Millstone Bluff is a historic gem tucked within the Shawnee National Forest of southern Illinois. This archaeological site is not very well known, but worth a visit to view the remains of a prehistoric Native American village. A short and easy trail circles that site and is suitable for the whole family.
History of Millstone Bluff
The topography of Millstone Bluff rises 320 feet above the valley below. At the top of this mesa-like bluff, the Mississippian peoples constructed a village and left their carvings in the sandstone around AD 1350-1550. About 600 years later, the Late Woodlands people also resided at Millstone Bluff and constructed stone forts.
Archaeologists have excavated about seven of 26 homes on top of the bluff. Their investigations revealed that the Mississippian people lived in semi-subterranean homes with one half of the homes each below and above ground.
Millstone Bluff Hiking Trail
- Distance: 0.9 mile round trip
- Difficulty: 2.5/5. Well traveled path, uphill from parking lot to village site, some stairs
- Scenic Value: 3/5. Nice woods, bluffs, and petroglyphs
Reaching the Trail Head
The trailhead for Millstone Bluff is located down a short and well graded gravel road off Highway 147. There is a decent sized gravel parking area at the bottom of the bluffs. Look for the trail off to the right of the parking area.
Starting the Hike
The trail first passes by a kiosk with a set of information boards about the site.
The path is wide and gravel at the start. It quickly begins to gradually climb in elevation. It’s not super steep, but enough to get your heart rate up.
Along the way, the path travels alongside wildflowers and rocky bluffs.
Along several points in the hike are more information signs to explain the significance and use of the village ruins.
Soon a set of stairs appears to take you the rest of the way up the bluff.
At the top of the bluff, the loop portion of the trail begins. If you turn right and hike counter-clockwise, you will pass by the village cemetery site and stone fort before reaching the spur to the petroglyphs.
Viewing the Petroglyphs
The petroglyphs are a real highlight of this trail. Follow along the wooden boardwalk to a viewing platform of the rock carvings. Depending on the lighting at the time, they can be tricky to see and photograph clearly.
Exploring the Settlement
After viewing the petroglyphs, retrace your steps to complete the loop trail. The path will pass by home and building sites. All that remains are earthen depressions where these structures once stood.
Enjoy the views from the bluff tops before making your way back down to the parking area. Take a last peek at the bluffs from below and you can see the remains of an old stone quarry on your way back to the car.