Makanda: Gateway to Giant City and Outdoor Adventure

Breathtaking natural beauty and unlimited opportunities for outdoor recreation: Giant City State Park and the Makanda area offers loads of fun. An outdoor lover's paradise.  


by Carol Hoffman
September 07, 2018

Take a scenic drive to Giant City and Makanda

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Makanda has been called “the most hippie town in Illinois,” and we think you’ll agree. Located in Southern Illinois at the entrance to Giant City State Park, it’s a charming, inspiring and artistic place that’s sure to make you feel like a free spirit.

The smiley face water tower has a bow tie as a salute to US Senator Paul Simon, who was from Makanda

The March of the Artists

Makanda was once a thriving railroad town that served as a hub for fresh fruit and vegetables on their way to Chicago. But eventually, refrigerated railroad cars came along, meaning the trains no longer had to stop in town. By the 1960s, it was struggling to survive.

Along came the artists. Between the dwindling population, some floods and a fire, property prices were low. That made it an attractive proposition for artists from nearby Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

Since then, more and more artists have flocked to Makanda, enticed by the town’s spirit, scenery and art scene. Visitors have flocked there for many of the same reasons.

local artwork on display and for sale

Visit Unique Shops on the Makanda Boardwalk

When previous visitors hear “Makanda,” they probably picture the boardwalk. It dates back to the 1890s and runs in front of a series of historic buildings that now hosts a series of galleries. It’s a great place to buy unique handcrafts from local artisans.

Makanda boardwalk

Makanda Trading Co. is an amazing general store in which you'll find a wealth of treasures fit to fill any home. Visions Art Gallery features local artists and their works, including paintings, stained glass and ceramics. Rainmaker Art Studio displays impressive metal work such as jewelry, sculptures and fountains. 

Makanda Country Store sign

When you need a break from all that hard shopping work, stop in at the Makanda Country Store for gourmet coffee, sandwiches and hand-dipped ice cream. You can also choose from a delightful range of hot sauces to take back home.

local artist working on a piece

Rain Maker studios displays impressive metal work from jewelry, sculptures, and fountains.

Giant City State Park

Once you’ve browsed the township, get in touch with nature at Giant City State Park. Start your exploration at the Giant City Visitor Center where you’ll find all the maps, trail details and information you’ll need. If you’re there with kids, explore the Discovery Corner and ask about the scavenger hunt—there’s a prize in it for the kids if they complete it successfully.

The entrance to Giant City State Park is at the edge of Makanda

Rock Climbing

Two climbers rappelling down a bluff at Giant City State ParkClimbing and rappelling are permitted at the park in two locations. The areas of Devil's Standtable cliff and Shelter #1 bluff at the Makanda entrance are accessible to climbers, and ropes are permitted on these cliffs. Climbers should bring their own equipment and go directly to the bluff, no check-in is necessary. No permanent anchors allowed. All climbing activities at the park are conducted at your own risk. Cliffs are steep and sandstone can be slippery when wet. Venomous copperhead snakes, an Illinois protected species, are found on sunny ledges. Please use caution. Southern Illinois sandstone bluff plant communities are fragile, so tread lightly in these areas. Always carry out what you carry in!


Hiker enjoying a spring walk

Explore the Park’s picturesque natural wonders along its eight trails. The Post Oak Trail is accessible for all with a design catering to visitors with disabilities. Trillium Trail is a beautiful trail offering a great showcase of brightly colored leaves visible from the bluffs. The 12-mile Red Cedar Hiking Trail provides an invigorating challenge for the truly dedicated backpacker. You can make a weekend of it with the overnight campsite at the halfway point.

Giant City trail in winter

Hiking is available year-round, but winter in particular offers a very peaceful experience. The weather is generally mild, and you can pretty much have the trails all to yourself. Cooler temperatures mean no bugs, and the bare trees allow you to see much further into the forests, including bluffs that are hidden from view in summer.

Giant City Lodge

After an active day out, refuel your body at the beautiful Giant City Lodge. It’s a spacious, hand-hewn log-built lodge, offering a rustic atmosphere with multi-hued sandstone and white oak timber.

Friends taking a break inside the rustic Giant City Lodge

The Lodge has an excellent reputation for food and hospitality, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Try the Lodge specialty, the all-you-can-eat family-style chicken dinner—it’ll be some of the best fried chicken you’ll ever eat. Be sure to save room for some warm fruit cobbler!

The Lodge also features three styles of cabins for a quiet getaway, a lounge, a bar and a gift shop.

Giant City Stables

a group enjoying the area on horseback

Saddle up for trail rides with experienced wranglers on the 3+ miles of private trails. The Stables maintain about 30 horses of different types and breeds. There are horses for all levels of rider, and the staff there will match you with a horse to meet your needs. The kids can get in on the fun, too, with a hand-led pony ride.

Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour

sign to Shawnee BluffsEnjoy the breeze zipping through the trees. This is the place to check zip-lining off your bucket list. On this three-hour canopy tour, you’ll traverse a safe and established route of ziplines and aerial bridges between 11 platforms high in the trees. You’ll need to leave your phone and camera behind, but not to worry: the staff will take photos for you, and you can rent a GoPro if you’d like to capture a first-person perspective of your zipping experience. Try a night-time tour for an added level of excitement. 

zip line through the forest

Little Grassy Fish Hatchery 

Little Grassy produces about a million fish per year, including channel catfish, blue catfish, largemouth bass, bluegills and redear sunfish. It’s a great place to take the kids to see how the fisheries help stock the area’s ponds and support the ecosystem.

kids and adults learning about fish production

Most of the channel catfish produced in Illinois come from Little Grassy, and the production process provides a great viewing experience for visitors. Prime viewing time is early-to-mid-June, but tours are available year-round, and visitors can feed yearling catfish from Memorial Day through July.

Be sure and ask about the record channel catfish!

Vulture Fest

It’s the highlight of Makanda’s event calendar. Each fall, vultures fly and swoop through the skies surrounding Makanda, signaling the beginning of fall and the arrival of incredible fall colors. Makanda celebrates this the third weekend of October each year with Vulture Fest. It features live music, food, shopping and art by local artists – you don’t want to miss it.

visitors enjoy vendors and crafts at Vulture Fest

That’s just a taste of the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere you’ll find in Makanda. Explore the South in Illinois to experience it for yourself.

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