If you could see only one cascade in Southern Illinois, would this be the one to visit? This article presents one of the best, located in a great Illinois State Park – Dixon Springs.
In a previous article we visited Burden Falls – The Best Waterfall in Southern Illinois? You may be asking yourself, what is exactly the difference?
Cascade: A small waterfall, typically one of several that fall in stages down a steep rocky slope.
This 786 acre state park is located near the former community of Dixon Springs, near the present-day town of Golconda.
In the past this area was well-known for its mineral rich springs that were said to have healing properties. A lot of what remains is in thanks to this “hay-day” of this unique Southern Illinois landmark.
There are two primary trails that visit two different areas. The Pine/Bluff Trail is the longer of the two and visits an interesting bluff-line, but the hidden jewel of Dixon Springs is hands-down the narrow, canyon chocked full of truly amazing car and house-sized boulders, called Ghost Dance Canyon.
Ghost Dance Canyon Trail
Even as I am writing this a smile breaks out on my face just thinking about the area. It is unlike anything I’ve seen in Southern Illinois.
This less than a mile trail begins near the pool. Sometimes the parking lot near the pool area is closed, but if you go to the main area of the park near the spring you can park in front of the pool then walk to the side near the creek and then over a concrete bridge to the beginning of the trail.
The trail starts calm enough going through a previously mowed area that can be home to many spring wildflowers. It then passes under a massive bridge expanse that is part of State Route 146.
I try to distance myself from this bridge, because I always imagine people above throwing trash out of their cars, but have never seen it happen.
Beyond the Bridge
After the bridge, is where the trail becomes more interesting. The creek begins to move quicker and flows through randomly placed rocks that create an audible gurgling sound.
The trail in this section over the last several years has not been as well-maintained as in the past. Trees and branches may block the path, but are easily navigated around by user-made trails.
Within a short distance you come to the first and only creek crossing. Usually this is not a huge obstacle during normal rainfall, except for slippery rocks, but when the water is raging crossing here is not advisable.
The Other Side
The other side of the creek is where this trail becomes fun. You begin to see house-size boulders in the middle of the creek and if the water is flowing, you can definitely hear that something major is ahead.
As you scramble up a small embankment you soon can see the top section of the cascade. From this vantage point you can see that the gradient of the stream is very steep.
The best way to see the entire cascade is to follow the faint path around the rocks and descend to the base. It is here you can really take the whole place in. My reaction even though I’ve seen it many times is WOW!
Why is this Here?
But, why is it here? Good Question.
According to the Official Dixon Springs Brochure:
The park is on a giant block of rock which has dropped 200 feet along a fault line that extends northwesterly across Pope County.
Makes sense to me. This little creek has slowly carved away at this fault line and the canyon that surrounds it has slowly succumb to its force. Portions of the bluff have toppled and slid into the creek, stacking boulders upon boulders creating what we see today.
Even though this section of the creek is small in relation to the whole, it is definitely a must see, even if the water is not running.
So make sure to voice your opinion and decide for yourself if this is The Best Cascade In Southern Illinois.
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And Now For Some Videos
This first video is from April 2011, during the highest flow rate I have ever seen. The rocks were slippery and dangerous and required great care and the right equipment to stay upright.
The second video is totally the opposite direction. This video was taken in October 2010, when there was a major drought. At the time the rocks were totally dry and not slippery allowing a dedicated “rock scrambler” to do some exploring. None of this rock section could have been climbed when water was flowing, so it was a rare opportunity to explore the area when the rocks were dry. It also shows more in-depth about the trail than the first.
Although waterfalls and cascades are beautiful they can also be deadly. Stay away from the edges and remember any rock that is wet can be slippery and dangerous. Most of all be alert and use common sense to get home alive. You are responsible to know your limitations and you skills. This area is not for novices and extreme care must be taken. Do not cross any creek that is over 6 inches deep, without knowing proper rushing water skills. Read an article on a fellow photographer and nature explorer Ed Cooley on his brush with disaster at an Arkansas Waterfall.
How Do I Get There?
Use the map below to get directions by clicking on the tab and entering your address. The tab is the approximate trailhead location.