Southern Illinois is home to some of the state’s best scenery and outdoor adventure, much of it in the famous Shawnee National Forest.
While the whole Forest is a must-visit for any outdoor enthusiast, there are some areas that stand out as particular highlights. One of those is Giant City State Park in Makanda, near Carbondale.
It’s not a city in the usual sense. You won’t find cars, or skyscrapers, or fast food outlets (though it does have great fried chicken—more on that later).
No, this “city” is named for its natural landscape of giant sandstone bluffs and narrow corridors framed by sheer cliff faces. Early explorers thought these looked like the narrow, winding streets of a giant city—or perhaps, a city for giants. Take a look and it’s easy to understand why.
How many other chances will you get to explore a giant city of stone? You’ll make photos and memories unlike anywhere else in the world. Those “streets” are prime Instagram material.
But if you need a little more convincing, there’s a whole lot more to see and experience. It’s a veritable Garden of Eden with wildflowers, dozens of tree varieties and seemingly no end of lush ferns and greenery. Walk through the woods with the sunlight spilling through the canopy overhead and you’ll feel a million miles away from the rest of the world.
Speaking of walking, the park is full of hiking opportunities, with eight trails catering to all levels of skill and experience. Our pick? The Giant City Nature Trail. It takes you through the “streets,” the can’t-miss attraction of the park. Post Oak Trail is an easy walk, while Trillium Trail takes you over some impressive bluffs and past some floral beauty. Red Cedar Backpacking Trail offers the longest hike at 12 miles.
With all this talk of rocks, you might be feeling the urge to climb. The park’s got you covered with two designated climbing and rappelling areas, including the sheer cliffs of formidably-named Devil’s Standtable.
Rounding it all off, there’s also fishing, boating, hunting, camping and horseback riding—Giant City Stables can supply the horse and guide.
Self-guided exploration of Giant City is enjoyable enough. But to really understand what you’re looking at, the Giant City Visitor Center is well worth your time. There you can learn more about the geology, wildlife, plants and history of Giant City, not to mention details of all the activities you can pursue there. Makanda is also a hotbed of artistic activity, which the visitor center pays tribute to with seasonal displays of local artists’ work.
We mentioned fried chicken earlier. Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about it. You’ll find it at Giant City Lodge.
The Lodge is a cornerstone of the park. It was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and has welcomed thousands of visitors since with an air of rustic beauty and old-school charm.
“But what about the chicken?” you ask. Well, it’s the Lodge’s specialty. Every day for lunch and dinner they serve up an all-you-can-eat family style fried chicken dinner. Crispy fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, beans, ‘slaw, biscuits—we’d say skip the park and go straight for the chicken, but you’ll need to hike all those trails to make room for it.
Giant City: marvelous landscapes, invigorating walks, great chicken. Make it one of your next stops as you explore Illinois.