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15 Best Waterfalls Near Chicago (To Explore & Enjoy)

Explore 15 breathtaking waterfalls near Chicago for a perfect escape. From serene city spots like Humboldt Park to natural wonders in Shawnee National Forest, find your next outdoor adventure.

Tobi Miles
August 8, 2022
15 Best Waterfalls Near Chicago (To Explore & Enjoy)

Chicago is known as one of the largest cities in the United States. With plenty of museums, nightlife, restaurants, and culture, it also has plenty of unique nature areas to boast about!

The greater Chicago area is home to not only Lake Michigan, but also to many nature preserves and hiking areas. Throughout these beautiful areas of nature, many waterfalls can be found, both man-made and natural.

Chicago contains an abundance of waterfalls, from Humboldt Park to the McCormick Place Lakeside Waterfall. Others are found a few hours outside the city like Thunder Bay Falls in Galena and Jackson Falls in the Shawnee National Forest. There is no shortage of breathtaking waterfalls in the Chicago region, you are sure to find one worth a visit!

Waterfalls in and around Chicago vary in size, location, and surroundings. Each is unique with distinct features and activities that make them the best in the region. Continue reading to discover some of the most beautiful falls to add to your list that you must see during your visit.

1. Humboldt Park Waterfall

Credit: Janet and Phil / Flickr

The Humboldt Park Waterfall is one of the most beautiful sites to see in Chicago. While many waterfalls are located in the surrounding areas, this one is conveniently located in the city.

Visitors can see this amazing sight without having to travel too far out of the way. It is a relatively small waterfall located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood it is named after.

The area can be found in the northwest direction when departing from Chicago. The park and surrounding area is best known for its Puerto Rican heritage.

Festivals and live music events are frequently held on the grounds for guests to enjoy. The Humboldt Park neighborhood is accessible by public transit from downtown Chicago.

Once in the neighborhood, you can reach the park on foot, making the waterfall relatively easy to access. The park is available to the public at no cost for admission, and it is open from 6 am to 11 pm everyday.

To locate the waterfall, you must follow the Humboldt Park Lagoon and Beach Trail located in the park. The trail stretches for about 2 miles in total. It typically takes 30 to 40 minutes of walking to reach the waterfall at the end.

For most, is considered an easy trail. You will see spots for bird watching and fishing along the path.

The waterfall is not as big as many of the others, but is a peaceful destination to visit without leaving the city. It is worth the trip if you are in search of a serene waterfall within 30 minutes of the city.

Address: 1400 N Sacramento Ave, Chicago, IL 60622Cost Of Admission: FreeDifficulty To Access: Easy

2. McCormick Place Lakeside Waterfall

Credit: Guy Tyler / Flickr

The McCormick Place Lakeside Waterfall is a man-made waterfall that is a part of the McCormick Place Lakeside center. The venue is a popular tourist attraction and convention center a few minutes away from downtown Chicago.

The waterfall itself is located on the outside of the Lakeside Center’s East building and spans three floors. Once you have arrived in the complex, the waterfall is easily accessible by traveling down a set of stairs.

The most affordable way to get to McCormick place is by public transit. The best route is to get off at the CTA station at Cermak Road and State Street on the green line.

If you are driving, it costs between $16 and $25 to park per day. Visitors should keep in mind that you can not come back to the lot once you leave.

It is also important to note that you can only access McCormick Place with tickets to an event held there. The cost of admission will vary, depending on the specific event.

Tickets can be purchased online in advance for a hassle-free experience. Be sure to check out the calendar to stay up to date on upcoming events you won't want to miss.

Address: 2301 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60616Cost Of Admission: Varies with Cost of Event, $16-$25 to park for the dayDifficulty To Access: Easy

Related Read: Best Time to Visit Chicago

3. Blackhawk Waterfall, Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve

Credit: TripAdvisor / Pinterest

The Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve is home to dozens of hiking trails and nature areas for visitors to enjoy. Located in Kane County, Illinois, this destination is just under an hour from Chicago.

