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Illinois Outdoors

Hidden Gems: Matthiessen State Park

January 08, 2008 at 09:17 AM

It’s just a few minutes from one of the state’s most popular parks, but it gets a fraction of the traffic.

On a cool and clear fall afternoon, only about a dozen people were encountered during a two-hour walk through Matthiessen State Park near Oglesby.
Matthiessen is less well-known than its neighbor, Starved Rock State Park. Starved Rock gets about 2 million visitors a year because of its location between urban centers such as Chicago, Rockford, Peoria and Bloomington.

Both parks are about two hours north of Springfield near the Illinois River.

Matthiessen has a spectacular sandstone canyon and was formed by torrents of rushing glacial meltwater, just like Starved Rock.

But it gets only about one-sixth the number of visitors.

“A lot of local people, and by that I mean people living in LaSalle County, use Matthiessen because they are aware of it,” says Tom Levy, site superintendent for both Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks. “And a lot of our clientele from suburban Chicago stays at Starved Rock.”

Starved Rock has a lodge with a pool and dining room as well as a visitor center. People flock to Starved Rock to see eagles and ice waterfalls in winter.

Matthiessen has no campground or lodge, but has a picnic area and is easily accessible from Starved Rock’s facilities.

“On a weekend when we’ve got 4 to 5 inches of snow on the ground, you will see a lot of people there cross-country skiing,” says Levy.

The park has nearly five miles of cross-country ski trails, and ski rentals are available.

Matthiessen also has 13 miles of equestrian trails.

The park is closed for firearm deer hunting seasons, including the late-winter season Jan. 18-20.

The park gets its name from Frederick William Matthiessen, who bought the land at the end of the 1800s and ran a privately owned park.

Originally, it was known as Deer Park due to its large deer population. The original park was 176 acres and had a small stream flowing through the narrow canyon, a formation known as “dells.”

When Mattheissen died, he donated the park to the State of Illinois. It was renamed in his honor in 1943. The park has since grown to nearly 2,000 acres.

For more information, visit and click “parks and recreation” to find a directory of state parks. For current information, call (815) 667-4868 and follow the menu prompts.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in The State Journal-Register and is the first in a series of stories highlighting lesser known parks and natural wonders in Illinois.

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Matheissen really is a gem.  It has long been a family favorite for decades.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/09 at 05:50 AM

Visitors will delight at the abundance of plant and animal life. The park is alive with common and uncommon species of flora and fauna. The canyon provides a perfect habitat for many mosses and liverworts which thrive on the damp shady walls.

Posted by Grand Canyon Tours on 09/02 at 05:54 AM

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