The Southern Glamper: Giant City State Park

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Giant City State Park

Friday, June 1, 2018

My new welcome sign from my friend Christy.

When our family first started camping, a couple of hours from home seemed like a trip around the world.  This year, we are venturing outside of our comfort zone and geographic region.  It has been exciting be more confident campers.  For Memorial Day Weekend, we camped at Giant City State Park in Southern Illinois.


I love the rustic beauty of state parks.  The rich history and scenic views are a big part of the draw.  I'm also trying to escape the ordinary, daily hustle while camping.  Giant City has massive sandstone bluffs throughout the park that that are breathtaking.  This park has over 1 million visitors a year with its trails and variety of amenities.

On our way into the park, we stopped at the visitor station.  The visitor station is worth a stop.  While you can purchase souvenirs there, they also have several nice displays and some local wildlife to observe.  The staff was friendly and communicated clearly where and how to check into our campsite.  The camp hosts were equally helpful.  On Saturday night, there was a power outage.  The host came by to give us an update on the outage.  Later, he made a second loop through to inform us that the power company was there working on the problem.  The communication was very helpful.

Our Memorial Day campsite.  Site 15 is well positioned to the playground, bath house and was shady!

Camping is not the only way to enjoy this state park.  Visitors can rent a cabin, dine at the lodge or enjoy a day trip for activities within the park.  The Lodge offers 34 cabins with full baths.  A swimming pool is available to those staying in one of the cabins on site.  For campers that would like a break from cooking at the campsite, visit the lodge for a meal with rustic charm.

The site superintendent suggested that a trip during late April and early May provides an excellent view of wildflowers.  Guided hikes are also available throughout the year.  With the variety of amenities, I would advise doing some planning before you arrive to take advantage of the features your group would most enjoy.  The Giant City Activities Page is helpful in planning your trip.

If you appreciate hiking, there are plenty trails to explore within this park.  We selected an easy trail because of the heat and age of the children in our group.  This was a short trip, so there was not lots of time for hiking.  If you visit Giant City, check out the trail reviews and information on All Trails.  We took the Indian Creek Natural trail because of the length and rating.  It was just right for little feet on a really hot afternoon.

Do be on the lookout for snakes.  Even though we did not see any, we were warned about this ahead of time.  There was also lots of poison oak and ivy along the trail.  Dress appropriately and use insect repellant.  The shady canopy of the trail provided a break from the heat and was pleasant.

Afternoon hike.

The sandstone bluffs of the hiking trails at Giant City State Park.

Our children took pony rides on Sunday morning.  The park also offers trail rides.  The longer rides would be a nice excursion for older campers.  The paved campground provided plenty of areas for children to ride bikes, scooters and even rollerblade.

Our son enjoyed the pony ride at Giant City State Park.

The guides for the pony rides are patient and kind.


On this trip, I learned something new about state park camping.  Mississippi and Alabama have spoiled me with full hookups available.  At Giant City, there is no water or sewer at the individual sites.  However, there was a clearly marked and excellent dumping and fresh water station.  We managed to make do just fine.

I only depend on water and sewage to have fresh water for dishes and draining grey water.  I used my handy dishwashing station and washed dishes on our picnic table.  We keep a collapsible bucket in our camper that I have been considering getting rid of.  I'm glad we kept it now.  We used the collapsible bucket to fetch water.  I heated half for washing and used the remaining half for rinsing.  No biggie!

My cousin Derek used his fancy cargo bike to empty the gray water from his camper during the trip!


Firewood is not available on site.  There are several places with self-serve firewood on the way into town.  So bring cash to purchase firewood as needed.  This was a first for us, but it was also very convenient!  Signs along the roadside advertise for firewood.  Pull up and count out the number of sticks and place your cash into a locked box for payment.

Self-serve firewood near Giant City State Park.


Camping on a holiday weekend means packed campgrounds and lots of people.  We were prepared for being a little crowded.  We had a pull-through site that was a breeze to get into.  Our site was also super close to the playground.  This was the first time we were able to let our son go to the playground on his own with cousins.  While nervous, we would position ourselves to see them and felt safe doing so.

We used the time with our family to visit, enjoy simple meals and allow our children to play at their heart's content.  Even though it was a 6-hour drive to get there, it was worth the distance to spend time together.  And, the park was so incredibly enjoyable.

I enjoyed visiting with our cousins immensely.  My first cousin, Derek, and I have children close in age.  The three of them played together all weekend.  Seeing our children playing reminded Derek and I both of happy trips to our grandmothers with tons of kids piled into a living room to sleep on every surface imaginable.

Campfire cones after dinner.


Camping has given us extra time to spend together with our immediate family.  It has also given us time to spend with extended family too.  We camped with more cousins last fall, and I think involving our extended family on our camping trips will continue to be a tradition for us.  We are already talking about a trip together again next year.  Camping days really are the best days because of the time we spend together with both family and friends.

If you are looking for a family-friendly place to camp in the Midwest, this is an excellent choice.  Giant City State Park is serene and offers something for every visitor.  Plan a day trip, a cabin rental, come to camp or dig your heels into a backpacking excursion.  Your time at this park would be well spent no matter what you decide.

Hiking at Giant City State Park.

Wherever you camp, take the time to give some feedback.  All feedback does not have to be negative.  We were thrilled with the park staff, and I wrote the park to tell them this.  Due to the number of campers on a busy weekend, the bathhouses were a little overcrowded and could use some updates.  These things are not deal breakers for me.  But, I think it is important to express your thanks for good things at campgrounds and voice reasonable suggestions.  This helps to make camping fun for everyone.  The site superintendent took the time to write a nice email back and addressed their plans for future updates.

If you are looking for an easy meal plan to go with your next camping adventure, here is our Memorial Day Menu.  I've added the recipe links and a shopping list to save you some time.  I have more Camping Menu Ideas can be found on my blog from previous trips!

My only regret from this weekend is that we didn't get a group photo of all of us.  This just means we have to do it again!  Until next time...






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