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Hike to Scenic Jackson Falls in Southern Illinois

Shawnee National Forest, Illinois

The destination

We’ve done a lot of hiking and exploring over the years and one of our favorite spots to spend a day is in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. While we have visited many scenic spots including Bell Smith Springs, Garden of the Gods, and Ferne Clyffe, we somehow had never made it over to Jackson Falls. I can’t believe we had missed this awesome trail for so long!

The trail starts at a parking area not far from Bell Smith Springs. There is vault toilet and sign with map at the trailhead.

The top of the falls is only .25 mile walk from the trailhead. This area is a popular rock climbing spot. However, unless you have rock climbing equipment, you have to take the long way around to reach the base of the falls.

Cross the top of the waterfall carefully and follow the trail to the left. There are a few areas on the trail that get close to the edge of a steep drop off so use caution with children. You will follow the trail for another third mile or so. Keep an eye out for a wooden bridge that crosses over the top of another waterfall as seen in the background below. You will approach the bridge from the right side of this photo.

After you cross the bridge, walk just a little bit further and you should see to your right a pile of rocks that form almost steps to climb down. You may also see a red stretcher board and first aid station at the bottom. Don’t be too worried, that is there for an emergency because of the rock climbing that occurs here.

Looking back up the pile of rocks used to climb down.

While the climb down was a little tricky with a 3 year old and 5 year old, we made it down without any issues. Then we simply followed the trail back around from the bottom to head towards the base of the falls. There are so many interesting rocks to explore along the trail. The kids really enjoyed touching them and climbing over and through.

Before you know it, the waterfall appears flowing into a turquoise pool. Like all Shawnee area waterfalls, this one is weather dependent. If you come in the summer, it is most likely a small trickle so best to come in the spring or after a period of heavy rain.

You can even walk around behind the waterfall for another nice view.

Once you have had your fill of this tranquil spot, retrace your steps back to the rock pile and climb back to the top. You can return the way your came or take the longer way back to the trailhead by continuing the loop trail to the right for a 3 mile hike. We did not take the full loop as the kids were reaching their hiking limit for the day.

More information and directions can be found here. A printable map and brochure can be downloaded here. Happy hiking!

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