Those who are staying in the city may be interested in an adventure-filled day trip to view the waterfall on site. One of the best ways to access the preserve is by driving.

This is convenient as the preserve is near Route 31 and McLean Boulevard. The Blackhawk Waterfall is a natural, 8-foot cascade located inside the Forest Preserve that is worth visiting.

There are multiple ways to access the preserve, but the closest parking lot to the waterfall is east of McLean Boulevard. Once there, you just need to walk about 30 yards and turn slightly to the right.

You can also access the waterfall by going south on the Riverbend Bike Trail. For those seeking additional exercise, hiking one mile along the Old Quarry Road Trail is an additional option to reach the falls.

The preserve offers a plethora of challenging hikes for adventure enthusiasts. It also features the added bonus of gorgeous waterfall views.

Address: 35W003 Route 31, South Elgin, IL 60177

Cost Of Admission: FreeDifficulty To Access: Moderate

4. Cascade Falls, Matthiessen State Park

Credit: Skip Maskeri / Flickr

Cascade Falls is another must-see sight when visiting the Chicago area. This 45-foot waterfall is located in Matthiessen State Park, west of Chicago in LaSalle County.

Matthiessen State Park is a popular destination for tourists and locals, best known as a haven for hiking enthusiasts. The park is also home to multiple waterfalls of various sizes that are open for viewing.

To get to Cascade Falls in particular, you must trek about two miles on a slightly complicated trail. The trail runs through a relatively difficult, muddy terrain with a lot of stairs.

The waterfall mostly flows in the Spring months when rain is more plentiful. Regardless of the weather, visitors are never permitted to swim in the water.

The park does not allow rock climbing, swimming, or bicycles in any area. This includes all of the three waterfalls located on the property. While the water and surrounding areas are open for exploration, guests should note that they are for viewing only and plan accordingly.

Address: 2668 E 875th Rd, Utica, IL 61373Cost Of Admission: FreeDifficulty To Access: Difficult

5. Thunder Bay Falls, Galena

Credit: tmcclenahan / Flickr

This large, 40-foot waterfall is located in the northern Illinois town of Galena. The city is a resort town home to a beautiful, spring-fed lake. The Thunder Bay waterfall feeds from Lake Galena and is a great place to visit no matter the time of year.

Thunder Bay Falls is located just 10 minutes from downtown Galena, so it is an easy trip if you are visiting this quaint town. It is a great stop for a planned day trip when visiting any of the surrounding areas.

The falls can be accessed from right off the road, which requires no hiking. There is a short gravel path to follow right after you park for easy access.

There are little to no hazards on the way to view the falls. It is the perfect destination friendly for families and solo travelers alike.

Address: 7998 W Glen Hollow Rd, Galena, IL 61036Cost Of Admission: FreeDifficulty To Access: Easy

Related Read: 25 Best Hiking Trails Near Chicago

6. Anderson Japanese Gardens

Credit: Kevin Brown / Flickr

Some of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the state of Illinois are found within the coveted Anderson Japanese Gardens. Located in Rockford, Illinois, the Japanese-style gardens are spread out for 12 acres in total.

While it is a bit of a drive from the city at one and a half hours, the gardens are well worth the trip. They also have plenty of available activities for visitors upon arrival.

These include guided tours, yoga, and meditation. You can purchase food from the restaurant there as well, making it a fun day trip for the family.

It is possible to spend the entire day here without having to venture out for meals or entertainment. There are a few waterfalls throughout the gardens, and you must walk through the entire property to access them.

Getting through the gardens takes about 45 minutes, and costs $11 for adults. This fee is less for students, seniors and children. The serene ambience of the zen garden makes this destination worth the stop when traveling the area.

Address: 318 Spring Creek Rd, Rockford, IL 61107Cost Of Admission: $11 for adults, discounts for students, seniors, and childrenDifficulty To Access: Moderate

7. Rocky Glen Waterfall

Credit: Bryan Wysoglad / Flickr

This man-made waterfall is located in Lemont, Illinois in the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. The preserve is easy to access and has many lots to park in as well as 10 miles of trails to explore.

