. Guests love to visit this serene area to hike, fish, horseback ride, picnic, and bird watch.

This picturesque Illinois state park lies just down the road from Starved Rock State Park, a public recreational area with trails, picnic areas, and a large family campground surrounded by forested wilderness and steep sandstone canyons. Both parks may be accessed via State route 178.


Matthiessen State Park is a great place to visit for a few hours or a few days.

A couple unique features here include a restored French fort that dates back to the late 1600s and early 1700s, a field archery range, and a radio controlled model airplane field.

The park also has 2 picnic areas with tables, grills, drinking water, restrooms, and a playground to help make your visit more comfortable.

And for guests who wish to spend the night, Matthiessen State Park offers equestrian campsites while nearby Starved Rock State Park offers a large family campground with modern amenities for tents, RVs, and trailers.

Here are some of the activities that you can do during your visit to Matthiessen State Park:

Hiking at Matthiessen State Park

Matthiessen State Park has 5 miles of hiking trails that wind throughout the surrounding woodlands and prairies.

Trails pass by picturesque streams, majestic rock formations and along the bluffs and steep cliffs that circle the deep canyons.

The trails range from easy to strenuous offering something for everyone. Remember to wear comfy shoes and stay on marked trails for your safety.

Here are some of the trails at Matthiessen State Park:

  • Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail – A moderate 2 mile trail that leads into the canyons and provides spectacular views.

    This trail contains a series of stairs that may be more difficult for some guests.

  • Dells Area to Vermillion River Area Loop – Moderate 6.1 mile trail through the surrounding forest, wildflower fields, and across a bridge that leads out to two waterfalls.

a bridge at Matthiessen State Park covered in fall leaves

Horseback Riding at Matthiessen State Park

More than 9 miles of multi-use trails lie within Matthiessen State Park. These trails are ideal for horseback riding (and mountain biking). Trails are open May 1 through October 31 and are located near the equestrian camping area inside the park. Horses (and mountain bikes) are not allowed on any other trails throughout the park.

Cross Country Skiing at Matthiessen State Park

Visiting during the winter? Matthiessen State Park features 6 miles of cross country ski trails for guests to enjoy between December and March. Ski rentals are also available, on weekends only. For more information and to check on snow conditions inside the park, contact the Do It To It Ski Shop (815-343-7125).

Fishing at Matthiessen State Park

Bring your angling gear as you canoe, kayak, or raft along the river inside Matthiessen State Park. You’ll be sure to discover a few spots to stop and drop a line in. Vermillion River’s rocky shorelines, slack pools, deep holes, and overhanging trees create ideal conditions for fly fishing.

If you’d rather wade in, park at the Dells Area and walk along the trail until you reach the river. From here you can wade upstream or down to catch catfish, bluefish, smallmouth bass, sunfish, walleye, bullhead, and crappie. Don’t forget to pick up an Illinois Fishing license ahead of time.

Birding at Matthiessen State Park

Grab your binoculars! You may see a Bald Eagle, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Scarlet Tanager, Brown Creeper, Louisiana Waterthrush, Tufted Titmouse, Canada Goose, White-breasted Nuthatch, or a Black-capped Chickadee while exploring the trails inside Matthiessen State Park.

Nature and Wildlife at Matthiessen State Park

Picturesque Matthiessen State Park is surrounded by a hardwood forest of oak, hickory and maple trees and prairie grasslands (full of colorful wildflowers in the spring). Throughout this serene park guests may see many birds, insects, reptiles, and mammals. Several to watch for are white-tailed deer, squirrels, foxes, raccoons, opossum, and coyotes.


Pets are allowed at Matthiessen State Park. Pets must be supervised and kept on a leash that is no longer than 6 feet.

The Vermilion River at Matthiessen State Park


Matthiessen State Park has overnight accommodations for guests traveling with their horses. These 14 equestrian campsites are first come first serve and are open yearly between May 1 and October 31. Each site has a picnic table and a grill. Restrooms, water, a mounting station, and access to the equestrian trails are located nearby.

Guests interested in camping must complete a registration envelope at the campground and pay $8.00 for each night that you will be staying. For more information contact the park at (815) 667-4726.

Camping Near Matthiessen State Park

While Matthiessen State Park may only offer equestrian campsites, nearby Starved Rock State Park has a large family campground and lots of amenities for a comfortable overnight stay. This beautiful state park, located at 2678 E 875th Road, lies within a natural wilderness area surrounded by steep sandstone canyons, waterfalls, river, and forest.

Park Location

Matthiessen State Park
2500 IL-178
Oglesby, IL 61348
Phone: 815.667.4868

Park Website



Here is a short YouTube video with some drone footage of Matthiessen State Park: