Top 5 Southern Illinois

Waterfall Destinations

Indian Kitchen. Photo Courtesy of Hiking with Shawn

The Top 5 Southern Illinois Waterfall Destinations that I have mentioned below are destinations that will simply blow your mind. These hand picked Southern Illinois Waterfall Destinations are areas that I patiently await to visit each and every time that I get the chance to visit Southern Illinois waterfall sites. Please note that these Southern Illinois Waterfall sites are best when there has been a lot of rain in the area.

Southern Illinois

Waterfall Safety

Southern Illinois Waterfall areas are spectacular scenes to witness first hand. However, due to wet and slippery conditions, these sites are often extremely dangerous and have resulted in serious injuries and even deaths. Please visit these sites at your own risk while using extreme caution. The information below is provided as safety tips for enjoying these areas.


This article depicting Southern Illinois Waterfall areas was created and published for entertainment purposes only. This article does not suggest that you visit these areas nor does it advocate doing dangerous activities within Southern Illinois Waterfall areas. By using this website for entertainment and informational purposes, you agree that Hiking with Shawn, LLC, its employees, its agents and its associates cannot be held liable for injuries, fatalities and/or damages that could occur from visiting the Southern Illinois Waterfall sites mentioned below. As a word of caution, if visiting these sites, please use extreme caution and never do irresponsible activities that risk your safety and health.


More of the calculated serious and injuries and deaths within southern Illinois and the Shawnee National Forest have resulted from activities that have involved falling from lengthily heights. In many cases, these dangerous areas have been directly located at Southern Illinois Waterfall sites within state natural areas and the national forest. Using common sense and the simple safety tips below can help decrease the risk of visiting these sites. Please always put safety before pleasure when visiting areas like these. Leave these areas with memories, not injuries.

  1. When approaching a waterfall site, the base of the fall is honestly the most scenic and photographic location of the waterfall. This is seeing it from the bottom. Getting close to the edge of the top of the waterfall greatly increases your risk of falling. Many falls from the tops of waterfalls in this area has resulted in death.
  2. In all cases, the rocky conditions around these Southern Illinois Waterfall sites are extremely slippery. Even if moving slow and being careful, slipping on these rocks is likely going to occur if you plan to travel on to them. In some cases, even traction bands placed on your footwear are not enough to prevent a slip or fall.
  3. Areas around Southern Illinois Waterfall sites are often under water. It only take a few inches of rapidly moving water to knock you off your feet and carry you towards the drop of the waterfall. Please avoid getting into these areas. Pools created by larger waterfalls are often deep enough to result in drowning accidents.
  4. Before conducting dangerous activities around these Southern Illinois Waterfall sites, ask yourself if it is worth getting serious injured or potentially dying. Ask yourself if those who have been seriously injured or those who have sadly died from their fall imagined that they too would be hurt from doing these activities. Is it worth the risk?
  5. Please tell a family member or a close friend what Southern Illinois Waterfall site you plan to visit before you go. Doing this will allow rescue services to reach you must quicker if you are found not to have returned home. Note that cell phone coverage is often very spotty in these areas and the time it takes for emergency personnel to get to you and extract you can likely be many hours away.

The only way to truly be safe is to practice safe principles when visiting areas like these. You are essentially a role model to other visitors in these areas and if they see you performing dangerous acts, they may attempt to mimic these acts on their own and essentially place themselves in extreme danger in the process.

Southern Illinois Waterfall #1

Jackson Falls

Jackson Falls in the Shawnee National Forest isn’t just one of the most visited climbing destinations in the Midwestern United States, it is also one of the best spots to find some of the best Southern Illinois Waterfall sites south of Highway 13. 

Jackson Falls is an area that gets a lot of rock climbers due to the amount of high cliffs and bluffs within the canyon area. This is also a place in the Shawnee National Forest where it is perfectly legal to rock climb. There are quite a few camping spots throughout the area and camping is allowed all year long and it is completely free. There is no electricity or water piping, though. Beyond camping and climbing, Jackson Falls is home to several different waterfalls throughout its acreage. The main waterfall located near the main parking lot is the best fall to see in this area but there are several other fairly nice sized waterfalls throughout the canyon as well. To reach the bottom of the falls, one must be within the canyon by either climbing down what is known as the “Dog Walk” or by getting down from rope if you are an experienced rock climber. When wet, this area can post significant slip, trip and fall hazards and cell phone coverage as well as emergency rescue reach is very spotty. This area is equipped with a backboard and emergency first aid kit provided by a third-party for on-site emergencies.

A word of caution, because of the scenic waterfalls, during wet weather, Jackson Falls usually gets a large crowd of visitors. The area is also often crowded during the warmer months when rock climbing activities are very active. People from all over the world visit Jackson Falls which is pretty awesome.

Directions to Jackson Falls

Getting to Jackson Falls is quite simple:

  • From Marion, Illinois to Jackson Falls – Click Here.
  • From St. Louis, Missouri to Jackson Falls – Click Here.
  • From Nashville, Tennessee to Jackson Falls – Click Here.
  • From Chicago, Illinois to Jackson Falls – Click Here.

The main road to get to Jackson Falls is called Glen St Falls Road. This road is mainly made up of gravel. There are large potholes on this road and some areas of the road are very narrow. It is advised that you drive slowly and with caution when on this road. There is a lot of private property along the road. Please respect private property and drive slow in concern of the folks that live in that area. The parking area of Jackson Falls can hold several vehicles and many people also park on the sides of the road beyond the main parking area. There is a vault toilet on site at the main parking area along with signage with information about the area. There are no trash services in this area – please pack out what you pack in and help us keep the Shawnee National Forest safe and clean for everyone who wishes to enjoy it.

To reach the “Dog Walk”, from the main parking area, go towards the forest until you see the very top of the main waterfall to your left. You will cross the creek towards the left trail here. Please use caution as this area can be very slippery. Follow the trail for about a quarter of a mile or less. The trail will eventually turn to the right and you will cross a wooden bridge, shortly after the wooden bridge, the “Dog Walk” will be on you right. It is basically a cluster of rocks allowing people to climb down safety (and slowly) into the canyon. Once you are in the canyon, head back towards the main fall towards the parking lot. There should be a waterfall down the wooden bridge you cross and if a lot of rain has fallen, it should be quite active and large.

Please be cautious of others. This area is often used by other hikers, climbers and horseback riders.

More Photos of Jackson Falls

Videos of Jackson Falls

Southern Illinois Waterfall #2

Burden Falls

Burden Falls is one of the most visited and popular Southern Illinois Waterfall sites in the Shawnee National Forest. It is very easy to get to and the main waterfall is right by the parking lot. Everyone should visit this fall at least once! This area can be dangerous however and people have died visiting this area – please use caution if you go.

Burden Falls is the main attraction of the Burden Falls Wilderness Area. Burden Falls is a designated wilderness with many trails, bluffs and sights that is worth exploring. However the main waterfall is what most people visit the area for, especially during really wet days. This waterfall can be reached by either taking the trail down to the bottom of the creek (recommended) or by climbing down the main bluff along the waterfall area (very dangerous, not recommended). There are several smaller waterfalls on the top-side portion the main fall which also makes for some awesome photo opportunities. This area can be extremely hazardous to the health and safety of those who are visiting it. People have been seriously injured and/or died from their wounds after falling in this area. Cell phone coverage is very limited in this area and rescue efforts may take several hours before help can arrive. Please use extra caution when visiting Burden Falls and always use common sense, putting safety first above all other goals of the visit.

You can expect larger crowds at Burden Falls during wet days. This waterfall is often a main destination for photography during wet weather because of it being so close for effortless access. During the warmer months, some locals and younger folks like to stop at this location to party which is not recommended.

