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Who’d’ve known the hills were so tall?!? Pere Marquette State Park, Grafton, IL 10/17/2015

November 2, 2015

Pere Marquette 022So it was the couple of Autumn weeks when the leaves were on their way to displaying all sorts of brilliant colors. As the nights get cooler and the sunlight is more fleeting, the forest prepares for the slumber that comes with the coldest months; the trees sending their energy down to their roots and shedding their brilliantly colored adornment of solar collectors, to be regrown again when the northern hemisphere starts to warm in the Spring. Last year around this time, we made a trip to Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, down near the Arcadia Valley, and the highest point in Missouri to check out the brilliance of it. This year was no different in my wanting to get out and soak in the changing of the leaves, but this year was going to be a trip to a place I hadn’t been to in probably half my life, and even though it is close…it isn’t actually in Missouri. This year I was going to make a long overdue trip across a great river and a state line, and check out the steep hills and breathtaking overlooks of Pere Marquette State Park, just north of the beautiful river town of Grafton, IL.

Pere Marquette 066How to get there:

There are a few different options you have coming from south St. Louis County (where I live), but the point I will start from is the northern part of the 270 loop in north St. Louis County. You want to get to the interchange of 270 and MO-367/Lewis and Clark Blvd. Go north on 367 for about 3 and a half miles, and then continue north another 7 miles as it changes to US-67. After you cross the impressive Clark Bridge spanning the Mississippi River and land in Alton, IL on the other side, make a left and take IL-100 through Alton, and then about 20 miles northwest along the river through Grafton and eventually to Pere Marquette State Park.

Pere Marquette 003The hiking trails at Pere Marquette are a trail system. An intertwined network of trails joining and crossing one another, over and through the hills along the Illinois River. There are 12 miles of trails, and I we probably hiked about 4 that day. Make sure to pick up a trail map from the trailhead or Visitor Center before heading into the woods.

Why I like this park:

Pere Marquette 044The views from the multiple overlooks makes this one of the most scenic places I have visited. Sure, the hills are steep and seem to go on forever, but you are rewarded equally with gorgeous views and perfect opportunities for taking a break when you finally get to the top. Yes, it’s a lot of work losing your breath up the hills just to have it taken as you crest the summits, but you will gladly give yourself as much time as you have available to soak it all in once you get up there. It really is worth noting how those of us from Missouri don’t think of Illinois as having any sort of severe and daunting topography, and the hills along the river here certainly obliterate any reference to the term “Flatlander”. Even I was huffing and puffing a little when I got to the plateau and looked out across the Illinois River. Phew.

Pere Marquette 014Pere Marquette State Park is another place on the huge list of beloved outdoor destinations that owes so much to the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC-built lodge and conference center there are practically a resort, and with over 70 rooms and cabins available along with all sorts of activities to spend your time enjoying, this is surely a getaway destination for thousands of visitors throughout the year. On top of that, they also have over 80 campsites in their campground. There is also a Visitor Center filled with displays and interpretive exhibits that teach you about the local wildlife, environment, and history of the Illinois River and the hills and sloughs that make up the area. Check out their website to see how YOU can fill up a fun weekend there!

Pere Marquette 030If for any other reason to go to Pere Marquette, the drive there is a stunning and relaxing venture northwest along some of the prettiest river highway that you will ever get to enjoy. With the shimmering surface of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers as your companion on the left, and the steep hills and towering bluffs shouldering you in from the right, the “River Road” up to Grafton is nothing short of spectacular. Make a day of it and visit this little river town, filled with wineries, antique shops, artisan gift stores, and even a massive flea market that is open every 4th weekend of the month from April to October. Grafton is certainly a place to spend a fun weekend for just about anyone with an appreciation for the open air, and the history and creativity that makes up the finer AND more rustic points of this great land in which we live.

Pere Marquette 006What you need to know:

The hiking trails at Pere Marquette are just about all back up in the hills above the river, so don’t expect a soft and gentle wandering through river bottoms. I was very impressed with how tall the hills were, and the views are a beautiful reward…but the trail to get to them is long a steep and at some points seems to not want to end. Take your time and catch your breath when you need to, because getting to the top is totally worth it. I hadn’t driven it, but we did cross a road at one point that runs through the park and does stop at a couple overlooks. Consider that option in case you’re looking for less of a workout.

Pere Marquette 011This is a very busy park, and for good reason. If you are looking for a day of isolation in the woods, this might not be the place to find it. I am always happy to see more and more people enjoying the benefits of the outdoors, but this is not the place to go if you’re interested in a more solitary experience walking through the woods.

I can tell you one thing for sure, I need to go back and spend a lot more time at this park when I get the chance. There are more miles of trail to explore and a lot of history about the area to learn. It was a wonderful visit that we had, and the people of Illinois should be very proud of this gem within their borders, hidden in the steep hills along the Illinois River, right in the heart of this great and beautiful land. It may not have been something to see in Missouri, but this outdoors enthusiast certainly feels it was worth it to head in a slightly unfamiliar direction in order to get to see such a wonderful natural place.

Pere Marquette 12140152_10154348834254863_3376693605549679884_o

Max and I, discussing the differences between Missouri and Illinois State Parks.

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One Comment
  1. just wanted to say thank you for these posts…over time I have read most of all of them and eventually catch up with new ones. You eloquently capture the peace and beauty of being out in nature and also do a fine justice to our outstanding collection of state parks. Physical limitations keep me from doing the hiking I once did weekly, but I can live vicariously thru your posts. TY 🙂
    Jan B.

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