Giant City Road Biking Route Itinerary
Giant City road biking is great for many different reasons.
It’s scenic. It’s great for fitness. It’s lightly trafficked.
Your selected road biking route can make or break your cycling adventure. You spent all that money on a road bike and cycling gear; you might as well enjoy it.
Giant City State Park in southern Illinois is great for riding your road bike.
And in this itinerary, I’ll explain why and give you all the tips you need to enjoy your Giant City road biking trip.
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Why Choose a Giant City Road Biking Route?
As I mentioned above, Giant City State Park is scenic, great for fitness, and lightly trafficked.
It’s one of the most scenic state parks in southern Illinois. You can see amazing bluffs, scenic overlooks, the architectural genius from the CCC days, and an amazing southern Illinois countryside from the paved roads alone. You could even throw in a few hikes to enjoy more of the park before or after your bike ride. I personally like hiking the Nature Trail and Trillium Trail.
Giant City road biking is great for fitness. The park has a lot of hilly road conditions. There are even a few very challenging hills, such as the lodge hill and the Wall. You could even go up the hill to reach the smiley face water tower to add extra elevation. Getting over 1,000 feet of elevation gain at Giant City State Park isn’t that difficult. It’s a great park to ride for fitness and to train for harder cycling events.
The park is lightly trafficked. There aren’t a lot of cars moving through the park, even on the busiest and nicest weekends. Drivers also know that cyclists and hikers may be on or crossing the roadways. They tend to drive slower through the park and give you plenty of room. I don’t recall ever having an issue with drivers while road biking at Giant City, and I’ve been biking there for over twelve years. Illinois DNR Conservation Police also make routine patrols in the park, deterring people from speeding.
The question isn’t why you should choose a Giant City road biking route; why are you not already biking there? Do it; you’ll love it!
Giant City State Park Road Biking Routes
You’ll find that there are many different Giant City road biking routes to choose from. There more and more you ride there, you’ll create routes on your own.
But in the meantime, I’ll give you three great route options to start your road biking journey at Giant City State Park. These three options are easy, moderate, and hard in that particular order.
A Tour of Giant City State Park (Easy Route)
Here is a nice 8-mile route with less than 500 feet of elevation gain.
You’ll start at the Giant City State Park Visitor Center and head into the park. You’ll pass the historic Giant City Lodge (built by the CCC) and go down the hill. Use caution, as you can get going fast down the hill. You’ll fly through the Nature Trail and Devil’s Backbone area until you turn off to leave the park. You’ll trace the outside of the park and ride into Makanda. Then you’ll come back into the park and go uphill all the way back to the Visitor Center.
Most of this route will be within the state park boundaries. You may experience cross traffic around Makanda, so please use caution there and along intersections in the park.
The Hills of Makanda (Moderate Route)
Here is a 12-mile route with around 780 feet of elevation gain.
You’ll start at the Giant City State Park Visitor Center and head downhill around the Stonefort and Trillium Trails. You’ll then pass through Makanda and continue all the way into the Shawnee Hills Wine County. You’ll enjoy scenic views of orchards and vineyards in this countryside. You’ll ride back into the park and go uphill around to the Lodge (this hill can be challenging!) and then make your way back to the visitor center.
For the most part, much of the ride is in the shade. However, when you get outside of the park, past Makanda, and into the wine country, much of it will be out in the open. Prepare for a sunlit area and potentially more traffic.
Hitting the Wall (Hard Route)
Here is a 20-mile route with right under 1,200 feet of elevation gain.
This will be your hardest route. As you leave the park and head north towards Carbondale, it will have more traffic. There are two very challenging hills on this route. The first one is the lodge hill which is strenuous to bike up. The second one is The Wall, South Church Road coming up from the Makanda boardwalk. This very challenging hill might require you to get off your bike and push it up. Be prepared to unclip and push your bike up the hill.
Use caution when biking on the Giant City blacktop, as vehicles will ride with you more frequently. There are few wide shoulders along this route, but cyclists are common in these areas.
How to Get into Road Biking as a Beginner
If you’re new to road biking, I’d love the opportunity to help you get into it. Gian City road biking is some of the best cycling for beginners because it immediately introduces you to elevation. You can do the smaller hills at first, but I recommend you work your way up to at least bike up the lodge hill.
Choose the Right Bike
You need to choose the right kind of bicycle. A road bike will be best for you if you plan to just ride on paved roads. If you want to do a mixture of paved and gravel road biking, go with a gravel bike.
I wouldn’t use a mountain bike or a hybrid for road biking. I’d leave those types of bikes to mountain bike trails and rail trails.
You have many options for getting a good road bike. You can get Trek or Specialized brand road bikes from the Bike Surgeon in Carterville, Illinois, next to McDonald’s. You can purchase Giant brand road bikes from Phoenix Cycles in Carbondale on Illinois Ave (the strip). You might be able to find a used bike, too.
Make sure the bike you choose fits your height. Bike sizing is extremely important. The wrong-size bike can lead to injuries and uncomfortable biking.
You might be tempted to get a cheaper road bike (off-brand) from major chain retailers. Those bikes are cheaply made, poorly assembled, and often don’t last long. Getting one might be cheaper but likely result in a poor cycling experience.
