I was getting a bit worried. After slogging along a trail with mud deep enough to strangle a pig, there was no waterfall in sight. The map clearly labeled the trail as the "Waterfall Trail", which strongly suggested that this hiking trail did, in fact, lead to a waterfall.
Well, maybe. Names can be misleading. Ask the folks in Marble Hill, for example, where their marble hill is located. Or just try to figure out the distance from "Cape" Girardeau to the nearest ocean cape.
I thought about the First Law of Pavement Ends: The farther you travel, the more likely you're going to be disappointed.
Thankfully that wasn't the case here. The Waterfall Trail, located near Kinkaid Lake in Illinois, really does have a waterfall. And it's a beauty.
Like most local waterfalls, however, it only flows during wet weather. But hiking on muddy trails isn't much fun in wet weather. That brings us to the Second Law of Pavement Ends: Waterfalls are at their best when the trails are at their worst.
Thanks to recent rainstorms, the water was flowing at a decent rate.
The waterfall, which doesn't apparently have a name, is actually a series of falls, with a large plunge at the top followed by smaller stair-step cascades.
Upstream from the main falls, the creek flows past a series of photogenic boulders.
The water has carved a channel underneath an overhanging ledge.
Low sandstone bluffs overlook the creek and falls on the east side. Like many areas in the Shawnee National Forest, the rocks feature interesting textures.
I didn't realize it until I went home and studied the geological maps, but the waterfall sits right in the middle of a transition from sandstone rocks (above) to limestone rocks (below).
That's the Third Law of Pavement Ends: After you get home, don't look too carefully at the maps, because you'll discover that you've missed something important.
From Cape Girardeau, cross the Emerson Bridge into Illinois and turn left on Highway 3. Continue on Highway 3 north for 39 miles to the intersection with Highway 151. Turn right on Highway 151 and go 1.2 miles. Turn right on Gum Ridge Road and follow this paved road for 2 miles. At the point where the road makes a sharp left turn, look for a tiny blue sign that says "TRAIL" and turn right here on John Lee Road. Follow this gravel lane through a wooded area and then veer right to continue past private property. The road soon enters National Forest land and dead-ends at the parking lot for the trailhead (the gravel road is in decent, but not great, condition).
[PDF trail map]
From the trailhead, you can either go straight ahead and cross a rickety wooden bridge with no guardrails, or you can turn left and make a detour that involves fording the creek.
Past the bridge, continue straight. Before reaching the edge of Kinkaid Lake, the trail comes to an intersection. Turn right here (look for the sign for the Waterfall Trail). Follow this trail as it meanders to the south, up and down the hills. The distance to the waterfall is about 1.5 miles. On the trail map, the waterfall is near the "bicycle" symbol along the blue trail.