The falls are on the east side of the preserve, and only about a mile long hike from the Bluff Road Entrance. The hike to the waterfall is gravel and only takes about 10 minutes.

For the hiking enthusiasts, there are more difficult terrains to take to the falls if you want more of a challenge. The waterfall is relatively small with minimal splashing and a small pool at the bottom.

As a result, it is optimal for families with children. Pets are also allowed to hike the trails and swim in waterfall pools.

Address: Northgate Rd & S Cass Ave, Darien, IL 60561Cost Of Admission: FreeDifficulty To Access: Moderate

8. Tonti Canyon Falls

Credit: Curtis Albert / Flickr

Tonti Canyon Falls is a majestic 60 to 70 ft double waterfall located in Starved Rock State Park. The LaSalle County recreational area shares a border with the nearby Illinois River.

Available activities range from kayaking to biking. Sightseeing is also a wonderful choice amongst the park's beautiful sandstone canyons.

Tonti Canyon Falls is one of the many waterfalls in the Park, and it is unique in the fact that it is nestled right next to the LaSalle Canyon. From the visitor's center, it takes a total of about 2 hours to reach the base of the falls.

Address: Tonti Canyon, Ottawa, IL 61350Cost Of Admission:  FreeDifficulty To Access: Difficult

Related Read: 4 Phenomenal Road trips to Chicago inc Interactive Maps!

9. Lake Katherine Waterfall

Credit: Wild_Sh0t / Flickr

The Lake Katherine Waterfall is located in the Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens in Palos Heights, Illinois. The Center has many things to do including nature trails, educational programs, and gardens for visitors of all ages to participate in.

The 30-foot waterfall is man-made and located east of the nature center. There is a one-mile loop along the lake to walk.

You can only access the waterfall when the Center is open, which is something that should be kept in mind before visiting. Hours of operation are between 9 am and 5 pm daily on Monday through Friday.

On the weekends, the center is open from 10 am to 4 pm. Guests are advised to confirm open hours before visiting to guarantee admission into the falls.

Address: 7402 Lake Katherine Dr, Palos Heights, IL 60463Cost Of Admission: FreeDifficulty To Access: Easy

10. Jackson Falls, Shawnee National Forest

Credit: Daniel / Flickr

The Jackson Falls are located in Shawnee National Forest in Pope County, Illinois. The forest area is home to large sandstone boulders and is popular for climbing and camping enthusiasts.

To get to Jackson Falls, you must hike about 4 miles on a moderately difficult trail. This trail can be hard to navigate, as it is difficult to follow the markings. Visitors are encouraged to exercise caution and wear the appropriate hiking gear to minimize any injuries.

The falls are more active at different times of the year, although still very beautiful to visit year-round. It is advisable to visit in the fall or winter to experience the strongest water current.

Address: Shawnee National Forest, Tunnel Hill, IL 62972Cost Of Admission: FreeDifficulty To Access: Difficult

11. LaSalle Canyon Falls

Credit: Matt B / Flickr

LaSalle Canyon Falls are found nestled in the Starved Rock State Park. This famous venue sits on the shore of the Illinois River.

The area is surrounded by gorgeous canyons, creating sweeping views all around. Some of the most popular things to do in the area include boating, sight seeing, and hiking.

LaSalle Canyon Falls are located right next to the equally beautiful Tonti Canyon Falls. This 25-foot waterfall is popular as it flows for most of the year, unlike some of the others in the park.

It is about 2 miles to hike here in slightly difficult terrain with many stairs. Those who have mobility issues or plan to bring pets or children should keep this in mind before traveling.

Address: Route 71,  Oglesby, IL 61348Cost Of Admission: FreeDifficulty To Access: Difficult

12. Lake Falls, Matthiessen State Park

Credit: pejnolan/ Flickr

Lake Falls is a towering waterfall, standing between 20 and 30 feet tall. It is nestled inside the larger Matthiessen State Park, west of Chicago in LaSalle County.

