A park of little treasures

By Gus Bode


More than a quarter million visit annually

Yellow cone flowers peak up through the tall grass like golden umbrellas along the trails at Fern Clyffe State Park in Goreville, Ill.


Honeysuckle, cedar, and mint saturate the sticky August air and tickle the nose with their sweet aromas. Locust calls buzz through the forest and signify summer’s climax, while crickets, crows, woodpeckers and frogs lend the dense deciduous woods a natural symphony.

Over a quarter million people visit the state park annually to take advantage of the numerous activities that are available. Hiking, fishing, camping, limited horseback riding, picnicking, or just a relaxing evening drive are just a few that attract people from all over the country.

Site superintendent Bill Reynolds said the park attracts people year around, but spring and fall are the peak seasons.

The humidity keeps attendance low in summer since we don’t offer much as far as water recreation, but there are always people here year-round, Reynolds said.

According to Reynolds, hiking has become the largest attraction, and with recent trail restoration from a state grant, he only expects more people to take advantage of the trails.

The trails are in better condition than they ever have been, he said.

There are eighteen trails within the 2,430-acre park that range from easy to difficult and vary in distance, along with the 53-acre Round Bluff Nature Preserve. There are several trails that allow easy access to unique geological features and equestrian trails that are closed to horses form November 1 to April 30. Bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed.


Kallie Smith, a junior in radio/television from Cobden, and her friend Katie Wilson, an SIUE student from Cobden, hike the trails to enjoy the scenery and exercise.

We like to get out during the summer, and Fern Clyffe has a great variety of trails to hike on, Smith said. You never know what you might see out here as far as wildlife is concerned.

Many hidden treasures can be found along any of the trails such as waterfalls, large rocky bluffs and caverns. A large rocky gorge made by thousands of years of water erosion makes it way down through Fern Clyffe and mimics a Montana-like scene. It is no wonder that George Rodgers Clark stopped during his exploration of the Midwest.

The park retains a rich history. Two Cairo brothers purchased the area in 1899 and named it Fern Clyffe because of its vast array of ferns and then sold it to Miss Emma Rebman not too many years later. She opened the park on Sundays and charged 10 cents admission until 1949 when she sold her 140 acres to the state.

Many people use Fern Clyffe as a base camp that is in the heart of many geological and recreational sites like Heron Pond, Garden of the Gods, Lake of Egypt and Giant City State Park. The park offers camping of every sort such as modern, primitive, youth groups, backpack and equestrian.

It’s close to many places, and we have campers that stay here so they can visit all them, Reynolds said. We get a lot of bicyclists camping here when they bike the Bicentennial Trail.

Dallas and Edna Fatheree, of Flora, Ill., camp in the park regularly to take advantage of its close proximity to several key fishing lakes.

It’s a nice place to camp while we rake all the fish out of Southern Illinois, Fatheree said as he boasted about his fishing stories.

Rock climbers are also attracted to Fern Clyffe and its tall vertical bluffs. Goreville locals Stephen Jones, Andrew Pearson and Kendall Cole visit the park a few times a week to challenge the rocky bluffs.

The park gives us an excellent bouldering playground in our backyard, the three boys said.

Fern Clyffe State Park can be reached from I-57 and I-24 and is only 20 minutes from Carbondale. For exact directions or more information, contact Fern Clyffe State Park at 618-995-2411 or http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/ferne.htm.