Get the Right Cycling Gear
Get bike-specific apparel. Bibs or bike shorts are a must. Padding in the shorts (called a Chamois) helps reduce friction and chafing. You don’t wear underwear with shorts. The tight-fitting spandex apparel is best to help reduce drag from wind and make you more aerodynamic. I suggest getting American-made cycling apparel from WILDCYCLER which makes kits that are really colorful and easy to spot by drivers. Plus, the colors and design are fun – they have kits for men and women. If you don’t want flashy colors and designs, check out Pactimo (affiliate link!), which has many great options for men and women.
Get a helmet and wear your helmet on the bike. It doesn’t take a lot of speed to cause a wreck that can permanently injure your brain.
Get a basic bike repair kit. It should include 1-2 extra tubes, a patch kit, tire levers, a chain breaker, extra chain links, a portable air pump, and a multi-tool.
Get some water bottle holders with a few water bottles.
Get a bright light kit. It should include a front headlight and a rear red light that flashes.
Some good optional gear items include a bike computer, gloves, clipless pedals and shoes, and winter cycling apparel such as tights and a jacket.
Learn Basic Bike Maintenance
Get on YouTube and search for the basics of road bike maintenance.
Learn how to change your innertubes. You might even go ahead and practice on your own bike just to know what to do. Not knowing how to fix a flat is not good for a cyclist.
Learn how to break your chain and put it back together.
Learn how to use your gearing. Learn about maintenance for gearing and brakes.
Learning how to fix things on your bike can save a lot of money in the long run. You can even have a full shop with a lot of great bike tools if you really get into it.
Gradually Get Better at Road Biking
Don’t jump on your road bike and expect to ride 100 miles uphill.
It takes time to get better at it.
Start out gradually and just ride a few miles or until you get tired. Continue doing this routine and try to add a little more distance each time.
Keep riding on hills to get better at climbing hills. Learn when it’s best to stand up and ride and when you should remain on your saddle because standing up on a hill takes a lot of energy away from you.
It takes time to get good at cycling, but if you keep practicing, you’ll get better quickly.
Join a Local Club or Group
Consider joining a bike club or group of riders.
This will help you get better by riding with and learning from others. I recommend a few good local groups for all types of cycling:
- Saint Nicolas Brewing Company Bike Team – Road and gravel biking group rides
- Touch of Nature Trails – Mountain biking group rides
- Bike Surgeon – Road biking group rides
- CycleWerx – Road and gravel biking group rides and bikepacking
Many of these groups offer “no drop” rides which means they won’t leave you behind no matter how slow you are.
Set Goals and Monitor Performance
Setting and monitoring goals is the best way to get better at cycling.
Many apps are available to help you monitor each ride you go on. Personally, I use the (not sponsored) PRO version of Strava. Strava is pricey, but it’s always worked well for me.
There are other apps out there. Some of them are free with limited features, but that might be all you need.
Road Biking Safety Tips
There are 10 unofficial rules of road biking that you should follow to avoid injury and death while biking on the road with vehicles:
- Wear a helmet.
- Obey your local and state traffic laws. You must stop at stop signs.
- Wear bright clothing and use bike lights (even during daylight hours).
- Ride in a manner that is predictable by drivers. Meaning: You should ride like other cyclists do as long as you follow the road rules.
- Constantly be on the alert. Don’t put earbuds in and distract your attention from the cars around you.
- Bike defensively. Vehicle drivers are often in a hurry, paying attention to their phones, not the road, and might even have road rage. Be alert and be on the defensive.
- Use bike lanes and paths if they’re available. Watch for glass, as these lanes and paths are often poorly maintained.
- Know the weather and prepare for it.
- Keep your bike in good condition. Maintain it and have it tuned up at least once a year.
- Try to ride with someone else in case something bad happens.
And always tell someone where you’re going before you ride, just in case you don’t return home.
Lodging, Dining, and Adventures Nearby
When enjoying some giant city road biking, be sure to check out the local area. This is especially true if you’re not from southern Illinois and you’re just visiting. We have a lot of great nearby lodging, dining, and outdoor adventures around Giant City State Park for you to take advantage of.
Lodging around Giant City State Park
There are many lodging options available around Giant City State Park. If you want an elegant stay, I suggest the Makanda Inn. Quite a few cabins are also available in and around the state park. The cabins in the park are accessible at the Giant City Lodge. Campgrounds are located at the park for electric hookups, primitive, backpacking, and equestrian. Hotels are available in nearby Carbondale.
Dining around Giant City State Park
There are many amazing restaurants around the state park. The Giant City Lodge is known for its fried chicken and country-styled breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are numerous options in Carbondale, including different diverse options for international cuisine. There are a lot of wineries and vineyards around this area, which are a part of the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.
Adventuring around Giant City State Park
Giant City State Park has numerous trails, including kid-appropriate and ADA-certified trails. You can enjoy a driving tour of the park and see the many CCC-built features within the park. Makanda Boardwalk has many different unique shops, and they also sell some tasty snacks. Head into Carbondale for nightlife and even more shopping opportunities.
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Thanks for reading my Giant City road biking route itinerary guide. I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide, and I hope you have a great time cycling in one of my favorite areas to ride bikes at if you’ve enjoyed this article and want to see more like it, be sure to subscribe to my free monthly newsletter for more information like this.
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Below is a recent video that we filmed while enjoying this area.
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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