“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust
Ferne Clyffe was one of the first places I hiked at in Southern Illinois. For my first trip there with friends, we didn’t look it up online prior to going. We hiked the first trail we found, an easy 1 mile hike that circles Ferne Clyffe Lake. We thought the area was pretty, but left overall unimpressed.
The lake in winter
The lake in early fall
After a while of living in Southern Illinois, we heard people talk about a waterfall at Ferne Clyffe. Knowing we obviously missed something, we came back. The watefall at Ferne Clyffe is 100 feet tall with a very small pool at the bottom. You can rock hop or climb on the bluffs to reach about every part of the waterfall. Almost every time I have hiked to the waterfall, I’ve used the trail that starts at the top by the Derr Ridge Campgrounds. It’s about .75 miles and can either take you to the top of the waterfall or down to the bottom. There’s actually paths on either side of the waterfall that run from the top to the bottom.
After several years of only going to Ferne Clyffe for the main waterfall, I took a good look at the map the Department of Natural Resources has and realized they are citing 18 different trails (I’m not totally convinced by how they’re counting, but OK). This lead to my trek through the woods with my wonderful boyfriend Donovan on our anniversary. I ended up getting us lost for several hours and on a horse trail instead of walking paths. Ferne Clyffe needs some better signage in their less populated areas. We did stumble upon the not well known Natural Bridge of Ferne Clyffe! You can read more about that here (post to come). He’s a trooper.
Then again the wonderful internet lead me to find out about a second huge waterfall at Ferne Clyffe, Bork Falls. It’s my personal favorite waterfall in Ferne Clyffe: amazingly spectacular and a lot less crowded than the main fall. Read more about that adventure here. At least that time we didn’t get lost for hours.
Finally, a co-worker told me about a trail leading to a large cove overhang with fun climbing bolders. This led me to the trail area that is the most populated at Ferne Clyffe, but for a good reason. In one parking lot, there are 4 trail heads. This area of Ferne Clyffe has great signage at each trail head. Each trail is an easy hike and you can complete all of them in a day for some great scenery.
Rebman Trail: A short .25 mile hike on mostly flat ground. The path takes you past bluffs in the park. We were there shortly after it had rained and the area had two small flowing waterfalls. I would imagine that these would not be there during dry spells.
Goreville Boy Scout Trail: We did not do this trail. To us it looked like it really just connected to additional parking. The Department of Natural Resources describes it as a “steep trail that connects the park to the nearby city of Goreville.”
Hawk’s Cave Trail: This is the trail my co-worked was talking about, again a short 1 mile loop. DNR claims that Hawk’s Cave is the “one of the largest shelter bluffs in Illinois.” I would believe it. It was pretty huge. The path leads you by two bluff overhangs. The first is small and short, but tall enough that the trail walks under it. There was a small trickle of water flowing down from the top of the bluffs while we were there, creating a thin waterfall. The trail then leads to “one of the largest shelter bluffs in Illinois.” A massive area filled with sandstone boulders.
Big Rocky Hollow Trail: This is the most popular trail at Ferne Clyffe leading to the base of their main waterfall. There are usually other people on the trail. Down and back on the trail is only about a mile and the ground can be easily navigated by strollers. Walking past the mossy bluffs and the 100-foot waterfall are both beautiful.
Ferne Clyffe is wonderful because it’s beautiful and really close to Carbondale and Marion. Perfect for when you need to stretch your legs or take your dog on a longer walk. I’ve probably been to Ferne Clyffe around 10 times over the past 6 years and there are still some trails I have yet to hike. Most of the trails are short enough that you can travel a handful of them in one day, just don’t get lost out on the horse trails!