Giant City State Park encompasses over 4000 acres in the Shawnee National Forest, near Carbondale, Illinois. It’s one of the most beautiful places to go for a hike in southern Illinois.
The name Giant City comes from the massive sandstone structures throughout the park, and the “streets of giants” formed by earthquakes and the action of a glacial stream.
It’s one of our family’s favorite parks to spend the day. With 8 hiking trails, horseback riding, playgrounds, and fishing, we always have fun!
If your family is just getting into hiking, and you’re worried that your kids may not love it, make it more exciting for them with these 6 fun ideas!
Of all the hiking trails, here are 3 that we think are must-do hikes at Giant City State Park!
1. Giant City Nature Trail
One of the most popular trails in Giant City State Park, and for good reason! This is a 1-mile, rugged, moderate-difficulty loop trail. Time to complete this trail is about an hour, but you could spend a lot more climbing around and exploring!
We came to this trail on a winter weekday afternoon. Even at this time, the trail had quite a few people on it, so don’t expect to have this trail all to yourselves!
The trail starts out at picnic shelter #3. Immediately, when you get up the initial hill, there are awesome sandstone bluffs and rocks that Mason had a great time climbing all over, while I took a break from carrying Ella up that hill on my back!
We took the loop toward the left, going against what everyone else was doing. Unless a trail specifically says to go one direction, we like to take the route that we feel we will be stuck in less people. The kids like to stop and play along the trails, and since one of them is a 3-year-old, we sometimes are holding up people behind us with our slow hiking pace!
For a winter Monday afternoon, there were quite a few people out on the trail!
Features on the Giant City Nature Trail include narrow canyons, steep cliffs, and shelter bluffs. About half-way around the loop, you will walk under “balanced rock”, which got stuck in that position thousands of years ago during glacial melting.
Don’t miss the face in the rock when you’re walking among the steep sandstone! We were lucky to have it pointed out to us by a nice man as we went by, because we may have missed in coming from the opposite direction!
There are also many carvings in the rock, but don’t be tempted to add your own! Remember to “leave no trace!”
One of the coolest things about this trail is that nomadic Native Americans used these shelter bluffs as their homes. If you’re lucky enough to find any artifacts, remember not to take them, as this is a protected site!
The Giant City Nature Trail might be our favorite trail in the entire Shawnee National Forest. It’s definitely our number one choice of the must-do hikes at Giant City State Park!
2. Devil’s Standtable Trail
The next of the 3 hikes at Giant City State Park that we recommend is the Devil’s Standtable Trail.
Devil’s Standtable is a short, 1/3 of a mile trail, rated as moderate. Time to complete is about half an hour.
The trailhead is a short ways up the road to the north of Giant City Nature Trail’s start, so they would be a good combination to complete in one day! Plus, there are picnic tables, restrooms, and a playground near these trailheads.
This trail’s name comes from the sandstone formation that looks like a giant table (or some would say, a mushroom shape.)
Before coming to the Standtable on this trail, you come to a huge shelter bluff. This was formed because the lower rock eroded faster than the upper part, creating the shelter.
Native Americans used these caves as homes, just like on the Giant City Nature Trail.
You can’t miss the trail’s namesake as you come up to it. The formation was created thousands of years ago when the softer middle portion of the rock eroded, leaving the base and top layers larger, creating the pedestal table shape.
We did this trail during the spring season with my sister and her kids, and the kids all loved playing under the shelter bluffs!
3. Indian Creek Trail
We came to Giant City one snowy winter day, looking for a quick and easy hike. Honestly, we just drove around and came to this one.
After reading the sign posted at the trailhead, I decided this one would be perfect for a snowy day walk… and it was!
Indian Creek Trail is a rugged, 3/4-mile loop trail, rated as moderate, but we found it to be very easy, even in the snow. Time to complete is about 30-45 minutes, assuming you stop to take in the scenery.
Like our other 3 must-do hikes in Giant City State Park, this one features shelter bluffs that were once inhabited by Native Americans.
Along the bluffs, you can look in the drip lines (the lines under the bluff where the water drips off) for chert flakes. This is evidence of Native Americans, who used chert to make weapons. It is not native to that area, meaning it had to have been carried in from miles away.
Remember, it is a protected area, and you cannot take home any artifacts you may find. Turn in any potential artifacts to the Visitor Center.
Indian Creek runs right through the middle of this loop trail, with wooden bridges to cross over.
Other Important Information
- Dogs are allowed on all trails but must be on a leash.
- Venomous copperhead snakes do live and hibernate in this area.
- Poison Ivy is present along each of the trails.
- Keep young children in reach, as there are steep cliffs throughout the park.
- Remember to pack out everything you bring in!
Maps for each of the trails can be found on the brochures on the Illinois DNR website.
Next, check out these posts!
- Best Hiking Carriers for 3-Year-Olds
- 10 Southern Illinois Campgrounds for Families to Make Lasting Memories
- Fun Things to Do with Kids in Southern Illinois
- Visit These 5 Epic Waterfalls in Southern Illinois
- 21 Best Family-Friendly Things to Do in Missouri this Fall
Save this post for later!