Hiking 101: Giant City State Park

By Elizabeth Biernacki, Staff Reporter

Giant City State Park is one of my favorite things about Carbondale and being at SIU. The beautiful sandstone bluffs, streams, foliage and wildlife are breathtaking and conveniently close.

If you travel south down Giant City Road, you will eventually enter into the national park and all the activities it can offer such as horseback riding, camping, fishing, archery, rock climbing, hiking and more.

When I visit Giant City, my favorite thing to do is hike the trails. There are eight of them that can be explored, and they’re open year round. Here’s a list:

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Arrow-Wood Trail

Devil’s Standtable Trail

Indian Creek Trail

Giant City Nature Trail

Post Oak Trail

Red Cedar Trail

Stone Fort Trail

Trillium Trail

Keep in mind, you must stay on the designated trails to avoid running into plants like poison ivy and venomous snakes like the copperhead.

Arrow-Wood Trail

  • Length: ⅓ mile (self interpretive)
  • Time to hike: 30 minutes

The Arrow-Wood Trail is located near the visitor’s center coming off of Giant City Road. It’s easy to miss, but it is near the forested area to the left.

It’s a quick trail that focuses mainly on education of forest succession, and how it develops over many years. According to Giant City, the trail used to be an agricultural field, so it’s a great example.

You’ll start in an open area with very shrubby plants, which are the first to emerge. There won’t be shade and most of the plants reach to about your torso, maybe a bit higher.

Next is the forested area, where certain trees like the persimmon grow, due to them being able to thrive in poor soil. Many trees are labeled as well and have some facts about the plant.

Look out for arrow-wood, which is what the trail is named after. It is a shrub with opposite leaves and many small branches stemming close to the ground.

The trail itself is very easy, and the paths through the field are even and wide. The path through the forest is narrow but relatively even with little incline, decline or obstacles.

The reason this trail is self-interpretive is that you can take multiple paths through the field that will all lead you in generally the same direction.

The Arrow-Wood Trail is a great trail for kids and adults as it is very educational. It is a great introduction to hiking and you can learn a lot about plant life while you walk.

Devil’s Standtable Trail

  • Length: ⅓ mile
  • Time to hike: 30 minutes

Devil’s Standtable is located down Giant City Lodge Road, past shelter two and off of Stonefort Road.

When entering into the trail, it will fork left and right. Make sure you go right to follow the signs that indicate where the trail leads.

You’ll immediately be greeted by beautiful rock formations and little paths interspersed that allows hikers to get a closer look.

The trail is relatively easy, but there are parts that are uneven and a few obstacles such as tree roots.

There’s not too much to say about this one, but it’s very beautiful and a great hike for a casual afternoon with friends or family.

Indian Creek Trail 

  • Length: ¾ mile
  • Time to hike: 45 minutes

Indian Creek Trail is located near the Bluff Top Playground in Giant City. Take a left onto Giant City Lodge Road and then another immediate left off of Rte 51. The trail and parking will be on your right.

The trail forks, and you can go right or left. Either way, it’s a beautiful path through the woods, with a creek for what the trail is named after.

The trail has a series of bridges above the creek that you’ll be able to cross over. The water tends to be pretty high after rainfall or as the ice melts and at a trickle if it hasn’t rained in a while.

According to Giant City, the trail was home to the Late Woodland Native Americans between 400-900 A.D., which is largely due to the abundance of resources the area provided.

One resource you will see is a large cave. You are able to walk near the cave and get a closer look at where the Native Americans slept, worked and lived.

The trail is pretty easy, but there will be some steep inclines, declines and narrow paths. There will be a few obstacles and it may be muddy after rain but it’s a great trail for a casual afternoon.

Nature Trail 

  • Length: 1 mile
  • Time to hike: 1 hour

The Giant City Nature Trail is located at shelter three, off of Giant City Lodge road. When you enter into the trail, you’ll want to turn right at the first fork, so you can follow the signs to stay on the trail.

I went left and didn’t see any signs. I got lost because I was hiking the trail backwards, and the signs happened to be on the other side of the trees.

The trail isn’t too difficult. The gravel paths can be uneven, and there are tight squeezes between the sandstone, but there are bridges and stairs for areas that are too steep or slippery.

It’s a very beautiful forested area with rock formations that seem to have been carved and shaped by streams over the years.

According to Giant City State Park, the streets are high rock walls that have names and dates carved into them.

Some of the names to look out for are Albert S. Thompson and T.W. Thompson, brothers who fought in the Civil War.

They are actually the reason SIU has Thompson woods. T.W. left the land to the campus with the stipulation no permanent structures would be built in the area.

Not only is this a perfect hike for an afternoon, but on top of beautiful sights you’ll also be able to explore a bit of SIU history as well.

