WILLIAMSPORT, Ind. — Brown water gushed along the gutter Wednesday at the intersection of Fall and Monroe Streets. At the turn, a painted arrow and “The Falls” pointed the way to Williamsport Falls.
For once, my timing was perfect.
Williamsport Falls was flowing. As I parked, I heard the roar of falling water at what is called Indiana’s tallest free-falling waterfall.
I love writing about and doing quixotic quests.
Timing it right to see Williamsport Falls when it was flowing is the my kind of quixotic quest.
Mitch Brown, a pastor of mine, emailed a month ago about the falls (it wasn’t flowing when he was there). I knew I wanted to make a trek to see it flowing.
Like many, I find something metaphysical with waterfalls, beyond just carnal sensory overload.
Even in the lingering light rain early afternoon, another couple just sat, looking at the waterfall.
Putting my hood up, I hiked off and found multiple good views of the waterfall through maples turning gold and oaks looking rusty.
Williamsport Falls, about 2.5 hours south of Chicago, used to have a year-round flow, but changes in the landscape made it intermittent. Gowaterfalling.com, focused on Great Lakes area waterfalls, describes it this way, “This waterfall is very often dry, and is even known as Dry Falls as a result. If you want to see the water falling stop by after a rainy spell or when the snow is melting.”
That’s why I went Wednesday.
I also agree with the site’s assessment of the falls, “The caprock over which the creek falls is nearly 40 feet thick and is rather impressive even if the water is not flowing. Above the falls the water has carved a channel a few feet deep into the rock so that the water appears to shoot out of a notch in the cliff.”
To heighten my experience, I took the scenic route south on Route 1. How can you resist going through Hoopeston, home of the Cornjerkers? Taking route 41 in Indiana is more direct, but rarely am I boxed in by going the direct route, in life or traveling.
Williamsport Falls reminds me in some ways of the Wildcat Canyon Falls at Starved Rock State Park, also intermittent and one of the best known falls in Illinois.
Max Reams with Carol Reams in “Waterfalls in Illinois” describes Wildcat Canyon Falls this way: “The 86-foot series of drops is breathtaking. The largest drop is 58 feet. Be careful taking photos.”
Starvedrock.org accurately calls it a difficult hike from the visitor center.
However, I believe a physically challenging hike makes for a deeper experience when you reach the waterfall.
The tallest waterfall in Illinois is Burden Falls in the Burden Falls Wilderness Area in southern Illinois … with a caveat. It is a series of falls and cascades, not a free-falling waterfall. It also has seasonal flow.
When I visited it about seven years ago, the time was special because I was with outdoor writer Les Winkeler and conservation lion Sam Stearns, who spun stories and added perspective.
Shawneeforest.com recommends taking the switchback trail to circle back to the Twin Falls of Burden Falls to view “the ruggedly majestic cliff faces of Burden Falls.”
Reams, who taught geology at Olivet Nazarene University for five decades, warns that people have died here and does not recommend it for children.
While I enjoy Burden Falls, I find Jackson Falls, also in southern Illinois in the Shawnee National Forest, more impressive. Part of that personal preference may be because I camped out near the falls when I was first there some years ago, adding another layer of intimacy to the experience.
The Forest Service noted another draw, “The bluffs and rock faces found at Jackson Falls offer excellent technical climbing surrounded by a beautifully scenic area of the Shawnee National Forest.”
Climbers were out in force the last time I was there.
Reams notes, “Jackson Falls displays evidence of Niagara-style waterfall retreat as seen in large blocks on either side of the waterfall. This type of waterfall retreat has dominated the history of Jackson Falls.”
Though not nearly as spectacular as Niagara or the falls mentioned here, the smaller falls at Matthiessen State Park and the ones along Rock Creek in the Kankakee River State Park most pull on my heart.