If you are taking an RV road trip to the Midwest, make sure Giant City State Park is on your list. Located in southern Illinois, this park is full of lakes, ponds, and creeks that you and the family can enjoy as well as other fun recreational activities. The park was named for its amazing sandstone structures that give the impression that a community of giants once lived there.
In fact, the Giant City Nature Trail takes you along huge bluffs the locals call the “giant’s streets” that were formed over 12,000 years ago. There are also seven other fantastic trails you can hike on in the park where you can learn about the native flora and fauna as well as the history of the area. Two of these trails take you to some awesome rappelling and rock-climbing areas if you are into that sort of thing.
From fishing to hiking and climbing to riding, there is something for everyone at Giant City State Park. They have a fantastic variety of campground choices here too from cabins that overlook the bluffs to primitive sites you have to backpack to get to. For horseback riders, there is an equestrian campground right on the equestrian trailhead, and for families, the main campground has 85 campsites for you to enjoy.
In the middle of the Shawnee National Forest, Giant City State Park is easy to find off of US-51, which you can reach from I-57, IL-13, or IL-146. You can also stop by some of the state parks in the area along the way. Lake Murphysboro State Park is just 21 miles to the northwest where you can enjoy the huge star-shaped lake in your boat or do some hiking in the wooded hills. Ferne Clyffe State Park, which is about 22 miles to the southeast, boasts hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping. The Trail of Tears State Forest is also nearby and has more than 5,000 acres to explore and enjoy.
Giant City State Park is only seven miles south of Carbondale, which is a small city in Jackson County the locals refer to as "Little Egypt" because of its relation to Cairo during the American Civil War. You can even see the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, which is two hours to the northwest. The roads in and around the park once you get off the highway can be narrow and curvy so take it slow and easy if you are driving a big motorhome.
The park itself has very well-maintained roads although some are gravel and can be tricky to maneuver in a large rig. As long as you drive slowly and keep your eyes on the road, you should be okay though. Once you get to your campsite, just leave the RV there and enjoy the park on foot or bike. If you do have to go far, it is best to bring another vehicle to drive around in.
Perfect for small families, this campground boasts 60 class A campsites with 30- to 50-amp electricity. Four of these sites are ADA-accessible. The maximum amount of people at these sites is only four, so if you have a larger family you may need to book two sites. Your furbaby is welcome but must be on a leash of 10 feet long or more at all times during your visit. You will be able to cook indoors since the park provides electricity; however, you can also cook outside on the campfire grill provided by the park.
The RV length limits range from 20 to 40, but there are a couple of sites that are a little bit smaller. The family can all eat at the provided picnic table, so you do not have to balance your food on your lap in a camp chair. You can also find two modern restrooms and a shower house as well as several drinking water spigots throughout the campground. Most of the sites have a water view, and they are all within a short walk of Little Grassy Lake as well as the Red Cedar Hiking Trail. The kids will love the playground in the middle of the camp by the picnic shelter where you can enjoy a meal with friends. Reservations can be made from three days to 12 months in advance.
For horse lovers, the equestrian campground has 25 class A campsites with 30-amp electricity and one that is ADA accessible. Located in the southwestern corner of the park, the trailhead for the equestrian trail starts here so you can jump on your horse and head out anytime you like, right from your campsite. Although each site has electricity so you can cook indoors, you can also cook out on the provided campfire grill. The picnic table is big enough for everyone, so you can all sit and eat together.
The park also provides several drinking water spigots and a modern restroom with running water. Pets are welcome so go ahead and bring your pooch too. All sites can accommodate rigs up to 40 feet in length and provide a hitching post for your pony as tying off to trees is prohibited. You can reserve your site from three days to one year ahead of time. The sooner the better since there are only 25 equestrian sites.
If you are thinking that a few nights of pampering are in order and you did not bring your furbaby along, there are 34 cabins to choose from in the southeastern corner of the park. You’ll find 12 cozy historic cabins nestled in the woods to the east of the lodge and 18 mid-sized prairie cabins alongside the pool and vending area on the eastern side of the lodge. If you want something a little more spacious, try one of the four luxurious bluff cabins, which each boast a wet bar and a deck that overlooks the bluffs. However, it is best to make your reservations way in advance.
Each of the cabins comes with a full bathroom, electricity, water, heat, air conditioning, and beds. You’ll also have a coffee maker and hairdryer as well as a phone and clock radio. The television has satellite with over 50 channels. and there is a pool available nearby for everyone to enjoy. The prairie and bluff cabins have small refrigerators but none of them have kitchens. There is a dining room and bar in the lodge in the center of the cabin area. In addition, you can relax and unwind in the great room, shop for souvenirs at the gift shop, or climb the 50-foot observation tower for an amazing view you cannot get anywhere else in Illinois.