Directions to Burden Falls

Getting to the main waterfall at Burden Falls is very easy:

  • From Marion, Illinois to Burden Falls – Click Here.
  • From St. Louis, Missouri to Burden Falls – Click Here.
  • From Nashville, Tennessee to Burden Falls – Click Here.
  • From Chicago, Illinois to Burden Falls – Click Here

The main road to get to Burden Falls is made up of mainly gravel with large potholes, curves and steep hills included. There is room enough for two vehicles on each lane but slow driving on this road is recommended. The main parking lot can fit multiple vehicles and some park along the side of the road ahead of the parking lot as well. If the water is high, a creek will cross the main road which can be slowly driven through unless high in flooding conditions. There are no restrooms at this trailhead. Camping is allowed within the wilderness areas all year long and for free.

To get the to bottom of the falls, from the parking lot, if facing the falls, take the left trail which will get you to the creek on the bottom in a very safe manner. Follow the creek back up to the fall and you will start to see it. This area is very slick when wet and caution should be used.

More Photos of Burden Falls

Videos of Burden Falls

Southern Illinois Waterfall #3

Ferne Clyffe State Park

Ferne Clyffe State Park is a mecca of the Southern Illinois Waterfall sites due to so many waterfalls being within the park. It is recommended that you visit after a very heavy rainfall day because the water and creeks of this park tends to run dry very quickly.

Ferne Clyffe State Park is one of the better state parks in southern Illinois. Not only is this state park a good choice for seeing an active Southern Illinois waterfall but other recreational activities are done there as well. There is numerous camping availability for electrical hookups, RV/campers, tents and backpacking and even horseback riding. The River to River Trail runs through this state park. There are numerous hiking trails, horse trails and even rock climbing areas within Ferne Clyffe State Park. Most of the trails are well used and easy to follow and have signs and blazes showing visitors how to easily navigate the area. High cliffs and dangerous areas when wet exist within Ferne Clyffe State Park so extra caution and common sense should be used during a visit to this area. Serious injuries and even fatalities have occurred at this park. It is asked that you stay on official trails at all times and do not take user-made unofficial trails to avoid safety concerns.

During potential waterfall activity days, you can expect there to be a lot people in the park especially around the main waterfall on Big Rocky Hollow Trail. Other isolated trails with waterfalls including Happy Hollow might not have as many people present.

Directions to Ferne Clyffe State Park

Getting to Ferne Clyffe State Park is very easy:

  • From Marion, Illinois to Burden Falls – Click Here.
  • From St. Louis, Missouri to Burden Falls – Click Here.
  • From Nashville, Tennessee to Burden Falls – Click Here.
  • From Chicago, Illinois to Burden Falls – Click Here

The road within the park are paved with asphalt and support traffic on both sides of the lane. The speed limit in the park is 20 MPH and is radar enforced by the Illinois State Conservation Police services. Hikers and horseback riders commonly cross the roads and have the right-away so please drive slowly, be alert and use caution. The main trailhead area where most of the waterfall activities are supports many different vehicle parking capabilities with multiple restrooms within the area. All official trails have information signage and are very easy to follow.

Due to serious injuries and fatalities that have occurred in the park and to protect the natural environment, park officials are now prohibiting trail users from using user-made trails that are not official state park trails. It is asked that you abide by these rules to ensure that all visitors can use the state park and to ensure that you have a safer visit to the park.

More Photos of Ferne Clyffe State Park

Videos of Ferne Clyffe State Park

Southern Illinois Waterfall #4

Garden of the Gods Wilderness

Garden of the Gods is one the most Instagram’ed areas of the Shawnee National Forest. Little do people know though, the wilderness section of the area on a really wet day hosts to multiple waterfalls that a person couldn’t even count on using both hands and both feet.

