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Waterfalls: Unexpected seasonal beauty of Southern Illinois

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Southern Illinois has nothing to rival the spectacular 2,648-foot drop of Venezuela’s Angel Falls. Neither can the region claim anything as monumental as Niagara Falls on the U.S.-Canadian border. But, there are waterfalls in Southern Illinois.

They may be seasonal. They may be smaller in scale than Angel or Niagara falls, but they are spectacular in their own right — perhaps because they are so unexpected.

When someone mentions Illinois topography, endless fields of corn and soybeans come to mind. Most of the state is so flat that a silo is visible for 15 miles.

Yet, nestled into the heart of Southern Illinois are several waterfalls that can be spectacular at certain times of the year.

Burden Falls

Upper Burden Falls, located east of Ozark, is readily accessible from Shawnee National Forest roads.

Burden Falls, located east of Ozark in Shawnee National Forest, is the most accessible of the waterfalls.

Most visitors drive through the stream that feeds the falls as they enter or exit the tiny parking lot. The upper falls are located just a few steps from the parking lot.

Jackson Falls, also in Shawnee National Forest, is just a few miles south and west of Burden Falls. It’s a bit more of a hike to the upper falls, but certainly less than 15 minutes.

The other major waterfall on public property is at Ferne Clyffe State Park, located on Illinois 37 just south of Goreville. The falls, known simply as Ferne Clyffe Waterfall, is at the end of Big Rocky Hollow Trail.

It is an easy half-mile walk from the trailhead.

Jackson Falls

The view from atop Jackson Falls.

Bork’s Waterfall is in the Cedar-Draper’s Bluff portion of Ferne Clyffe. Although not as tall as the Ferne Clyffe falls, it is fed by a larger watershed and tends to flow more often and longer.

Southern Illinois is also home to Pakentuck Falls, generally regarded as the tallest or second tallest free-falling waterfall, depending on your source, in Illinois. However, no one seems to know the exact distance of the fall.

Pakentuck is in Camp Ondessonk, a Catholic youth camp near Ozark.

It must be noted that all the falls in Southern Illinois are seasonal. They are unlikely to be running in the middle of the summer. But, they can be magnificent during the spring snow melt or after a heavy downpour.

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