Southwestern Illinois Offers Natural Fall Beauty
Autumn’s arrival creates spectacular scenery at Illinois state parks and natural areas with landscapes painted brilliant hues of orange, red and yellow. For example, state parks in southern Illinois west of Interstate 57 draw crowds for their gorgeous fall foliage, and the cooler temperatures beckon visitors to engage in refreshing outdoor activities such as hiking and camping.
Giant City State Park
Pack the car with camping gear and head to Giant City State Park near Makanda, where you can go horseback riding, fishing, hiking or rappelling in the Shawnee National Forest. Located just minutes south of Carbondale, Giant City State Park spans 4,000 acres and attracts more than 1.2 million visitors annually to its wilderness trails, hundreds of species of wildflowers, outdoor activities and towering sandstone bluffs.
Experienced climbers can rappel at two locations in the state park, while hiking ranges from the Post Oak Trail designed for disabled visitors to the 12-mile Red Cedar Hiking Trail for seasoned backpackers. Equine enthusiasts can bring their own horses to the equestrian campground (open May 1 through Oct. 31) or take part in the daily trail rides at Giant City Stables (open March 15 through Oct. 31, but closed Tuesdays).
Stop by the Giant City State Park Visitor Center to explore interpretive displays on the geology, plants, animals and rich history of the park. You can also watch a short film about the park’s past and shop for souvenirs in the gift shop. Don’t miss the 80-foot sandstone cliff near the park’s main entrance where you can see the remains of a Native American stone wall erected between A.D. 600-800.
Other State Parks and Natural Areas
Lake Murphysboro State Park in Jackson County covers 1,022 acres of rolling hills and woodlands, including groves of beautiful oak and hickory trees. Lake Murphysboro draws fishermen thanks to its largemouth bass, redear sunfish, bluegill and channel catfish. Visitors also enjoy the park’s archery range, picnic areas, hiking trails, campsites and boating opportunities.
In Union County, the Trail of Tears State Forest encompasses 5,000 acres of land once inhabited by Native Americans. Hunters can find an abundance of squirrel, deer, turkey and raccoon within the forest. The state forest also offers picnicking, hiking, camping and horseback riding.
Planning a visit to Giant City State Park? Make a reservation at the Giant City Lodge, a rustic hideaway established in 1939. It has since been expanded and remodeled, but the lodge’s original multihued sandstone and white oak timbers remain. Overnight guests can choose from three types of cabins, including one-room historic cabins, two-room prairie cabins and four bluff cabins that can accommodate a family of six.
Amenities include an outdoor swimming pool and children’s pool, gift shop, historic cocktail lounge and bar, and the Bald Knob Dining Room. Guests rave about the Bald Knob’s famous family-style fried chicken dinners. Giant City Lodge opens in February and closes for the winter in mid-December.
Southwest Illinois Natural Areas
Horseshoe Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area in Olive Branch
Lake Murphysboro State Park in Murphysboro
Pyramid State Recreation Area in Pinckneyville
Rend Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area in Bonnie
Trail of Tears State Forest in Jonesboro
Union County State Fish & Wildlife Area in Jonesboro
Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area in Whittington