Hikes,  Illinois,  Kids

Waterfalls and Wildflowers on the Rocky Bluff Trail Hike

The Rocky Bluff Trail can be found at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge near Marion, Illinois. The refuge is a popular spot for fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing. A pass is required to visit, but it’s only $2. There are six different hiking trails within the refuge. The Rocky Bluff Trail passes the most spectacular spots in the refuge including wet weather waterfalls, cliffs, and stunning wildflowers.

Rocky Bluff Trail Overview

  • Distance: 2.2 mile loop. You can also take a shortcut trail to make just a 0.5 mile loop past the waterfalls and some flowers.
  • Difficulty: 3/4. Some rocky and rugged terrain, but most of trail is fairly wide and well packed. Mild inclines with one longer set of steps.
  • Scenic Value: 4/5 most of the time but bumps up to a 5/5 when the spring wildflowers are in bloom or the waterfalls are flowing well.

The parking area has room for only a few cars. There is a sign for the trail and a map showing the short and long loops. You can go either way, we went right to save the waterfalls for last and hiked the full 2.2. mile loop.

The trail immediately crosses a bridge over the top of one of the waterfalls. You will be able to tell if there is water to make the falls flow. The waterfalls at Rocky Bluff take a lot of rain and don’t flow for long.

For much of the longer loop, the trail passes through the woods. Nothing extraordinary to see, but still a nice walk.

The path crosses over the top of another waterfall. The shortcut trail heads off to the left just before the crossing while the main route continues straight. This waterfalls was pretty much dry during our spring 2021 visit even though we hiked after a day of rain and it was still raining lightly when we visited.

We visited the trail again in March of 2022 after several inches of rain had fallen the night before. This time there were waterfalls all over!

After crossing the creek above the falls, the path continues through the woods and intersects with the Wild Turkey Trail. Turn left and stay on this path until the Rocky Bluff Trail breaks away to the left again. Both intersections are well marked with a sign and map.

The trail follows some gentle switchbacks and crosses bridges as it winds towards Grassy Creek.

This part of the trail is lush and green in spring and summer. It felt almost like walking through an enchanted forest.

Wildflowers start popping up along this section. Talk about enchanting!

The trail just gets better and better. The path passes an overlook of the creek below.

Next, the path heads down a set of steps next to a rocky bluff. More flowers can be found here as the trail continues to wind along the bluff.

According to the refuge website, over 60 varieties of flowers can be found here. It was hard to stop taking pictures, they were so beautiful.

The trail narrows as it passes between a rugged bluff and the creek. The kids enjoyed this small rock shelter.

Just past this bluff the trail crosses the creek below a waterfall. Spring flowers are outstanding here.

Towards the end of the trail, the path crosses a stream just below the second waterfall. If you can time a visit just after a very heavy rain, this waterfall is stunning.

Even if the waterfall is just trickling or dry, it’s still a pretty spot.

After crossing the creek, the path heads up a set of concrete stops. Another overlook of the waterfall can be found above. Continue to follow the trail up the hill to return to the trailhead.

Additional Things to Know:

  • A map of Crab Orchard can be found here.
  • The Rocky Bluff Trail is located off Tacoma Lake Rd.
  • There are no restrooms at the trailhead. Other vault toilets can be found throughout the refuge. The restrooms are the visitor’s center are not open due to COVID.
  • A park pass is required as this is a National site. The $2 daily pass can be purchased at the new Visitor’s Center which just opened at 6987 Headquarters Road. America the Beautiful or other NPS passes can also be used.
  • The refuge does offer a junior ranger program.

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