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Long before it became a state park, Pere Marquette was home to Native Americans from six separate cultures. Their pottery fragments, spear points, and planting tools have all been found on site. Some of their native American burial mounds also remain, including one on the top of McAdams Peak.
The park was named for Jesuit missionary Pere (Father) Jacques Marquette, who back in the 1600s came to explore the territory with cartographer Louis Joliet. The two eventually paddled down the Mississippi River in search of the Pacific Ocean. Members of the Illini tribe broke the news that the Mississippi in fact emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, so the explorers turned back, taking the Illinois River this time. A large stone cross east of the park entrance now commemorates their historic landing here.
In the early 1900s, local civic groups began working to get the area designated as a state park. They raised private funds and then persuaded the state to match these. In 1931, the land was finally purchased and named Pere Marquette State Park to honor the adventurous French missionary.
Today, Pere Marquette State Park draws both adventurous and laid-back travelers. Perched above the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, the park’s scenic drive is a great place to appreciate of nature. The road between Grafton and Alton is arguably the most picturesque stretch in the Midwest, with astonishing views of the Mississippi River framed alongside towering bluffs that loom 200 feet above the road.
At 8,000 acres, Pere Marquette State Park is the largest state park in Illinois. You can hike on wooded trails, bike along scenic bluffs, fish and boat on the Illinois River, or horseback ride through the forest here. For a more low-key (but equally as thrilling) adventure, take a guided fall color drive and eagle-watching tour. Maybe you'll even get lucky and visit during the Bald Eagle Festival, which includes birds of prey shows and live music.
The rustic stone-and-timber Pere Marquette Lodge makes a great base for exploring the area. Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the lodge offers 50 guest rooms and 22 stone guest cabins. Spend some time here warming up by the massive stone fireplace in the Great Room, which weighs a reported 700 tons and soars 50 feet in the air. Take a turn at the life-size chess set. Or simply relax and grab a glass of Norton, Chardonel, or Moscato at the Mary Michelle Winery, also located inside the lodge. A votre sante, Pere Marquette!
Cover photo credit: life_of_tedd via Instagram