Post Oak Trail 

  • Length: ⅓ mile
  • Time to hike: 30 minutes

The Post Oak Trail can be found off of Giant City Lodge Road by turning right off of Giant City Road, when travelling from the south. It is near the Bluff Top Playground, and the entrance will be on the left.

There is also a path from inside the Arrow-Wood trail that will lead you to the general area of Post Oak, if you decide to follow the signs.

The trail is very easy and is meant for guests with disabilities or for young kids. It boasts a beautiful array of plants and scenic views atop a sandstone bluff.

Much of the path is paved, but there are parts that are gravel and slightly uneven, so that’s something to watch out for.

Despite the trail being so short, it’s a great hike for a family and is definitely worth it to see all the beautiful sights it has to offer. 

Red Cedar Trail

  • Length: 12 miles
  • Time to hike: 7 hours

Red Cedar Trail can be found near Giant City Class A Campground, after taking a left onto Giant City Road just before the stables, if you are travelling south.

This is the longest and hardest trail Giant City has to offer, and it is a great introduction to backpacking. There is even a campground at the halfway point, if you don’t want to hike the entirety at once.

The trail starts out relatively easy and is indicated by white diamonds with a red circle in the center. These are the trail markers, so you don’t get lost.

At some point, you may be prompted to hike in a certain direction with a yellow pole and a brown sign. Follow these as they point you back to the trail.

This trail is extremely rugged and quite overgrown. There will be points where you’ll have to cross streams, walk on narrow paths with steep drop offs, climb over rocks, fallen trees and more.

There are thorns, poison ivy and more that may come into contact with you as they grow over the path.

Also keep in mind the weather, the trail becomes extremely slick and muddy after a rainfall. The streams will also be fairly high when you have to pass through them, some around mid calf to thigh.

The trail itself is very beautiful and will take you through mainly forested areas, but will also cover prairies, sandstone bluffs and more. Due to its length, it is the most versatile trail Giant City has to offer.

However, you will need to prepare accordingly.

  1. If you are planning to hike it in a day, make sure you give yourself at least 10 hours of daylight due to the high possibility of losing the trail. It is not as well kept as the others due to the length, and the markers can be hard to spot and follow.
  2. If you are planning to camp, give yourself at least 5 hours of light to make it to the campground for the same reasons.
  3. Wear sturdy shoes for the rough terrain, and pants since you will come into contact with overgrown plants like thorns and poison ivy.
  4. Pack enough supplies for however long you will be hiking. Whether that be snacks or meals and make sure you bring enough water!
  5. Consistently check yourself and others for ticks, they are everywhere and will latch onto you at some point during the hike.

This trail is very challenging and will require planning, whether you are camping for the night, or hiking it all in a single day.

Stone Fort Trail

  • Length: ⅓ mile
  • Time to hike: 30 minutes

Stonefort Trail can be found off of Stonefort Road, go south on Springer Ridge Road and turn left onto Stonefort. It will be a bit of a drive, but you will eventually find the trail to your left and parking to your right.

The trail itself is very beautiful, and you are greeted with a large sandstone bluff on the right side. The path will then take you up and over the bluff where you’ll get a great high viewpoint.

The trail is relatively easy, but there are points that it can be very steep and slippery, especially on the sandstone up high.

Be very careful, as there are certain points that the trail narrows on the edge of the sandstone high off of the ground.

Other than that, the trail is a great one to hike with friends and family and will give you great photo opportunities. 

Trillium Trail

  • Length: 2 miles
  • Time to hike: 1 ½ hours

Trillium Trail can be found off of Stonefort Road, go south on Springer Ridge Road and turn left onto Stonefort. Parking will be to the right.

The trail is a part of the Fern Rocks Nature Preserve, within Giant City, and is best when hiked in spring time, though it is open year round.

When hiking, look for the beautiful white trillium, the flower that the trail is named after. It has three petals and a yellow center. It blooms mainly in the spring.

You may also see mosses, ferns and wildlife like turtles, birds and so much more.

The trail starts with a single path, but forks at certain areas, so you have the option to walk beneath or beside the sandstone bluffs or near the stream.

It then comes to a staircase that takes you to the top of the bluff, and you’ll be able to see everything from a much higher perspective. There are multiple places you’ll be able to walk to a ledge and see just how far up you are.

The trail is pretty narrow, and there are quite a few obstacles such as rocks and logs that might trip you up, if not careful.

It is not very difficult but may be a challenge if you’re a casual hiker since it’s much more rugged than some other trails Giant City has to offer.

At Giant City State Park, these trails are less than a 20 minute drive away from the SIU campus. It is one of the closest and most convenient hiking sites for students.

Staff reporter Elizabeth Biernacki can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @EBiernacki_619.

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