With the weather finally getting nice, we decided to head out to the park that started it all, Matthiessen State Park. While Steph had visited in 2020 with another friend, the only time I had visited was that very first girl’s trip in 2019, so we were both looking forward to visiting again. Being only a short distance away from Starved Rock, Matthiessen is often overshadowed by the more famous park. Despite that, both of us agree that it is still worth a visit.
The park was originally owned by Frederick William Matthiessen, a philanthropist who hired people to build the trails and dams that are still there today. After his death, the land was donated to the state, and renamed in his honor.
The park today is just under 2,000 acres, with trails that go through prairie, forest, and down into sandstone canyons. At the time that Mr. Matthiessen owned the property, the canyons were known as dells, and they are still called that today. Starting from Deer Lake, water flows down into the Upper and Lower dells, before eventually ending up in the Vermillion River.
We started our day by parking by the log Fort, and heading down the steps to get to the Bluff trail, a 2.2 mile trail that loops around the tops of the canyons, with a few bridges that allow you to get from one side to the other without going down.
There are also staircases that head to the bottom of the dells, so you can see the bottom of the waterfalls. However, the day we went, all of these routes were closed due to heavy rains on top of the excess water from melting snow. Still, we managed to find some alternate views of the falls. Standing directly above them is so unique that I would come here just to see that.
It is worth noting that the day we went was the very first nice day of the year. There were not yet leaves or grass, but we were just so excited to finally get outside at all. All we saw were a few flowers here and there, showing that spring was right around the corner. Usually the area is very good forest walk, and I have no doubt that we’ll go back again to see everything Matthiessen has to offer.
We finished up our day by heading to Star Union Spirits in Peru, IL. We go to a lot of breweries and wineries that are in buildings that used to be other things, but the history behind Star Union Spirits is a whole other level. The building itself used to be a clock factory in the 1800s. The distillery was named for a distillery of the same name that was also in the area in the 1800s, and operated for over 100 years before going out of business in 1966. Today, the influence of all that history is evident in both the spirits and the cocktails, and we would recommend giving them a try.
In conclusion, we would absolutely recommend checking out Matthiessen, especially once the trails down into the dells are open. Though we didn’t get to see them this trip, the waterfalls are really great to see from below. Aside from this, the worst thing about the park is that it can get crowded on really nice days, but it’s not as bad as some other parks. In fact, this park was originally recommended to us because it was not as crowded as Starved Rock while still having the canyons and waterfalls.