Burden Falls – The Best Waterfall in Southern Illinois ?

FaceBook Selected Burden Falls Photo

If you could visit only one waterfall in Southern Illinois would this be the one to go to?  Ask several different people and you will get several different answers, but can one Waterfall be called the BEST in Southern Illinois?

This article delves head-long into a debate that will rage long after you read this article.

The Stage

The sound of rushing water fills your head as you stare over the edge at the wild, tumbling beast that rages below.  You close your eyes and take in all the noise and find it not to be noise at all, but the sound of a soothing peace that wells up inside.

You re-open your eyes and take in the discovery of Burden Falls.  You make the decision that this is one of the best places in Illinois.

Far-Fetched?  Maybe, but out of all the waterfalls in Southern Illinois, this is the one that lures me back again and again.

The Best?

best:  That which is the most excellent, outstanding, or desirable.

There are many great waterfalls in Southern Illinois.  Take for instance the picturesque main Ferne Clyffe Waterfall or maybe the two-tier giant Rocky Bluff Falls, but when someone says “The Best” my mind wonders and tries to determine what that actually means.

The Main Falls

Thirty-five feet, falling from the lip to the plunge pool, with a tier in between around 11 feet.  By itself these numbers do not sound impressive.

There are larger waterfalls in southern Illinois, but it is not the size of this waterfall that makes it impressive, it is what surrounds it.

Burden Falls from Below
Burden Falls

Boulders, Rocks, Canyon

Boulders, Rocks, and a U-shaped Canyon set the foreground for a photographers wonderland.

  • Boulders create patterns and shapes that naturally blend in with the falls.
  • Rocks line a gently cascading creek below that even if the falls were not present would be worthy of a visit.
  • The small U-Shaped Canyon brings it all together giving the falls a sense of intimacy that can be rare in an Illinois Waterfall.

This is, also, one of the few waterfalls that has multi-angle photographic potential.  Usually even with a beautiful waterfall like Ferne Clyffe (which is probably the most photogenic) one tries to find one maybe two good angles, but Burden tops them all with a minimum four good potential photographs.

Burden Falls Creek
Burden Falls Creek


But, Wait There’s More!

If that wasn’t enough there are two other reasons this could be considered the Best Waterfall Area in Southern Illinois.

1.  Did you see the Upper Falls?

Yeah, there are multiple waterfalls flowing off a 5-10 feet rock shelf that gives ways to a wide “curtain fall” and another stream that pours in that gives way to two compact falls.  Very Nice!

Upper Waterfall at Burden Falls
Upper Waterfall at Burden Falls

2. Did you see the Twin Falls on the western edge of the canyon?

When the water is a flow’n these are a roar’n.  One of the twins is actually taller than Burden measuring around 48 feet.

This would justify a trip even if Burden wasn’t its next door neighbor, but being in the shadow of a great takes away from these two thin “free-falling” waterfalls.

One of the Twin Falls at Burden Falls
Western Bluff Waterfall

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And Now the Video

Check out this video of Burden Falls

Oh Yeah, Only One Problem

The trailhead for this area is just off the gravel road and one can see the upper falls without even getting out of their car, but that is where the convenience ends.

Since this is a designated Wilderness area, some of the structures that might make this a safer area, like stairs and bridges are missing, but that is what makes this place unique.

Although there is no “official” trail, there is only one safe way down to the base of the waterfall.  There is a faint trail that runs on top of the western bluff for about .25 then as the bluff gives out, the trail descends and hugs the bottom of the bluff back to Twin Falls and Burden Falls.

This is the preferred way down, because it does not involve crossing Burden Creek or getting next to the dangerous brink of the waterfall.

Waterfall Safety

Although waterfalls are beautiful they can also be deadly.  Stay away from the edges and remember any rock that is wet can be slippery.  Most of all be alert and use common sense to get home alive. Read an article on a fellow photographer and nature explorer Ed Cooley on his brush with disaster at an Arkansas Waterfall.


Where is it?

Nestled on the southeastern edge of the Burden Falls Wilderness lives its namesake, Burden Falls.  The wilderness area is composed of 3,694 acres and borders the Bay Creek Wilderness Area.


In between the two resides a narrow gravel road that can be accessed by 145 or by navigating  backroads via Eddyville or Ozark and then turning on to Forest Service Road 402 or Burden Falls Road, which Google lists as McCormick Rd, also.

One of the creeks that forms Burden Falls has to be traversed if coming in from 145 via FS 402, so take precautions and do not cross if water is flowing too high.  If you come in from the Ozark backroads it does not involve a creek crossing.





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Use the map below to get directions by clicking on the tab and entering your address.  The tab is the approximate trailhead location.


  1. Lynn says

    I love your photo’s and very much appreciate the detailed directions. I am curious when you visited Burden Falls so I can get an idea when it is best to visit. I recently visited 9/25/13 and it was completely dry.

  2. Gary Marks says

    Thanks, Lynn. Yeah, the the waterfalls are kind of sketchy around here. The are all wet-weather waterfalls, so it takes a lot of rain to get them running. The photos in this article were taken in April during the spring rainstorms. April isn’t always reliable, but it’s the best month to keep an eye on the forecast for the area. Hope this helps.

  3. Jeff Winchester says

    Hi Gary,

    Great photos!! I am wanting to take a few friends on a 2 or 3 day hike. We would love to see the waterfalls if it is time right but would also like to have a lake close by. Do you have any recommendation in the Shawnee area? I am also looking for a map to plan this hike. Thank you for what you do and hope to hear from you soon.

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