Get inspired by top travel stories, and discover even more reasons to #EnjoyIllinois.
Though Giant City State Park was officially established in 1927, there is evidence of human inhabitants here dating back nearly 10,000 years. Shelter bluffs (rock caves) are worn into the sides of the cliffs, their ceilings still blackened from the fires of the early people who lived inside. On an 80-foot sandstone cliff near the entrance to the park, a portion of a Native American stone wall from the Woodland Period remains. Thought to have been built between 600 and 800 A.D., archaeologists believe it was used as a meeting area or possibly a ceremonial location. The Giant City Stone Fort is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fast forward to the early 1800s. The first European settlers moved to the area from Kentucky and Tennessee and began cultivating fruit trees. During the Civil War, soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies took advantage of the hiding places found in the cliffs and canyons here.
Nestled in the Shawnee National Forest, Giant City State Park was named for the unique impressions made by its massive sandstone structures. Eons of geological faulting and folding have molded a landscape like no other, which is now clothed in lush garments of fern, moss, large flowering mints, hundreds of species of wild flowers and 75-plus varieties of towering trees. Anyone hiking the Giant City Nature Trail, home of the “Giant City Streets” formed 12,000 years ago by huge bluffs of sandstone, is sure to be awed by it.
Soon after the state of Illinois acquired Giant City State Park in 1927, the Great Depression began. To bring jobs to the unemployed, the Civilian Conservation Corps hired men to construct a lodge and 12 overnight cabins on the highest point in the park. The group was also charged with building the furniture inside the lodge. Because the resulting product was such high quality, the same men were later commissioned to build furniture for the Pere Marquette State Park lodge. The lodge and cabins at Giant City State Park are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, the Giant City Visitor Center greets visitors with interpretive displays on the geology, plants, animals, and history of the park. Camping, hiking, rock climbing, rappelling, horseback riding, fishing, and seasonal hunting are all popular activities at park.
After a day of active fun, visitors can relax in the rustic beauty of the Giant City Lodge, featuring three types of cabins, the Bald Knob dining room, the gift shop, lounge, and outdoor swimming pool.
Cover photo credit: bekahaderson._ via Instagram