Exploring Jackson Falls: A Natural Wonder in Shawnee National Forest

Located approximately 35 miles from the popular Garden of the Gods and Shawnee Forest Cabins, Jackson Falls is a hidden gem within the Shawnee National Forest. Renowned for its stunning waterfalls and towering sandstone bluffs, Jackson Falls offers an unforgettable outdoor experience for nature enthusiasts, hikers, and rock climbers alike.

Getting to Jackson Falls

To reach Jackson Falls Illinois, embark on a scenic drive through the picturesque landscapes of Southern Illinois. The journey itself is part of the adventure, with winding roads and lush forests guiding your way. Once you arrive, you’ll find yourself immersed in the natural beauty of Shawnee National Forest, with Jackson Falls waiting to be explored.

Highlights of Jackson Falls

Jackson Falls is best known for its breathtaking waterfalls and impressive sandstone formations. The area boasts a variety of trails and routes, making it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels. Whether you’re an avid hiker or a seasoned rock climber, Jackson Falls has something to offer for everyone.

Exploring the Trails

One of the best ways to experience Jackson Falls is by exploring its network of hiking trails. The trails meander through dense forests and along scenic creeks, providing glimpses of the area’s natural beauty at every turn. For those seeking a challenge, the rugged terrain and steep inclines offer an exhilarating adventure.

Jackson Falls Trail is a favorite among hikers, offering stunning views of the waterfalls and surrounding landscape. As you hike, keep an eye out for wildlife, including deer, birds, and other native species that call Shawnee National Forest home.

Jackson falls rock climbing

Rock Climbing at Jackson Falls

Jackson Falls rock climbing is also renowned for its world-class rock climbing opportunities. With its towering sandstone bluffs and challenging routes, the area attracts climbers from near and far. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced climber, there are routes at Jackson Falls to suit every skill level.

Jackson Falls Climbing offers a unique and thrilling experience, with routes ranging from easy to expert. From vertical ascents to technical bouldering, there’s no shortage of excitement to be found on the cliffs of Jackson Falls. As you climb, take in the awe-inspiring views of the surrounding forest and waterfalls below.

Planning Your Visit

Before embarking on your adventure to Jackson Falls, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your trip:

  • Check the Weather: Be sure to check the weather forecast before heading out, as conditions at Jackson Falls can change rapidly.
  • Pack Accordingly: Bring plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen, as well as sturdy hiking shoes or climbing gear.
  •  Respect the Environment: Help preserve the beauty of Jackson Falls by practicing Leave No Trace principles and following posted regulations.
  • Stay Safe: Always exercise caution when hiking or climbing, and be prepared for emergencies with a first aid kit and other safety gear.
Backpack camping jackson falls

Exploring Nearby Attractions

In addition to Jackson Falls, the Shawnee National Forest offers a wealth of other attractions to explore. From scenic overlooks to historic sites, there’s no shortage of adventure to be found in this natural playground.

Jackson Falls Shawnee National Forest is just the beginning of your outdoor adventure in Southern Illinois. Take some time to explore the nearby Garden of the Gods, with its iconic rock formations and sweeping vistas. Or, venture further afield to discover hidden gems like Burden Falls and Bell Smith Springs.

Detailed Look at the Trails and Climbing Routes

Jackson Falls offers a diverse range of trails and climbing routes, each with its own unique features and challenges.

Top of Falls Trail

The Top of Falls Trail is a short but scenic 0.25-mile trail that leads to the top of the falls. This trail is perfect for those looking for a quick and easy way to enjoy the stunning views from above.

Bottom of Falls Trail

The Bottom of Falls Trail is a more challenging 1-mile trail that takes you to the base of the falls. This trail is popular among photographers and nature enthusiasts who want to capture the beauty of the falls up close.

one bedroom hot tub cabins

Cabins Near Jackson Falls

After a day of exploring Jackson Falls, retreat to one of the nearby cabins for a restful night surrounded by nature.

