Donated to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources by the F.W. Matthiessen family in 1943, Matthiessen State Park is comprised of nearly 2,000 acres of prairies, bluff and deep ravine forests, as well as sandstone canyons (called “dells” by Matthiessen) cut by the still-rushing Vermilion River. The ground water which percolates through the sandstone has rendered completely natural “mineral paintings” of indescribable beauty. Native plant and animal communities extend right down to the curious mosses and liverworts which thrive on the moist canyon walls.
Additional canyon dwelling organisms include Cliff Swallows and Rock Doves, along with numerous frogs, toads, and salamanders that seek out the cool, moist streams on the canyon floors. Up on the ravine slope forests, Cedar Waxwings and Scarlet Tanagers can be seen feeding on the berries of shrubs such as northern honeysuckle and service berry. Look also for the horizontal rows of holes excavated on selected tree trunks by the insect-loving Yellowbellied Sapsucker. The spring wildflower show at Matthiessen features the magenta-colored blooms of shooting star, the brick-reds of columbine, the pinks of spring beauty, and the pastels of hepatica. Local birders find the Matthiessen prairie habitats to be the best in the region for finding uncommon grassland nesters such as Bell's Vireo, Sedge Wren, Henslow's Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and Dickcissel. In addition to the hiking trails, visitors can take advantage of the park's archery range, radio-controlled airplanes, and equestrian trails/equestrian campground.