Shawnee National Forest
that are a Must See
Shawnee National Forest waterfalls are some of the best waterfalls in the Midwest. The ancient oceans that once reached the southern tip of what we now call Illinois left behind amazing bluffs and canyons that are like no other throughout the state. Because of this, many Shawnee National Forest waterfalls exist. There are many Shawnee National Forest waterfalls out there and too many to list on one article. Maybe an article series on all the waterfalls of the Shawnee could become possible if this article gets a lot of attention (so be sure to share it). However, I at least want to list my top 10 Shawnee National Forest waterfalls that I feel you must see at least once.
Shawnee National Forest Waterfalls Safety Information:
Before we dive into these top 10 Shawnee National Forest waterfalls, it is important that we understand the safety aspects of waterfall chasing. Chasing waterfalls can be extremely dangerous if not done with caution. Any rock that is wet will be slick and any rock that is green and wet will be as slick as ice. It is important for you to know that people have been seriously injured and have even died as a result from falling while chasing waterfalls. Please don’t become one of these statistics! Use extreme caution especially around the top edges as this is where most people fall and lose their lives in the process. Always watch your step and always put safety first. Leave the Shawnee with good memories, not bad injuries. For more Shawnee National Forest safety information, see my Safety Guide.
Shawnee National Forest Waterfalls #1:
Burden Falls is one of the best waterfall locations in the Shawnee National Forest. Burden Falls is said to be the tallest waterfall in southern Illinois on public land. This waterfall has multiple levels of falls and features several smaller falls on top and the largest one and the lowest of the top. A lot of accidents occur here so it is more important that ever to use extra precaution at Burden Falls. A safety cable has been into place to keep visitors from entering the danger area. Please respect this restriction. This waterfall is heavily dependent on rainfall.
Check out my full guide for Burden Falls Wilderness for directions, more information and more photos and video. This trail is rugged, but the top waterfalls can be seen from the parking lot making it an easier area for those with disabilities. The main waterfall is harder to see and requires climbing down rocks and using trails.
Shawnee National Forest Waterfalls #2:
Big Rocky Hollow
Big Rocky Hollow is also known as the main waterfall within Ferne Clyffe State Park. This is the tallest and most popular waterfall in the park. When very active, there are several other Shawnee National Forest waterfalls around the main waterfall. A cave shelter sits directly behind the waterfall. The state park has asked that visitors do not take user made trails to the top of the waterfall. This is because it not only harms the ecology of the area, but people have become seriously injured and have died as a result of falling from the top of this particular waterfall. Because of that, you should use extra precaution when visiting. This waterfall is only active after a good amount of rainfall or during a wet season.
Check out my full guide on Ferne Clyffe State Park to get directions to the park and to this trail. The trail is short and handicap people should be able to get to a point where they could at least see the main waterfall. A few inches to a foot of water could be running over the trail in a few places on very wet days. For the most part, this trail is easy to hike.
Shawnee National Forest Waterfalls #3:
Natural Bridge Waterfall
Natural Bridge Waterfall is located on the Yellow Trail at Bell Smith Springs. This area features the largest natural bridge in southern Illinois with a waterfall shooting through it. There are a few ways to get to the top including a ladder built into the rock and a longer trail that climbs up to the top. Please use caution and know that the ladder was put into the rock in the 1940s. When wet or icy, the ladder is like climbing on ice. The waterfall portion of this area heavily depends on rainfall. However, even when dry, seeing the natural bridge for the first time is highly worth it.
Check out my full guide for Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area for more information, directions, information about this trail, and more. This trail is moderately rugged and will require creek crossing. If very wet, you will likely have to get wet. This is in no way friendly for handicap persons.
Shawnee National Forest Waterfalls #4:
Jackson Falls is another very popular waterfall in the Shawnee National Forest. There are several Shawnee National Forest waterfalls in this particular area, but the main waterfall is what most people are going for. This area is popular to a lot of different trail users including waterfall chasers, hikers, backpackers, climbers, and horseback riders as well as camping folks. For climbing, this area is a designated climbing area and is visited by rock climbers and boulderers from all over the world. The waterfall is usually running all the time but when dry will only be trickling. During wetter seasons or after a lot of rainfall, the waterfalls are usually the best.
Check out my guide for Jackson Falls to get more information about the area, directions, and photos/video of the waterfalls. The trail to the bottom of the falls is rugged. Handicap folks with the assistance of others could most likely reach the top of the main falls to see it running.
Shawnee National Forest Waterfalls #5:
Bork Falls is also known as Hippie Hollow. This waterfall is located in a remote section of Ferne Clyffe State Park. The section isn’t even attached to the main park. This waterfall is right next to the road making it easy to see without really having to do much hiking. The creek that feeds it also crosses the road but has a rock surface making the road safe to cross while driving with caution. The bottom portion of the waterfall features a very nice cave shelter and many boulders. It is a very short hike to get to the bottom. This waterfall requires a wet season or previous large amounts of rain for best viewing.
