Burden Falls in Pope County, Illinois, presents somewhat of a dilemma. It's the perfect place to visit on a hot summer day when the heat index is off the charts. However, it's not nearly as scenic during dry summer weather when the creek shrivels to nothing and the waterfalls stop falling.
But if you can find a way to visit during nice weather following a period of wet weather, then Burden Falls is one of the more spectacular places to see in Southern Illinois. As a bonus, the falls are located within shouting distance of the parking area, so this destination doesn't involve any long, sweaty hikes.
Burden Creek cascades over a series of sandstone ledges as it drops into a rock-lined canyon. The upper falls, right next to the parking area, is only a few feet tall but is very picturesque. And on a hot day, it's hard to resist getting wet:
But the upper cascade is just an appetizer. Follow the creek a few hundred feet to the north to reach the lip of the lower falls. Watch your step:
Here the water drops 20 to 30 feet into the canyon floor in dramatic fashion. The best view is from the northeast: Follow the ledge to the right and carefully continue along the rock wall. You'll be rewarded with this view:
If you're feeling adventurous, scramble down the boulders to reach the bottom of the falls. The view from here is the coolest (in temperature and in style):
If you do enjoy hiking, a trailhead from the parking lot leads into the Burden Falls Wilderness Area, a 3,775-acre parcel of land set aside by Congress in 1990. But you may want to save your legs for another scenic spot, Bell Smith Springs, located just down the road. But I'll save that for a future blog.
From Cape Girardeau, cross the river and follow Highway 146 through McClure, Ware, Anna, and then to Vienna. In Vienna, make a left at the four-way stop with U.S. Highway 45, and continue for 12 miles until you reach the intersection with Ozark Road on the right. Ozark Road starts as a wide paved road but eventually narrows and then becomes McCormick Road. After the road turns to gravel, make a left at the next intersection. This is Forest Road 402, but is unmarked. Follow this road for less than a mile as it drops down a hill. The parking area will be on the left, just before the road crosses Burden Creek on a low-water bridge.
Name: Burden Falls
What: Series of waterfalls
Location: Pope County, Illinois
GPS coordinates: 37.56366, -88.64199
Topographic map: Stonefort
Owner: Shawnee National Forest
Designation: Part of Burden Falls Wilderness Area (3,775 acres)
Claim to fame: One of the highest waterfalls in Illinois
Website links: Wikipedia, National Forest, Photo Essay