Garden of the Gods is one the most well-known locations in southern Illinois and the Shawnee National Forest. It is also the most visited area of the forest. It is so popular that the Camel Rock formation within Garden of the Gods was featured on a US Quarter. Garden of the Gods in Illinois is more popular than the much larger Garden of the Gods site in Colorado at least based on social media statistics. While the Observation Trail and Indian Point are the most visited areas within Garden of the Gods, the wilderness area of Garden of the Gods is host to much more for people to see. However, this area is truly a wilderness and it a lot more rugged and harder to navigate than the more well-used Observation and Indian Point trail systems. During extreme wet conditions and days after multiple days of heavy rain, it would be very easy to witness anywhere from 75 to 100 active waterfalls within Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area. The portion of the wilderness area that I’ve found to have a lot of waterfall activities can be easily accessed from the main parking lot area of the Observation trail. It is important to note that cell phone coverage within the wilderness area isn’t always reliable and emergency service reach can take several hours. Serious injuries and even deaths has occurred within the Garden of the Gods. High cliffs, creeks and rugged environments are within this area and extreme safety and precautionary measures should always be taken when visiting this area.

Please prepare for a wilderness exploration for this Southern Illinois Waterfall search. Wear appropriate footwear and clothing and use caution because the area can be seriously dangerous when wet. Be sure to let someone know you’re visiting before you go.

Directions to Garden of the Gods Wilderness

Getting to the Wilderness Area of Garden of the Gods is easy:

  • From Marion, Illinois to Burden Falls – Click Here.
  • From St. Louis, Missouri to Burden Falls – Click Here.
  • From Nashville, Tennessee to Burden Falls – Click Here.
  • From Chicago, Illinois to Burden Falls – Click Here

The main road to Garden of the Gods is paved in asphalt and support two ways of traffic. Please abide by the speed limit within Garden of the Gods Recreational Area as hikers and horseback riders often cross the road. Once you are at the main parking area for the observation trail (includes many parking spaces, a nearby campground and restrooms), look for the wilderness area signage. Go into this area and you should see a trailhead sign for Anvil Rock. Continue down the trail into the forest and stay on the trail to your right that follows the top of the bluff line. There are many overlooks that I recommend you check out along the way but please watch your step and use caution as these areas are very dangerous, especially when wet. Continue to the right until you make your way to the bottom of the bluff line where the creek is. You can cross the creek and go either left or right to see multiple waterfalls throughout the area. Many of these waterfalls will require you to hike off trail which will increase your risk of safety hazards. It is recommended that you bring a GPS system and a compass with you when visiting this area to ensure that you can make it back to your vehicle safely. The parking area is for day use only. Overnight parking is allowed at the Indian Point Trailhead parking lot.

Most of the waterfalls are going to be at close proximity with the creek systems that run through the wilderness area. Follow these creeks but stay within sight of the bluffs in order to witness the better waterfalls. I’m certain that this area really only gets a lot of waterfalls during days after periods of very heavy rainfall. It likely dries up quick on days where not much precipitation has fallen. This area is a great even without the waterfalls present and offers many awesome things to see including scenic overlooks, tall bluffs and even natural bridges. Again, this area is known to be dangerous in terms of rugged and slippery conditions – please use extreme caution and make sure someone knows you’re visiting this area before you go.

More Photos of Garden of the Gods Wilderness

Videos of Garden of the Gods Wilderness

Southern Illinois Waterfall #5

Bulge Hole Ecological Area

Bulge Hole Ecological Area ranks up as one of my favorite Southern Illinois Waterfall spots because of the amount of waterfalls you can see in the small area at one time. There are literally more than 30 waterfalls of all sizes feet apart from one and other. But this area is rugged and requires very special attention and precaution when visiting.

Bulge Hole Ecological Area is quietly nestled within the central portions of the Shawnee National Forest. There are no official signs or trailhead for this area. It is almost a secret area. However, because of its extreme ruggedness and hard to get to places, I don’t feel any shame in sharing the location of this Southern Illinois Waterfall gem. This area is made for true Southern Illinois Waterfall chasers and not so much for the weakly fitness and health leveled folks. It is very rugged, often required off trail exploration and packed full of biers and sticker bush plants that will cut you to pieces if you are not too careful. Don’t come here wearing thin legging or shorts unless you want to leave covered in blood. If you’re looking for a true wild exploration and waterfall galore, then Bulge Hole Ecological Area is for you. One that note though, Bulge Hole is an Ecological Area. Please tread very lightly and pay attention where you step. Fragile plants and flora grow there and need to be protected. This area is also host to many venomous snakes including copperheads. As an ecological area, horses, bicycles, fires and camping is strictly prohibited. Please treat this area as a very special place when visiting because in reality, Bulge Hole is indeed a very special place.