Check out my guide for Ferne Clyffe State Park to read more information, find directions to this waterfall, and other important information. This waterfall is easy to see from the top but a little moderately rugged to get to the bottom even though the trail is short. Handicap persons should be able to have a good view at the top.
Shawnee National Forest Waterfalls #6:
Stonefort Cascade is located on the Stonefort Trail at Giant City State Park. This cascade starts from a creek at the very top of the trail and runs down the bottom of the trail. The trail that goes parallel of the waterfall is short but requires a good hill climb. However, the trail is worth it because for such a short hike, you get to see a lot. You get to see the waterfall of course but also nice scenic overlooks and of course a reconstructed ancient Native American wall called a Stonefort. Please note that digging in this area is illegal. The waterfall depends on good rainfall amounts and is quick to dry up as the park’s drainage system is superb.
Check out my guide for Giant City State Park for more information about this trail, how to get to it, and other information about the park in general. Seeing this waterfall from the bottom can by done by all visitors including those with disabilities. The trail itself is not handicap-friendly.
Shawnee National Forest Waterfalls #7:
Easter Basket Falls
Easter Basket Falls is a much harder waterfall to get to. This is located in the Cedar Creek area popularly dubbed as Cedar Wonders. This is one of the better waterfalls in this area, but the hike also includes several other nice Shawnee National Forest waterfalls worth seeing. Not too far from Easter Basket Waterfall is Easter Basket Arch, probably one of the smallest natural arches you will ever see in a National Forest. Like with most waterfalls in southern Illinois and the Shawnee National Forest, this waterfall heavily depends on a wet season or a lot of rainfall in the area.
Check out my free guide for Cedar Creek Wonders for more information on the area, directions, and photos/videos of the waterfalls there. This hike is longer and rugged with rolling hills, rocky terrains on the trails, creek crossings, and shared with horseback riders. No parts of this trail are handicap friendly.
Shawnee National Forest Waterfalls #8:
Rocky Bluff has a unique waterfall that I’ve never seen in person at its best. But I’ve seen many photos and videos of it roaring. I recommend it because it is a nice altogether. We enjoyed Rocky Bluff Trail and Wild Turkey Trail combined. The waterfalls are close to the start of the trail as well, so you don’t have to do a lot of hiking to get to them. These falls are very dependent on rainfall like most other Shawnee National Forest waterfalls. This trail is located on Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge land, so you are required to have a vehicle sticker if you visit.
Check out my guide for the Rocky Bluff and Wild Turkey Trail System for directions to these trails, information about the waterfalls, and media showing the area. The trail can be moderately rugged and slick in many places. The trail isn’t exactly handicap friendly but with assistance, some disabled visitors may be able to witness the waterfalls from the top.
Shawnee National Forest Waterfalls #9:
Little Grand Canyon
Little Grand Canyon is one of the most scenic of the Shawnee National Forest waterfalls out there. The waterfall cascade is the trail itself. You have to go down a waterfall cascade to reach the bottom of the loop and go back up another waterfall cascade to reach the top of the loop. When wet, this area can be dangerous, and people have got serious injured here. Please use caution when visiting this area. Even though rain is needed to see the waterfalls active, the trail usually stays wet through most of the year. Do note that during flood season, the canyon will be unreachable due to the Big Muddy River next to it flooding over.
Check out my free guide for Little Grand Canyon for directions to this trail, information about the trail, and other stuff to do in this area. This trail is considered difficult with steep rolling hills, very slick trail surfaces, and tough terrains. During the summer, this area is quite infested with mosquitoes and biting flies. This trail is not handicap friendly.
Shawnee National Forest Waterfalls #10:
Kinkaid Spillway is a very unique waterfall system. For the most part, unless there is a drought, it is always running in some form or fashion. There is a trail that starts on the bottom and goes to the top of the waterfall. The trail is very easy to drive to. There are no alcoholic beverages allowed at the area and we observed heavy patrol by Illinois State Police (Thank you Troopers for keeping this area safe!). This used to be a heavy party spot at one time and partygoers did a lot of damage and often left their trash behind – it is nice to see the state act against those who harm nature. When very wet, this area is usually at its best.
Check out this nice article about the spillway waterfall. The trail is easy to observe from the bottom but becomes difficult and slick if you climb up the cascade. Handicap visitors should have no issues enjoying this waterfall from the bottom.
And there you have it, my top 10 Shawnee National Forest waterfalls. I hope this article is helpful for those of you who want to visit the area. While visiting these waterfalls, remember to stop by our many local communities to experience unique shopping, dining, lodging, and sightseeing from our Mom and Pop businesses. They rely on your service and they help make the Shawnee National Forest and southern Illinois the best place to visit. If you’d like to see more waterfall-related articles, please make sure you share this one especially on social media.
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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
Founder, Hiking with Shawn
Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. I hope you enjoy my website and I encourage you to interact with me!