Hikes,  Hiking,  Illinois,  Kids,  St. Louis,  Trips

Pere Marquette -Illinois’s Largest State Park

Pere Marquette is one of the very best parks in the state of Illinois. Over 8,000 acres of lush forests and rugged hills are waiting to be explored just an hour north of St. Louis along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway.

Fall brings a spectacular display of colorful foliage while winter is prime time for eagle watching. The expansive views and overlooks of the Illinois River and its backwaters can be viewed any time of year. Horseback riding, camping, boating, and fishing are popular park activities. Twelve miles of hiking trails wind through the park for both beginner and experienced trekkers. If you are not up to hiking, take in the sights along the scenic drive that winds through the park.

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a rustic yet beautiful lodge that remains a popular spot for overnight lodging, events, and dining. Be sure to visit inside to take in the massive timber and limestone construction along with the 700-ton stone fireplace. A unique large scale chess board makes a fun statement while the back of the lodge offers sweeping river views.

Our family likes to hit the hiking trails here several times a year. Our favorite path to take is to combine the blue Dogwood and Ridge Trails with the Yellow Goat Cliff Trail to make a 2.25 mile loop. The Dogwood Trail starts behind the Visitor’s Center, which is worthy of a visit as well. Look for the trail and stairs behind the log cabin structure next to the Visitor’s Center. (Trail Map can be found HERE.)

Dogwood/Ridge/Goat Cliff Loop

  • Length: 2.25 miles round trip
  • Difficulty: 3.5 out of 5. Moderately steep climb from the Visitor’s center to McAdams Peak. Trail is fairly wide and well packed. Goat Cliff portion is a little more rugged.
  • Scenic Value: 4 out of 5. Great river views from overlook and interesting rock formations on Goat Cliff portion.

We like to start with the Dogwood and Ridge Trails first to get the steep and more difficult part out of the way first. The trail starts as the Dogwood Trail following blue triangle trail markers and then becomes the Ridge Trail which uses blue arrow markers. The trail climbs steadily up and up some more. The Ridge section is a long hill to climb and the most difficult part of the trail.

Along the way the path passes another shelter constructed in the CCC days.

Eventually you will come to the point where four trails merge at the McAdams Peak overlook. Climb to the overlook for a sweeping view of the Illinois River.

From here, you can choose from multiple trails to return to your car. The red Hickory trail leads to another great overlook before winding back to the park road. Or you can opt for the yellow Goat Cliff trail which is one of the best trails in the park for its rugged views.

The Goat Cliff trail descends down the bluffs amid scenic boulders and cliffs. This is a fun spot for kids to explore and do some mild rock climbing.

Eventually the trail reaches the base of the bluffs and runs parallel to the road for a short distance. Two small springs, named appropriately, Twin Srpings, gurgle out the ground below the trail just before reaching the parking area.

Before or after your hike, be sure to spend some time in charming Grafton nearby. The town features quaint shops, restaurants, and even a chair lift to ride. A 47′ tall lighthouse stands along the river as a symbol of the strength and community of the town.

You can also make a full day of exploring by taking the Brussels Ferry over from Grafton to Calhoun County. (The ferry is free!) Explore Calhoun County’s Barn quilt trail, hike at McCully Heritage Project, or buy some fresh peaches before taking the unique lift bridge back over the river at Hardin or the Kampsville ferry and continuing south on Highway 100 back to Grafton.

Things to know:

  • Pere Marquette Park and Lodge are open year round. The Visitor’s Center is open 8:00 A.M. – 3:30 P.M. The trails are open sunrise to sunset.

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