Based on my personal experience and after multiple visits during wet conditions, in order to see the best waterfall presence, visits to this area should be done after several days of very heavy rainfall. The best waterfall conditions I have found there was during a time when the local area was experiencing a lot of rain and flooding. But please be careful as the area is extremely dangerous when wet.

Directions to Bulge Hole Ecological Area

Getting to Bulge Hole is easy but also a challenge:

  • From Marion, Illinois to Burden Falls – Click Here.
  • From St. Louis, Missouri to Burden Falls – Click Here.
  • From Nashville, Tennessee to Burden Falls – Click Here.
  • From Chicago, Illinois to Burden Falls – Click Here.

The main road to Bulge Hole Ecological Area is mainly made up of some areas of paved asphalt and gravel but support traffic in both lanes very adequately. There is no official sign or parking lot for Bulge Hole Ecological Area off of Bowman Bottoms Road. There are some forestry boundary signs and a faint ATV trail which is the trail you will want to take. If you follow my exact map directions linked above, you will find the trail. Park on the forested side of the road enough to where other vehicles can get past you. Hike down the trail going west, continue past the power-line cutout right-away and back into the forest. Shortly after, you should see the official Shawnee National Forest sign to you right (north) for Bulge Hole Ecological Area. On that side of the forest, there will be a faint trail. Follow that and the bluff line but note that the trails disappears at times. There are no blazes in this area. There is a very large and deep natural shelter cave with a nice waterfall down that trail. Other waterfalls can be seen by continuing north of that area. There are quite a few waterfalls within the power-line cutout right-away as well, mainly around the rocky areas. There are many creeks to cross in this area. Most of this area is covered in briers and sticker bush plants making exploration very difficult. In order to get to tops of the falls in many areas, it requires a very dangerous and rugged climb up sticker bush infested cliffs. Please use extreme caution when visiting this area as help may take hours to find you and cell phone coverage is extremely spotty.

There are no restrooms or official parking lots in this area. It sounds like a very difficult battle to explore this area and it is by all means but once you see the waterfalls there an really wet days, it will be a memory that you will always hold dear to your heart for the rest of your life. It truly is a remarkable Southern Illinois Waterfall location.

More Photos of Bulge Hole Ecological Area

Videos of Bulge Hole Ecological Area

Thank You For Reading

This Article

Howdy Folks! Shawn here from Hiking with Shawn on YouTube! I hope you have enjoyed reading this article about my Top 5 Southern Illinois Waterfall Destination sites to visit. As a final note, I really want to emphasis on the safety aspects of chasing waterfalls. The conditions of hiking are way more dangerous than normal and I beg of you all to use extreme caution. I care about my fans dearly and I never want to hear about any of you getting injured or killed while trying to explore and enjoy nature!

This article took a while to create. I also had to visit these places to get great photos and video footage to ensure this article could be as interactive as possible. If you are willing, there are a few ways you can help support me for making this article available as well as everything I put out. The following ways to help are totally optional and if you don’t want to do it, don’t worry about it. 🙂

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  • Lastly, please help me and everyone else have an awesome forest and local natural area by packing out your trash, reporting suspicious activities and always being as safe as possible when exploring. This is the most important request that I could ever make. Together, let’s make Southern Illinois the best spot for Hiking and Outdoor Recreation that it can be! And that’s totally free! 🙂

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider leaving a comment below. Share other local Southern Illinois Waterfall locations that others should also consider visiting.

Thanks again for reading another one of my hiking article and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn J. Gossman

Shawn J. Gossman


Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.

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