The forecast called for rain last weekend, but it was warm out and we we knew we wouldn't have a lot more opportunities to get out so we headed southwest to checkout Matthiessen State Park. And am I glad we did! Matthiessen is a few miles down the road from the more popular Starved Rock, but much smaller and less crowded. it has only five miles of trails, but the exploring opportunities here are endless!
The park is separated into two areas - The Dells Area which is comprised of the Upper and Lower Dells and small picnic area and the Vermilion River Area, which has a model plane field, horse trails, and picnic area. We came in off State Route 178 - following the signs to the Dells area. After we parked we hit the bathrooms (yeah for flushing toilets!), loaded Weston into the carrier and followed the sign that said 'Hiking Trails.'
We decided to check out the Upper Dells first, although you can go either way.
The terrain here is more navigable than at Starved Rock (at least in the Fall when the water was low- this might not be the case in the Spring when the river rises). Weston immediately wanted to get down and hike himself. The dells were filled with little cracks and mini-caves "where the fairies live" as well as lichens, ferns, liverwort, and plenty of critters.
One of my favorite things about taking Weston hiking is watching him build confidence as he learns what his body and mind can do and that its OK to ask for help when needed. Quite often he just takes off running and figures out how to get from one place to another. This may result in him falling down, picking himself up and trying again, or it may require our help. Both of these things are OK and are things we experience everyday out in the world, but he comes back from these hikes feeling so accomplished! I too feel the same way, especially after a challenging hike. You can't just turn on your cell phone, stare at a screen, and zone out when you are confronted with a problem out in 'the wild.' You are forced to stop, think about the situation you are in, and figure out how you are going to solve a problem whether its something simple like figuring out where to go to the bathroom 'privately' or how to cross a giant stream without getting swept down river!
We spent a lot of time exploring these little shelters and islands as we made our way to Giant's Bathtub.
From Giant's Bathtub we made our way to Lake Falls.
And then on to the Lower Dells.
The lower dells were particularly fun. Everywhere we looked there were millipedes and other insects. Everyone kept trying to move the millipedes off the walking path so people wouldn't step on them! Kids couldn't get enough of the canyons or the mud or the water or the plants...or pretty much anything they could get their hands on! It really encourage Weston's already curious mind to keep asking why? Why is there a millipede there? What is it doing? How does the waterfall come? Is this a plant? What kind is it?
Good questions son...we'll have to ask Google when we're back in the car!
We ended up at the lower end of Cascade Falls, where we tried to get a pic for our family holiday card before heading back. This is the best one we got!
This was such a fun little adventure for us. I encourage you, whether you have children or not, to get out to Mathiessen and take a walk around. I promise you, you won't regret it!.