Giant City State Park – Giant City Nature Trail
Explore the most popular hiking trail at Giant City and possibly Southern Illinois. This trails only valid competition would be the Garden of the Gods – Observation Trail. Unlike Garden of the Gods its main attraction is not bizarrely eroded rocks, such as Camel Rock, but unusual rock separation.
The Giant City Nature Trail is the home of “Streets of Giant City” and the gravity defying Balanced Rock. It is, also, where the the park receives its name. If you can only hike one trail at Giant City, this would be the one.
- Difficulty: Some uphill climbs and steps. Very compacted surfaces with bridges and a long boardwalk.
- Length: One mile
- Highlights: “Streets” of Giant City, Balanced Rock, and a picturesque boardwalk
Notes from the Trail
On my Way
The sun remains hidden behind the forested hills keeping me in the muted shadows of a new day. I take swift gulps of my favorite caffeine drink trying to awaken my weary eyes. I know from experience that it will kick in soon and that the body will be thankful for the gesture.
I pull into a wide parking area that can accommodate 20-30 vehicles, maybe more, but all it must do during this early morning hour is to accommodate one. I pull in close to the walkway and take one more large drink of caffeine and prepare to hike in the chill of an early October day.
I have arrived early for a reason. It is a weekend and this parking area will soon clamor with the activity of large groups. I have avoided this trail much like the Garden of the Gods, but seeing that I am the first one here I feel certain that I will be able to acquire decent footage.
The Eyes of a Newcomer
Fall is beginning to overtake this area. The greens of summer are giving way to the vibrant colors of fall. Dogwoods appear to be on fire with their eye-catching reds. I have always enjoyed the antics of the dogwood. In the spring it is one of the first to bloom, with its showy white four-petal flowers. It hides in the cover of the larger oaks, maples, and hickories and pops to life before its taller neighbors can scour out the sun with their newly developing leaves. In the fall it is one of the first to turn colors, once again drawing attention to its small stature.
I have hiked this trail many times before, but I hope to come here today with the eyes of someone seeing this place for the first time. Being immersed behind a camera, should help. Since I have begun filming the trails of Southern Illinois, I have found that I must scan the area thoroughly and try to find interesting angles so that I can piece them together in one short video. This process requires that I slow down and become almost child-like in exploring the area, looking into nooks and crannies, climbing on top of a rock to see if I can get a new perspective of this familiar place. It is so hard sometimes for us as adults to slow down and just take a place in for what it actually is.
I head out over a bridge that crosses a drought-stricken creek. The trail bends and begins to ascend a gentle slope that can accommodate two people walking side-by-side. The forest canopy feels like an over-arching canvas shelter, giving the trail a tranquil quality.
The sight of sandstone bluffs and rocks the size of small cabins comes into view as I arrive at the loop intersection. I take a right and the bluff keeps me company as I wind between rocks and trees. Down the trail a little ways a side path comes in from the right that leads to one of the main shelters. I keep left and soon one of my favorite trees in Illinois appears. I have previously posted an article on this tree entitled Failure to Fail. I take time to once again inspect the gnarled roots and pay my respects to this unique tree.
Boardwalks and Streets
The trail begins to slowly descend toward a rocky overhang. A small crack in the bluff demands to be explored, but I have climbed in its recesses before and decide to save it for another day. I round the bend and encounter one of the longest boardwalks in southern Illinois. I set up the tripod and begin filming from several different angles. The pounding of boots on the wooden boards vibrate the camcorder and it is only when I am five to ten feet away that the vibrations reduce to a level that makes the footage usable.
For some reason I enjoy well thought out man-made structures like this one that blends naturally into their environment. I absolutely do not believe that we need these structures to enhance nature, but some may be necessary to cause less harm to the surroundings.
To the left of the boardwalk is a sheer bluff that gives the place scale. This is the section of the trail that one can hear the first “OOhhs and Aahs”. At the end of the wooden structure looms another sandstone bluff that leads to the main attraction. I turn left trying to take in the place. My eyes scan for interesting areas to begin the filming of “The Streets”.
Why is it here?
I head down the first “block” of the city and feel its cold mossy walls. It appears that a huge knife has sliced the area like a cake. There are several different theories why these streets exists. The first is that the rock has split into different blocks and they are now slowly moving on a loose bed on shale down the hill towards the creek below.
There are others who disagree, because the rocks appear to be moving in separate direction, which would seem to be impossible. The other theory suggests that the rock has eroded naturally over time, which could explain the sheer walls. Make sure to take time to get more in-depth information on the geology of Giant City at the Visitor’s Center.
For all their geological wonder, I’m still impressed by their confining quality. I can see why people thought of this area as a Giant City. It feels more like an alley between several three-story houses as I set up the camcorder and try to film the uniqueness of each street.
The final passage is to the left and leads up towards a slanted boulder. The work of gravity can clearly be seen here. A huge rock lies balanced between the two walls. The wall to the left is higher than the right. Erosive force has created a small pedestal for the boulder to perch upon. The trail goes directly underneath this massive chunk of sandstone. It feels as though if you pushed hard enough underneath it that it would continue it predetermined descent to the valley floor, but the rock weighs tons and seems to be lodged tightly in for the long haul.
The Rest of the Trail
As I film Balanced Rock, I hear the first sounds of others approaching. I rapidly finish filming “the streets” and feel relieved that I have footage from the most popular parts of the trail. I descend a flight of stairs and hike the back side of the the bluff. I can remember in the past that I would avoid this section and just walk back the way I had come, but over time I have begun to enjoy the silent quality of the remaining section of the loop.
Although this area is not as dramatic, I film several sequences that are just as photogenic as the main section. As I arrive back at the beginning of the loop, I begin to see the crowds starting to enjoy the area. If you look close on the last piece of video there is a single figure headed up the trail.
I pack my equipment with the knowledge that I have experienced this area like I have never before with the help of a video camera and child-like wonder.
Giant City Nature Trail – Video
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The author and Shawnee Hills Outdoors disclaim any liability or loss incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application on any information contained in this blog. Although this post talks and shows video of a person hiking alone, it is the best policy to always have a hiking partner. If you do attempt to explore any of these areas make sure you are have the proper knowledge to survive in the woods, do not rely on a cellphone for help. Please check ranger stations and park superintendents for latest information regarding these areas. This website is for entertainment only.
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