Bluff Road in southwestern Illinois is one of the most scenic drives in the area. Rugged bluffs rise high above the road on one side with farmland stretching toward the Mississippi River on the other. If you have ever wondered what the view is like from atop those rocky bluffs, check out the Fults Hill Prairie Nature Preserve. Located off Bluff Road near the tiny town of Fults, the hiking trail at this preserve will get your heart pumping. The views will be worth the leg burning ascent up endless stairs.
Fults Hill Prairie Nature Preserve
- Location: 509 IL-155, Prairie Du Rocher, IL.
About 50 min from St. Louis.
- Length: 1.4 miles round trip.
- Difficulty: 5 out of 5 by Illinois standards. The first 0.3 miles of trail are very steep. There is also a tricky descent heading back down. Trail can be overgrown and tall prairie plants may make it more of bushwhack at times.
- Scenic Value: 4 out of 5. The views from the bluff are great. The rest of the trail is a basic ramble in the woods.
The parking lot is small here, but traffic is fairly light for this trail. The sign warns you of what is to come with its rating of “Extreme.” I wouldn’t call it that bad, but it does start off with an immediate steep climb up stairs. And more stairs. And still more stairs.
You could technically hike the trail either direction. There are signs marking off the distance each tenth mile so you can easily track your progress along the hike.
After making it up the long set of steps, you will find of the first of several overlook views. You can see Kidd Lake Marsh Natural Area down below. Railroad tracks and farm fields are located beyond the marsh.
The trail continues to climb, but at a more gradual grade.
More overlooks are available as the trail follows near the bluff for a short distance. The trail is never super close to the edge, but still keep an eye on kids as it is a long way down.
The trail narrows and becomes less woods and more prairie. This stretch could be difficult in summer with how tall the plants are. Ticks can also be an issue. I recommend fall and winter hiking here because of this. Hiking in the spring or summer does bring the reward of native prairie wildflowers however.
The trail passes one last overlook before it turns left away from the bluffs and into the woods.
The path is wider and easier along this stretch. One advantage of hiking in winter is you can still see through the leafless trees to have a glimpse of the view beyond the bluffs most of the way.
After a half mile or so of hiking through the wood the path turns left again to make the descent back down the bluffs. The trip back down can be a little tricky when muddy.
You will pass more stretches of high prairie grass. Little ones may need a little help making their way through.
One last viewpoint provides one of the best views of the hike.
Any of the overlooks also provide a great spot to watch a sunset.
The last stretch of the hike passes more prairie, a short stretch of woods, and then crosses a small wooden bridge back to the parking area.
Things to know:
- There are no restrooms at the trailhead
- The hike is not far from the historic site of Fort De Chartres which is a must see. (Full blog post about the fort coming soon.)
- Also take a drive through the quaint village of Mayestown. The entire town is listed on the National Historic Register
- Salt Lick Point is another nearby hike with similar bluff views.