I discovered this past week a new exciting place to hike and photograph – Jackson Falls – just wishing it were closer.
I visited the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois on my way to visit family in Kentucky. It is about 45 minutes north of Paducah. I don’t think I had ever been there before, which is surprising, as growing up we hit so many of the scenic areas in that region. But if we did, I have no memory.
One of my favorite places to go when in Kentucky is the Red River Gorge and this area reminded me of it. The rock formations were phenomenal but what drew me there initially was the promise of some waterfalls. Thought with the hurricane rains having been in that area they would be beautiful. Unfortunately they were dry. I started out at Burden Falls. Little did I know the falls was not far from the parking lot but in talking to some people there, they led me to believe it was down the path, so on I hiked. After hours of hiking along the creek and ridge I finally found my way to the base of the dry waterfall which was only after I decided to head back to the parking lot. It would have been beautiful if there was water but oh well. The creek bed was nice and the rock formations were interesting so I still enjoyed but was time to move on.
I decided it was time to find a place to camp and was told by some folks along that trail that Jackson Falls people sometimes camped at. It was the place that had originally peaked my interest when I was researching a place to hike in the area, so off I went to check it out. I was only about 15 minutes away.
When I arrived there were probably 30 or 40 tents and another 20 hammocks set up along the trail, road and jeep paths in the area. I was surprised there was so many as this falls was dry too. After talking to some campers there, I found there was a way to get down to the valley below the dry falls, so I decided to check it out before it got dark. I found a place to set up camp and took off.
There was a 4 mile loop you could hike but if you knew the right spot there was a place you could scramble down some steep boulders and hike in this canyon. I ventured forth and after watching some people on the steep boulders I decided it was something I could tackle and I headed down. I discovered this gorgeous valley with fascinating rock formations and towering canyon walls. This area is also a rock climbers haven. There were well over 100 climbers there enjoying those canyon walls. That evening I did just a short hike as I didn’t want to get caught in the dark climbing up those rocks back to the trail. The climbers were still climbing and it was so fun to watch them. I was able to make it back out fine and joined some climbers on the way back to where I was camping. One of the climbers was from South Africa. How fun. They invited me to join them at their campfire that evening. Sounded like fun and I thought maybe I would. I returned to my site and ate the meager dinner I had packed just in case – tuna and strawberries with a power bar for desert. After sitting for awhile I didn’t have the energy to visit the climbers so I just sat and read, enjoyed the nature around me. I got eventually got too cold and headed on to bed.
The next morning I got up early as it began to get light and beat the climbers out. I headed back down to the canyon taking a different path from the night before. For a while I enjoyed the canyon in solitude. It was so peaceful and just what I needed. As I hiked they slowly trickled in and started climbing. The first was the group that included a climber from South Africa that I had met the night before. I enjoyed getting to watch them climb and then I hiked on for a few hours having fun photographing the rock formations and walls. I could have stayed there all day but was needing to head on to Lexington BUT I will return!! I never made it to the Garden of the Gods there which I hear is spectacular – maybe this fall…..