Ferne Clyffe – Waterfall

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Ferne Clyffe State Park

The waterfall hike at Ferne Clyffe (Fern Cliff) State Park deserves to be on the must see list for every visitor to Southern Illinois! Although I’ve lived in the area for the past 14 years, I am just now getting around to doing it. What a mistake I’ve made. The park offers all types of adventures from backpacking and hiking to camping and fishing on Ferne Lake. There are a lot of pavilions with playgrounds that are all very well kept, not to mention there is a waterfall in Shawnee Forest with climbing opportunities! Ferne (“Cliff”) State Park is an ideal place to visit during your Shawnee Forest adventure in Southern Illinois.

On to the waterfall hike!

If you’re looking for one of those picture-perfect hikes often seen in travel brochures where the kids are playing in a small stream with great views behind them, the waterfall hike at Ferne Clyffe is the place for you. All along this hike there are beautiful rock formations that just beg to be explored up close and personal.

Arriving Saturday morning, I was surprised to find the Ferne Clyffe (Fern Cliff) Waterfall hike moderately busy. We had no problem finding a parking spot, but I did get the impression it could get very busy Saturday afternoons during good weather. My wife, having hiked here before during the week when traffic is considerable slower, was also surprised by the lively pace.

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Ferne Clyffe State Park Trails

The hiking path is nicely coated with small brown rock and is wide enough to easily accommodate several hikers walking side by side. There is a very slight uphill gradient over the course of this ¾ mile trail, but still very doable for the entire family. This path is wheelchair and stroller friendly and is one of the best hikes for beginners and families in the Shawnee National Forest area.

An Eye-Catching Adventure

The path travels next to a stone covered creek where it seems there is something visually enjoyable around every bend for myself and large spaces for my kids to explore. There is no shortage of great rock formations to view or stones to be tossed into the creek. I felt fascinated by these giant and spectacular formations surrounding me on both sides and, at times, could of spent several minutes there studying them if it were not for my kids wanting to get to the waterfall.

Ferne Clyffe Waterfall

First, I spotted a 5 foot wide by 20 foot long bridge crossing over the small creek. When I looked beyond the bridge, I realized we had arrived at the waterfall. Due to rain the day before, the waterfall was beautifully active. During other visits, my wife and kids enjoyed playing in the water, but in early Spring it is still too cold. Caution should be taken as creek bed erosion directly below the waterfall makes the water pretty deep.

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Climbing Near the Waterfall

There are several paths up and around the waterfall that can be explored, but it seemed the higher these paths went the more difficult they became. These rocks can be slippery when wet, but I easily climbed 30 feet above the waterfall base without too much trouble. Other hikers in the area at the time were able to navigate to the top of the waterfall within several minutes.

Ferne Clyffe State Park Trail Map

As one of the premier family hikes in the Shawnee National Forest, the Ferne Clyffe Waterfall is a beautiful escape into nature with a lot to see and do anytime of the year. Print a trail map and don’t wait 14 years, like me, to experience this natural marvel!

Ferne Clyffe State Park Map Brochure


1. Where is ferne clyffe state park?

Ferne clyffe state park is located in Johnson County IL just 2 miles south of Goreville on IL-37.  While the actual park is not part of the shawnee forest, it is often grouped in many discussions because of it’s good hiking, camping and it’s close proximity to the forest.

2. How far is giant city state park to ferne clyffe?

Ferne Clyffe is 21 miles away from Giant City State Park.  The drive usually takes around 25 minutes taking you along a route pass Devil’s Kitchen Lake and Little Grassy Lake.

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