Family Hiking at Ferne Clyffe State Park and Giant City State Park


My daughter seems to be the only child of mine bitten by the camping/hiking bug.  I am trying to develop her interest in being in the outdoors.  With that in mind, I reached out to my hiking buddies Bob and Jay to start planning a family friendly camping/hiking trip.  With my daughter and Bob’s kids in mind we wanted somewhere with easy access to short trails.  After including my sister and niece we decided on Ferne Clyffe State Park in southern Illinois.  The date was set for two days and one night in mid-October.

Once we picked our tent sites we headed to the Big Rocky Hollow Trail for a 0.75 mile stroll to an 100 foot tall intermittent waterfall.  Below is a picture of most of our group on the trail.

Ferne Clyffe mob to the waterfall

This being southern Illinois in October, the waterfall was not flowing due to the dry summer weather we had experienced.  We did take advantage of exploring the dry rock faces around where the waterfall flows.  Below is a picture I took from the base of the waterfall of Jay and my daughter exploring the area.


Next on our trail list was Hawk’s Cave Trail.  The park pamphlet says the trail is “an easy 0.5 mile trail that leads visitors past one of the largest shelter bluffs in Illinois”.  At the first bluff we came to there were large boulders with inscriptions.  While I am not a fan of defacing, it was neat to read the inscriptions from long ago.

Ferne Clyffe hawks cave initials

Prior to leaving the first bluff we noticed a snake sticking its head out of a crack running in the rock overhead.  The overhang was about 8 feet off the ground.  It was pretty amazing to think the snake traveled in the crack to get to that point.

The next picture shows the immensity of the shelter bluff.  It is huge!  There are boulders on the ground as big as automobiles and houses that have fallen off the underside of the bluff.  It was an awe-inspiring site.


There are some trees next to the bluff that have grown along side the bluff in search of light.  These trees are pretty straight and really tall to reach their goal.


There are certain patterns that stand out.  The tree bark below interested me as we were hiking along on another trail.  There is symmetry in the asymmetry.  I like it!


After we put some time on the trail we were ready to head back to camp prior to dusk.  One incentive for my daughter to join me on the trip was that she decided what we would eat for supper.  Her love of pasta won out and she decided on a pasta side with squiggly noodles.  I added hot chocolate to seal the deal.

Once supper was finished everyone gathered around the campfire at Bob and his wife Lisa’s site.  We enjoyed each other’s company while watching “primitive tv”, the campfire.  Bob and Lisa made blueberry cobbler in their dutch oven.  It was fantastic!  We also made s’mores for those not a fan of blueberries.

Ferne Clyffe camp fire



It didn’t take long for my daughter to fall asleep on my lap as we sat by the fire.  She has a big day of driving and hiking.  Her normal bedtime was approaching.  We took care of our bedtime chores and headed under our tarp for bed.

I was excited to be testing the make your own gear (MYOG) tarp and bugnet I made.  We did a couple of test runs in the backyard over the last year and thought it was ready for primetime.  I used the information I gleaned from Ray Jardine’s seminal book “Beyond Backpacking” to make my own lightweight Jardinesque tarp and bugnet.  The tarp and bugnet (2.5 pounds) fit the need for a shelter that was lighter than my 3 person Koppen Hamr tent (4.5 pounds) but still big enough to fit me and my daughter.

We were aware of the potential for rain around daybreak.  I spent the night checking the weather report every couple of hours when I would wake up.  Around 6:00 my wife texted me from home that the rain was coming.  When I looked at the radar map there was a solid line of greens, yellows and reds coming straight toward us.  I woke my daughter and told her we needed to pack up quickly.  I turned to look toward Bob and Lisa’s site and a headlight showed they had the same idea.

As we finished loading the vans up with our gear I took the picture below.  See the line of dark clouds?  That is the heavy rain reflected in yellows and reds on the radar.  As I turned and walked to the vehicle to leave the sprinkles started.  Perfect timing!


Don’t worry, I had a contingency plan.  I thought we would check out the Giant City Lodge at Giant City State Park.  I had heard great things about their family style fried chicken dinner.  If they could make good fried chicken, breakfast should be pretty good as well.

We hiked the trails at Giant City State Park before but the lodge was closed at the time.  Wow, what a treasure!  The lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.  Being from the Midwest, it reminded me of a classic lodge out west.  We were greeted with the picture below when we walked in the lobby.  Fireplace with bison and bald eagle mount was on our left.  A life-size bison with calf was on our right.  Custom woodwork was present throughout.  This was going to be an experience.




We explored the lodge as we waited for the dining room to open.  It was really neat from top to bottom.  When the dining room opened we were greeted to a breakfast buffet.  As we feasted we watched the rain outside start to tail off.  When everyone had their fill we decided it was time to explore.

We ventured to the visitors center.  We walked through the displays and watched the 10 minute film about the park.  It was still raining so we had some more time to kill.  The kids colored animal masks as we talked to the ranger on duty.  Next stop, the water tower.

It was lightly sprinkling as we pulled out the umbrellas.  We were halfway up the 50 foot observation tower when the wind kicked up.  Yelps went up as we tried to hold onto the umbrellas that were now acting like wind catchers.  After a few minutes taking in the view the rain picked back up.  We hurried back down the stairs to the dry safety of the vehicles.

We drove to the trail head for the Giant City Nature Trail.  The main event at Giant City State Park.  Umbrellas were back out for the first 10 minutes until the rain stopped.

giant city umbrellas

As we were walking up the hill from the parking lot a large branch fell about 50 feet from a tree onto the path we were heading towards.  Everyone stopped in disbelief.  We looked at the now vacant trunk where the branch had been.  We walked down the “Giant City Streets”.  The streets were formed by the remaining bluffs of sandstone that have not been washed away over the years.  There was a notice posted stating Fat Man Squeeze was closed due to seasonal snake hibernation.  That was fine with us as we were still stuffed from breakfast.


We passed under balanced rock.  The trail goes right under this rock formation.


The next picture highlights the difference between these two girls.  My daughter is in the foreground.  She is standing on a rock a few feet off the ground.  That is her safe spot.  Bob’s daughter is in the background.  She climbed ten feet to the perch she is standing on.  She has a higher tolerance for climbing and scrambling.  But they both have fun together.


After Giant City State Park we decided we had time to revisit Ferne Clyffe State Park.  However, we headed to Bork’s Waterfall which is located off the main park site.  This is a spectacular geological feature.  The road actually drives through the stream bed that feeds the top of the waterfall.  The waterfall was a trickle when we visited.  In the picture below you can see darker rock in the middle of the right hand side of the picture where the water flows over the rock face.  Bork’s also has a rock shelter where you can walk behind the waterfall.  The last time I was here the water was turquoise.  Just a really neat place to experience.


That was it.  We loaded up and made the drive back home from there.  All in all it was a successful trip.  We got to spend time with family and friends.  We were also able to show my sister and niece why we do more hiking than camping.  It gets us to places we would never have known existed if we stayed at the campsite.


For information about the places we visited click below.

Ferne Clyffe State Park website

Ferne Clyffe State Park pamphlet with map

Here are videos about my previous trip to Ferne Clyffe with Bob and Jay.

Ferne Clyffe State Park Trails


Ferne Clyffe State Park Trails Part Deux


Bork’s Waterfall


Giant City State Park website

Nature Trail brochure

Giant City State Park Family Hike


Happy hiking!!!


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