To get to this fall, you should enter at the Dells Area hiking trail. The hike is about 1.5 miles in total before reaching the falls at the end.

The park is a very popular destination among travelers and locals alike. With all of the available activities in the area, it can get crowded very easily. This is something to keep in mind for those seeking privacy during their journey.

As a result, the park has implemented rules for exploring the waterfalls and traveling through the wilderness safely. There is no swimming or rock climbing permitted at the falls.

Likewise, bicycles are not allowed anywhere on the property to prevent potential injury. The rules are clearly laid out and can be viewed on the park's website ahead of time.

Address: 2668 E 875th Rd, Utica, IL 61373Cost Of Admission: FreeDifficulty To Access: Moderate

Related Read: 15 Best Romantic Getaways In Illinois

13. Giant’s Bathtub, Matthiessen State Park

Credit: Tom Gill / Flickr

Of all the waterfalls sprinkled throughout Matthiessen State Park, Giant's Bathtub is the smallest. It stands at just 8 feet tall.

You will find this little gem on the way to view the bigger waterfalls in the park. These include Lake Falls and Cascade Falls.

Although Giant's Bathtub is smaller than many other waterfalls, it should not be overlooked. It is just over 1 mile for a round-trip hike to see all of the falls at once.

There are several rest and picnic areas scattered around the park for guests to enjoy. The park provides the perfect opportunity for a day trip to the falls with a packed lunch.

It is important to know that Matthiessen State Park is very popular and visitors cannot continue to enter once the parking lots are full.

The park has many rules, such as not allowing any swimming, rock climbing, or bicycles. It is a good idea to check out the Matthiessen State Park website before visiting to confirm it will line up with your travel plans.

Address: 2668 E 875th Rd, Utica, IL 61373Cost Of Admission: FreeDifficulty To Access: Easy

14. Wildcat Canyon Waterfall, Starved Rock State Park

Credit: Mike Oliveri / Flickr

The Wildcat Canyon Waterfall is another worthwhile attraction located in the Starved Rock State Park. The public recreation area is situated along the Illinois River and contains scenic sandstone canyons.

Many visitors come here to sightsee, hike, and rent kayaks or canoes, so it is ideal to plan activities ahead of time. The Wildcat Canyon Waterfall is the largest waterfall in the park at about 80-feet tall.

It is located just 1 mile from the visitor center, where the park's history can be viewed in museum-style displays. Similar to many of the other falls, it flows the most in the springtime.

As a result, it may not flow in the summer due to lack of rain. Regardless of the amount of water flow, the Wildcat Canyon Waterfall is worth the visit any time of year.

Address: Route 71,  Oglesby, IL 61348Cost Of Admission: FreeDifficulty To Access: Difficult

15. Bork Falls, Ferne Clyffe State Park

Credit: Larry Senalik / Flickr

Bork Falls is a beautiful cascade standing at 100 feet tall. The water flows into a gorgeous pool of water below that is green and blue in color. It is the perfect place to stop by and enjoy its quiet surroundings.

The waterfall is located in Ferne Clyffe State Park in Johnson County, Illinois. Ferne Clyffe State Park has over 2,000 acres of plant life and is known for its camping, fishing, and hunting opportunities.

The waterfall is typically active year-round, however it does depend on rain to flow. Accessing Bork Falls requires you to hike nearly 4 miles, and is a bit challenging depending on the weather.

Driving to the trail can be very dangerous after rainfall, so take extreme caution and plan ahead. Only designated trails should be used for safety reasons. Visitors are encouraged to stay on the paved trail and avoid venturing out into the wilderness areas.

Address: 90 Goreville Rd, Goreville, IL 62939Cost Of Admission: FreeDifficulty To Access: Difficult

Tobi Miles
Article updated:
March 28, 2024
A nomadic wordsmith savoring the world's flavors and penning stories that turn every journey into an epic.
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