Giant City Nature Trail Guide

Giant City Nature Trail is one of the most popular trails in Giant City State Park.

The Nature Trail is an easy loop hike appropriate for hikers of all ages and difficulties.

There is a lot to see along the Giant City Nature Trail that makes it worth visiting again and again.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about visiting and enjoying the Nature Trail at Giant City State Park in Southern Illinois.


Directions to Giant City Nature Trail

Getting to Giant City Nature Trail is easy to do. All roads leading to the trail are paved. The parking lot is also paved.

Take Highway 13 to Carbondale, Illinois, and go south of Giant City Road. Travel 10 miles until you drive into the park. The road will go from a striped blacktop to a non-painted asphalt road.

Drive past the Visitor Center until you reach the T and turn LEFT. Follow the road for about 1 mile passing the Lodge and cabins and going down the hill. The Giant City Nature Trail will be on your left.

During the winter, you will need to turn RIGHT at the T past the Visitor Center because the left road will be closed. Take the road down until you reach the next intersection T, and turn LEFT. Take the road down the hill and keep left for about a mile. The Nature Trail will be on your right.

There is a large parking lot that fit dozens of vehicles.

There are also picnic shelters with grills, a playground, trail information, and a restroom.

WINTER TRAVEL: Giant City State Park is hilly, and conditions could be hazardous if wintry precipitation has fallen. Please use caution when visiting the park after winter events. At times, the roads throughout the park will not be a priority for snow removal. It is vital to have a plan B, just in case.

PUBLIC HEALTH: Please see the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) website for any public health or safety closures within Giant City State Park. Try to have a Plan B just in case access is restricted within the park.


Trail Information for Giant City Nature Trail

Giant City Nature Trail is an easy-rated 1-mile loop trail designated for hiking only. It should take about 30 minutes to an hour to complete.

Along this trail, there are some hilly areas, rocky terrain, and wooden stairs.

There are no trail blazes, but the trail is used enough to easily stay on it without getting lost all year round. Interactions are signed.

Pets are OK as long as they are on a leash.

TRAIL HAZARDS: There are some hazards to keep in mind when hiking Giant City Nature Trail.

  • There is an area locally known as “Fat Man Squeeze” near the wall with all the carvings. This is a protected copperhead (venomous) snake hibernaculum. This means that snakes hibernate in this crack. Attempting to squeeze through it could result in bites from multiple venomous snakes. Anti-venom treatment typically costs nearly $100,000. The park does not allow people to squeeze through the rocks.
  • Poison ivy exists along this trail. Avoid it by not touching plants or trees and staying on the designated trail.
  • During rainy and wintry conditions, the trail will be slippery and dangerous in many sections. Please use caution if you hike during rainy or wintry conditions.
  • Dangerous conditions exist along this trail, including high cliffs and rocky areas. Please use caution when hiking on the trail and take your time.
  • During the warmer months, there will be ticks, mosquitoes, biting flies, and gnats. Use appropriate bug spray to protect yourself from biting bugs
  • Bring plenty of water with you, and always put safety first.


What You Will See along the Nature Trail Hike

At the start of the trail, you cross a scenic creek with attractive brickwork along it. These bricks were put in by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s.

As you hike, you’ll notice a sign asking that you stay on the designated trail. Please make sure you abide by this request. Staying on the trail will help protect precious flora and plants while preventing erosion.

When you hike the hill and reach the start of the loop, it is recommended that you go right and travel counterclockwise.

The start of the loop will be a rolling hill hike for a few minutes. Then, you’ll see impressive bluffs and boulders, rock formations, and a diverse forest. If it’s wet and there’s enough rain, you might see some small waterfalls and scenic views of the creeks nearby.

As you continue to the wooden stairs and walkways, look at how tall the bluffs are.

Once the bluffs start to square up and look like walls on the sides and in front of you, this area is known as the “Giant City Streets.” Look at the wall in front of you as you turn right. It’s littered with carvings as new as the 1980s and old as the Civil War. You can even see some CCC carvings on the rock. Look for the Casper Ghost looking face carved into the rocks, too.

Remember that carving on rocks now is illegal and can result in a very hefty fine and possible jail time.

After you turn right with the carving wall to your left side, take the first left turn to continue on the trail. You pass under the hanging boulder at this point. There are more carvings to your left and right before you pass under the hanging boulder.

Continue along the trail to see impressive bluffs and boulders to your left and right. Be sure to take note of the signs at any trail intersection to ensure you remain on the Giant City Nature Trail. If you get on the River to River Trail, it will go as far as the Mississippi River going one way and the Ohio River going the other way.

Prepare for another strenuous uphill hike as you hike up the old stone stairs to reach the top of the bluff. Continue back down, where you’ll start winding left and hike under a great natural cave shelter. There are a few excellent cave shelters along this part of the trail.

Shortly after, you’ll be back at the start of the loop. Turn right to go back to the parking lot.

My description sounds like this 1-mile loop goes fast. I suggest you take it slow and stop and look around. Take your time and take it all in.

There will be something to see every season. Colorful trees in the fall. Ability to see all the bluffs and terrain in the winter. Wildflowers in the spring. And a very vibrant green forest in the summer. There is something to see for everyone all year round.


History of the Giant City Nature Trail

The park’s natural features (bluffs, rocks, hills, etc.) were created by erosion, earthquakes, and an ancient ocean that stopped around the Southern Illinois tip. This was long before people and most living things that we know of. Features from this ancient ocean are scattered all around Southern Illinois.

Native Americans once inhabited this area. A reconstructed Stonefort in the park was said to have been created during the Late Woodland period. There are numerous Stonefort sites and Native American rock art sites throughout the region.

During the 1800s, brothers Albert S. and T. W. Thompson carved their names on the rocks (where all the carvings are located). One brother was a Civil War veteran. The National Register of Historic Places designated the carvings as the “Thompson Brothers Rock Art” site in 2015. The rock art site is one of the few surviving Civil War carving sites in southern Illinois.

Giant City Nature Trail is a part of Giant City State Park. The park was acquired by the State of Illinois in 1927 and was designated as a state park.

From the 1930s to 1940s, Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression. The CCC created the lodge, cabins, and most of the park’s roadways, brickwork work, and trails. The Giant City CCC Camp (Camp No. 696) is one of the most famous CCC camps in the region.

Today Giant City Nature Trail and the state park are widely visited all year round for hiking, backpacking, camping, nature viewing, dining, lodging, and equestrian use.


Other Stuff To Do Around the Nature Trail

While visiting Giant City Trillium Trail, be sure to visit other trails around Giant City State Park. There is something to do for everyone at this state park. Other hiking in the area includes Rocky Bluff in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, Green Earth Trails in Carbondale, and Panther Den Wilderness in the Shawnee National Forest.

For dining options, be sure to visit the Giant City Lodge for great breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. The lodge is known for its fried chicken dinner. There are many international dining options around Carbondale worth trying.

Be sure to check out Union County Tourism and Carbondale Tourism websites for entertainment and shopping around the area.

The Village of Makanda has a unique boardwalk of different stores worth visiting for gifts and snacks.

The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is also close to Giant City State Park.

For maps, information, camping permits, and state park gifts – visit the Visitor Center.

Visit the Trail Guides Homepage to see more Shawnee National Forest and State Parks guides. Join Southern Illinois Hiking & Outdoor Resources on Facebook to enjoy outdoor topics with over 25,000 members. Be sure to subscribe to the free monthly newsletter for more hiking trail tips.

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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