If you did not have time to make a reservation, you may still be able to get a campsite at one of the 24 first-come, first-served campsites. Just like the reservable sites, each one of these has a 30- to 50-amp electric hookup, so you can cook indoors and keep the lights and AC on and may even be able to catch the game on the television if you can get a signal. If you would rather cook outside, the park provides a large fire ring with a grill to cook on and a picnic table so the whole family can eat together.
Make sure to get a site that is big enough for your camper when you check in because with these you do not have the luxury of choosing a certain length ahead of time. Most sites are between 20 and 40 feet long. You’ll have access to the same amenities as the others since these sites are a part of the family campground as well. Pets are allowed here too with the same rules as the rest of the sites. If you are coming on a weekend or holiday, you should get here early if you don’t have a reservation because these sites will fill up fast.
At the far southwestern end of Giant City State Park, past the Family Campground, you can find 14 Class C walk-in campsites. You will have to leave your RV in the parking lot and hike the Red Cedar Trail, which is about 12 miles long. There are no utilities or restrooms here, but you will have access to the restrooms and showers at the Family Campground. These are first-come, first-served sites so talk to the campground staff or park ranger before heading down the trail. You don’t want to get all the way out there and find there is no place to camp.
Just like the other sites, your furbaby is allowed to accompany you but you will need to keep them leashed or otherwise restrained at all times. There is a potable water spigot nearby for drinking and cooking with. These sites are shaded, and most are very wooded so be sure to pack your insect repellent. Each site has its own campfire ring and picnic table as well.
The bluffs at Giant City State Park are fantastic climbing structures so be sure to pack your climbing gear in the RV before heading out. You can only climb at the Makanda Bluff near shelter one or the Devil’s Standtable Cliff. The Makanda Bluff has routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.12 and is good for all skill levels of climbers. The Devil’s Standtable Cliff is more of a bouldering cliff than a rock-climbing adventure with some great top rope and traditional lines. You may even be able to get the kids bouldering with you up there. And the views you can get from the top of these climbs are phenomenal.
If you have a birthday party or family reunion coming up, you can reserve one of the five shelters available at Giant City State Park. Shelter one on Stonefort Road can accommodate up to 100 people but has no water or electricity. The second one on Giant City Lodge Road has a playground, water, and electricity but only accommodates 30. Shelter three is on the same road and has the same amenities but can seat up to 100. On Church Street, the fourth shelter can handle 50 people with water and a playground but no electricity. And the fifth shelter on Giant City Lodge Road is near a ballfield, a playground, and it has water but no electricity. All these shelters have picnic tables, grills, and vault toilets as well.
The 1,200-acre Little Grassy Lake is the main fishing spot and is full of catfish, crappie, bluegill, and largemouth bass. Many people use fly-fishing techniques for bass, crappie, and bluegill with a lot of success while those who want catfish are using live bait weighted down to the bottom where the big ones are. But there are 17 other lakes and ponds within the park that can be fished as well. Talk to the locals or park staff to find out what is biting and where.
If you brought your own horse, you can stay at the Equestrian Campground in the southwestern corner of the park where the Equestrian Trail starts. This 12-mile trek is rugged as it meanders along the outer edge of the boundaries of the park. You will traverse several steep hills, ravines, and sandstone bluffs. You’ll also see some of the most breathtaking scenery from atop your horse along this trail, so don’t forget to bring your camera to share your pictures with others on social media. If you didn’t bring a horse but still want to ride, you can get a guided ride from Giant City Stables at the northern end of the park.
Giant City State Park has nine trails from the short and easy to the long and difficult. If you are looking for an easy trek, try the Post Oak Nature Trail, which is 0.3 miles long and is ADA-accessible. The path meanders along the Post Oak Pond where you can spot aquatic plants and critters like bullfrogs and soft-shelled turtles. If you would rather take a long hike or are wanting to camp in the rough, try the 12-mile Red Cedar Hiking Trail. On this hike, you will need to carry a sturdy backpack with water, food, and bug repellent, as well as sunscreen and a first aid kit.
Open from Labor Day until May, the Archery Range at Giant City State Park is a great way to keep your archery skills as sharp as your arrows. Whether you are a newbie or a veteran shooter, archery is more than just a sport for hunting. It teaches strength, concentration, and responsibility as well as hand-eye coordination and skill. Make sure you have someone with you if you are under 18 and follow all state and federal rules and regulations. No alcohol, playing around, or fighting is allowed in the shooting area.