5 Best

Illinois State Park

Trails to Visit

this Year

There are a lot of Illinois State Park Trails to choose from in the southern part of the state!

I wanted to feature five great trails you should check out this year.

Here are 5 of my favorite Illinois State Park Trails that I think you’ll love!


Illinois State Park Trails 1. Giant City Nature Trail

The Giant City Nature Trail definitely deserves a spot on this list.

These types of Illinois State Park Trails are the ones that keep me coming back again and again.

This trail features a relatively easy one-mile loop with some elevation gain here and there. It’s appropriate for hikers of all ages and difficulty levels. The trail is really easy to follow. There is a big parking lot, restrooms, and an excellent shelter at the trailhead.

Along this trail, you’ll see fantastic bluffage and natural shelters. You’ll also see a cool balancing rock and other rock formations. One of the most incredible things is all the carvings from the 1800s and early 1900s. There were carvings from the Civil War and even the CCC when they were there creating the park.

Be sure to stop by the visitor center for cool park merch, head into Makanda for more great local gifts, and eat at the lodge for some of the best fried chicken in the region.


2. Ferne Clyffe Blackjack Oak Trail

This is one of my favorite Illinois State Park Trails out there because it offers so much.

The trail is moderately difficult with some steep terrain, rocky surfaces, and heights. It is an out-and-back of about two miles. You can find this trail across the road from the Ferne Clyffe Lake parking lot.

This is my favorite trail at Ferne Clyffe State Park. On it, you can see several amazing overlooks, which are fantastic during fall colors. There are numerous lines of bluffs, rock formations, and natural shelters. During wetter conditions, there will be waterfalls present. There is something for everyone on this trail.

You could add more miles by doing the other main trails at the end of this one if you wanted to. After your hike, head into Goreville and eat at Whiffle Boy’s Pizza. There are also little shops along the main road that you might want to check out.


3. Dixon Springs Ghost Dance Canyon

This is one of those Illinois State Park Trails that isn’t as known as others.

There is a lack of signage pointing to Dixon Springs State Park trails. Maybe on purpose? I don’t know. But Ghost Dance Canyon is an excellent trail to visit, especially when wet. The trail is short out and back but rugged. You have to cross a creek. The best time to visit is when it’s wet, which will mean a deeper creek.

Along this trail, you’ll see impressive bluffs and natural shelters. You’ll see a scenic creek with pretty cascades. The main feature is the part of the creek with huge boulders piled up on top of one another. Water shoots out of them. It is amazing. I’ve yet to see anything like it anywhere else in southern Illinois.

After you hike, check out the Chocolate Factory across the road for ice cream, chocolate, and other treats. Head over to Main Street Golconda for many different dining and lodging options.


4. Fort Massac George Rogers Clark Trail

This isn’t just any trail; this is a legit rail trail like Tunnel Hill State Trail.

This earns a spot on my Illinois State Park Trails list because it deserves more use. The whole trail is about five miles in length. There is more if you count the bike route in Brookport and Metropolis. You can even get to the Superman Statue. It’s great for all types of bikes, especially road bikes. Seeing that it is on a former railway, the grade is easier than most grades.

Along this trail, you’ll see scenic views of Fort Massac State Park, creeks, wildlife, and the Ohio River. A lot of the trail is shaded by trees, and it’s safe from cars. Share the trail with runners, walkers, and dog walkers. We like to ride through the park and campground to add a few extra miles when we visit.

Be sure to head into Metropolis for all your dining and shopping needs. If the park visitor center is open, check it out to learn some history about the area. Fort Massac is the first State Park in Illinois. And be sure to stop by the fort if you haven’t already.


Illinois State Park Trails 5. Cave-in-Rock Cave Trail

Cave-in-Rock is one of those Illinois State Park Trails you don’t want to miss out on.

The trail is relatively easy and leads to a large cave shelter next to the Ohio River. If the Ohio River is above flood stage, access by foot will be impossible. Some people have been known to kayak/canoe into the cave during the flood stage.

You can walk into the shelter to the back. This shelter was used as a bar, inn, brothel, and many other things back in the days of flatboats and river pirates. People were murdered and robbed there. Be sure to read up on the history, as it’s fascinating. There are even old carvings on the rocks before you enter the cave.

Head into Cave-in-Rock for sightseeing, shopping, and to ride on the Ferry – it’s free. Check out the Park’s Lodge for a good meal.


And that’s my Illinois State Park Trails list that I recommend you visit. I hope you enjoyed this list. Please subscribe to my free monthly newsletter for more tips and exclusive articles.

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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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