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!!!



Hiking Headwear for Beginners (I’ve lost that sweaty feeling)


***The point of this article is to help reduce the likelihood you pick something too heavy to wear on your head during your next cold weather hike.  This article gives some general questions to ask yourself when planning a hike. While there are many variations I do not attempt to cover every possible scenario.  As someone once sang, “I am only human . . .”1***

Whether to Question the Weather

Here is a good question to start with when selecting headwear for your next cold weather hike.

What will the weather be like?

The answer to this question can lead you down the path of configuring the right headwear for the conditions you encounter.  Selecting headwear should not be done in isolation.  The decision of what you wear on your head should flow from other clothing and gear choices you make based on the conditions.  Think of it as a flexible system that adapts to the situation.  Let’s start with an example of what not to do.

You Have to Start Somewhere

When I was preparing for my first cold weather day hike, I spent time thinking about the clothing layers I would need to stay warm.  I didn’t want to be freezing cold, shivering my way down the trail.  Without an additional purchase I had two options.  The first option was a baseball hat.  While this would help retain heat from my head, it did not provide any wind protection for my ears.

The second option was a medium weight acrylic beanie (or sock cap if you are from rural Indiana).  This option solved the draw back of the hat by providing wind protection.  I had used it before when shoveling snow off the driveway.  In practice I would remove it after about 10 minutes because I would start to get too hot.  But I was preparing to walk around.  I would not be getting that hot . . . or would I?


The result was I sweated like a pig.  I misjudged my body’s heat production.  The beanie was too heavy and I wore too heavy of a coat to go along with it.  I took those layers off once sweat developed.  The rest of the hike was spent cycling through various combinations of those layers to fight either the chill from sweating or the sweat from overheating.  Lesson learned.

Decisions, Decisions

Back to decision making.  So what will the weather be like?   Here are more specific questions that dig a little deeper on that theme.

  • What will the temperature be?
  • Will it be sunny or cloudy?
  • Is there a chance of rain/snow/sleet/hail?
  • Will it be windy?


As the temperature decreases the need for options increase.  Based solely on the temperature you may be able to wear a baseball hat down to 50°F, a light beanie down to 32°F and an ear band for temperatures below that.  Well that is easy, isn’t it?  Not so fast.  That is just based on the temp.  Look at the rest of the questions.


Sunshine makes us feel warmer.  Hiking in direct sunlight will allow you to get by with less layers. Direct sunlight can have the effect of making a 30°F day feel more like a 40-50°F day.  That affects the layers you choose.  Consider if there are open meadows with minimal leaf cover.  Are leaves even still on the trees?  If not, you will get more opportunity to soak up the sun.  On the flip side, hiking a trail with a leaf canopy overhead or cloud cover negates that warmer feeling.  No direct sunlight reaching you could mean a chillier day.  Research the trail online for what to expect.


The various forms of precipitation can make the goal of not sweating a challenge.  If you don the standard rain jacket, your likelihood of sweating just increased exponentially.  Let me say here that a hood is an option.  The main drawback with a hood is a lot of heat retention.  Let’s save the hood discussion for another post.  Yet depending on the temperature, not putting something on to keep the rain out might mean flirting with a chill.

Another option would be an umbrella.  There are lightweight options for the weight conscious.  Umbrellas are just not widely used.  In the end the option you choose will have an affect on what you put on your head.


If it is windy your decision may be altered as well.  A 40°F day with no wind is quite different than a 40°F day with a 10 mph breeze.  With no wind you may be able to get by with no headwear.  With a 10 mph breeze you may need a light beanie to keep you warm.  That is especially true at the start of the hike when your body is not warmed up.

The Next Level of Factors

What other factors affect our headwear choice?  Let’s list some more out.

  • How hard will my body be working physically?
  • Will I be carrying a backpack?
  • What other clothing choices (pants, shorts, shirt sleeve length, thickness of socks) have I made?

If you have a climb to start the hike, the headwear you choose may be different than if you end your day with a climb.  Also, carrying a full pack with 30 pounds or a day pack with 5 pounds will result in different sweat points during a hike.  Carrying a pack period will probably make your back more apt to sweat before other parts of your body.  Finally, compensating for the cold weather by choosing heavier pants, a fleece pullover and/or thicker socks may allow you to go with a lighter option to cover the old brain box.

Back to the Drawing Board

My response to the sweaty experience mentioned earlier involved purchasing lighter options.  I found an Outdoor Research Windstopper Alpine ear band at a somewhat local outdoor store.  It is 100% polyester with more of a felt feel to it.  It comes in different sizes and has velcro in the back for extra adjustment.



  • It stops the wind from whipping in your ears.
  • Band adjustment is capable of covering a wide range of sizes.


  • You are not able to hear much of anything.
  • Covers your forehead where sweat likes to start accumulating while exercising.


I also came across a Hind running beanie at a discount clothing store.  This product/company are not unique as there are a multitude of companies that make the same product.  There is a thin fleece layer inside.  The outside material is made of stretchy spandex.




  • It stops the wind from whipping in your ears.
  • Still allows you to hear most sounds.


  • Potential to retain heat that would lead to sweating.


Wrap Up

In the end, you have some decisions to make.  Stay flexible with your options and be adaptable to the situation.  First and foremost, don’t underestimate the amount of heat your body will produce by walking.  It takes time and experience to get it right.  So get out there and enjoy yourself!


1 “Human” by Human League.  It was the 80s, what can I say?