Shawnee Forest Cabins

A short drive from Jackson Falls, Shawnee Forest Cabins offer a relaxing and comfortable stay. These cabins blend rustic charm with modern conveniences. You’ll find fully equipped kitchens, cozy living areas, and hot tubs perfect for unwinding after a day of hiking. The quiet setting and charming ambiance make Shawnee Forest Cabins an ideal escape from the everyday hustle.

Treehouse Cabins

For a unique experience, stay at the Treehouse Cabins. Nestled among the trees, these cabins add an adventurous twist to your getaway. They feature a suspension bridge that leads to a private hot tub in the treehouse, offering a special way to enjoy the natural surroundings. The elevated position of these cabins provides stunning views of the forest, making your visit to Jackson Falls truly memorable.

Woodland Cabins

Alternatively, you might find solace in the Woodland Cabins, tucked away amidst the forest canopy. Offering a rustic yet charming retreat, these cabins provide an enchanting escape for nature lovers, inviting you to unwind in a serene atmosphere after a day of exploration.

Jackson falls primitive camping

Primitive Camping at Jackson Falls

Camping at Jackson Falls is a unique experience. As a non-maintained forest land, the area offers primitive camping options. There are numerous primitive campsites scattered throughout the area, particularly near the North Access Trailhead. Camping is free and allowed anywhere within the Jackson Falls area, though it is restricted to a 14-day continuous stay.

Campers’ Tips

  • Water Sources: The shallow stream running through the campsite, Little Bay Creek, provides water for campers, but it’s advisable to bring your own drinking water or a reliable filtration system.
  • Trash and Facilities: There are no trash services or drinking water facilities, so you’ll need to pack out all trash and be self-sufficient.
  • Safety: Exercise extreme caution near the exposed cliffs and waterfalls to avoid accidents. There have been injuries and fatalities in the past, so safety should be your top priority.

Seasonal Changes and Best Times to Visit

Jackson Falls is a year-round destination, but each season offers a different experience:

  • Spring and Early Summer: The waterfalls are at their most spectacular due to melting snow and spring rains. The lush greenery and blooming wildflowers add to the scenic beauty.
  • Summer: A popular time for camping and swimming in the plunge pools. The area can get crowded, especially on weekends.
  • Fall: The changing foliage creates a picturesque landscape. The cooler weather is ideal for hiking and climbing.
  • Winter: The falls may freeze, creating stunning ice formations. However, trails can be slippery and challenging.
Jackson falls historical work

Historical Insights

The history of Jackson Falls is rich and fascinating. Before being incorporated into the Shawnee National Forest in the 1930s, the canyon was relatively untouched, except for a commercial rail line running through it. The falls gained popularity as a recreation destination in the 1980s when rock climber Eric Ulner began bolting the first routes.

Directions to Jackson Falls Waterfall

To enjoy some of the best climbing and hiking in Southern Illinois, take IL-145 and head west toward Bell Smith Springs Road. Continue through McCormick and Zion Hill Church. Turn left (south) onto Forest Road 494, and proceed with caution as the road is rough. Park at the Jackson Falls trailhead to begin your adventure. Restrooms are available at the trailhead.


Jackson Falls is a true natural wonder, offering a perfect blend of beauty and adventure in the heart of Shawnee National Forest. Whether you’re hiking the trails, scaling the cliffs, or simply taking in the scenery, Jackson Falls is sure to leave a lasting impression. Plan your visit today and discover the magic of Jackson Falls for yourself.

Additional Information

  • Distance: Roughly 35 miles from Garden of the Gods/Shawnee Forest Cabins
  • Highlights: Known for its beautiful waterfalls and sandstone bluffs, Jackson Falls is a favorite spot for both hikers and rock climbers. The area provides various trails and routes, catering to different levels of adventure seekers.

Embark on an unforgettable outdoor adventure and experience the beauty of Jackson Falls firsthand. Whether you’re seeking a leisurely hike or a thrilling climb, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at this natural wonder in the heart of Southern Illinois.