Midwest residents looking to explore Illinois’ best park need to explore the trails at Giant City State Park.
Located 345 miles south of Chicago and 12-miles south of Carbondale, the park is the crown gem of the Illinois State Park System. “We’re known as the most scenic park in the state,” says Bob Martin, the park’s site superintendent.
Surrounded by the Shawnee National Forest, the 4,000-acre park is a dream for lovers of the outdoors. Camping, hiking, horseback, riding, and rappelling are just some the outdoor activities found within the park’s boundaries. Set within the Shawnee Hills, the park is known for its scenic sandstone bluffs with names such as Fat Man’s Squeeze, the Devil’s Standtable, and the Whale’s Mouth.
Giant City State Park is known for its scenic sandstone bluffs with names such as Fat Man’s Squeeze, the Devil’s Standtable (shown), and the Whale’s Mouth.
Day hikers can trek the Devil’s Standtable Trail (moderate), the Post Oak Trail (easy), the Giant City Nature Trail (rugged), and the Trillium Trail (scenic). And the backpacker is not forgotten — the 16-mile Red Cedar Hiking Trail is a great overnight hike (a permit is required) and, as Jenny Skufca, the park naturalist points out: “The trail is a great place to train and practice for epic hikes out West. The park has guided hikes on the weekends. But before you hit the trails stop by the visitors’ center and pick up a trail map.
The park’s 85 electrical sites go for $11 per night while 14 primitive and 25 equestrian sites are $7 per night. And if sleeping under the stars is not for you, the park rents cabins from $55 to $90 per night. But whatever lodging you choose, be sure to visit the Giant City Lodge’s Bald Knob dining room. Known for its family-style, home-fried chicken, Martin swears, “It’s the best in the state!”
Rappelling is available on the 80-foot to 100-foot cliffs near shelter 1 and the 40-foot to 60-foot cliffs on the Devil’s Standtable Trail.
Guided trail ride are available at the Giant City Stables. Rides vary between $20-$60. The stable is open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily (closed on Tuesday). For more information, contact Giant City Stables, 722 Giant City Road, Makanda, IL 62958, 618-529-4110.
Flora And Fauna
With over 800 species of plants and 30 kinds of ferns, the park also is home to whitetail deer, turkey, upland game, and the elusive bobcat. Especially scenic is the 110-acre Fern Rock Nature Area (however, no dogs are allowed). Hunting is allowed in the park, so check with park staff for any precautions before hitting the trails.
After The Trails
If you’re in the mood for more outdoor recreation be sure to visit the Little Grand Canyon (Shawnee National Forest, 618-687-1731); for a taste of the Illinois Ozarks, head over to the Trail of Tears State Forest (618-833-4910), and Ferne Clyffe State Park (618-995-2411).
If you’re in the mood for BBQ, head over to Larry’s Pit BBQ; for Mexican food try Trace Hombres, and for Chinese food, visit the Great Wall.
For outdoor supplies, head over to Shawnee Trails in nearby Carbondale (618-529-2313).
Before you visit, your stay will be enhanced by reading the following: “Hiking Illinois” by Susan Post ($19.95, Human Kinetics, 800-747-4457) and “Fifty Nature Walks in Southern Illinois” by Alan McPherson ($13.95, Cache River Press, Rt. 3, Box 239C, Vienna, IL 62595).
Making The Trip
Here are directions from the Loop in Chicago: Giant City State Park is located 345 miles south of Chicago. Take Interstate-57 south to Illinois 13, go west on 13 to U.S. 51, head south on 51 to the park.
For more information, contact:
Giant City State Park
336 S. Church Road
Makanda, IL 62958