The Southern Glamper: Giant City State Park

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Giant City State Park

Monday, June 10, 2019

A trip to Giant City State Park is a welcome change to the ordinary pace of life.  We love how green it is here along with the abundance of outdoor activities.
**Updated June 2019**

When our family first started camping, a couple of hours from home seemed like a trip around the world.  We finally are venturing outside of our comfort zone and geographic region.  It has been exciting to be more confident campers.  For Memorial Day Weekend, we camped at Giant City State Park in Southern Illinois for two years in a row.  I think this might become a family tradition.


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 is breathtaking.  This park has over 1 million visitors a year with its trails and variety of amenities.

The Visitor's Center at Giant City State Park is well worth the stop.

Park Overview

On our way into the park, we stopped at the visitor station.  The visitor station is worth a stop.  While souvenirs are available, the local wildlife displays and information are excellent and educational.  The staff was friendly and communicated clearly where and how to check into our campsite.  

The camp hosts were equally helpful the first year that we stayed at Giant City.  They were rather unavailable during our second stay.  So your experience with the camp hosts may vary from season to season.  But, during our first stay, 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 certainly welcome.

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 wildlife displays at Giant City State Park are educational and well done.

Learn about local wildlife at the visitors center, but also talk to the park staff while you are there to get more information about the park.

There are also local wildflowers surrounding the Visitor's Center with additional information about the flora and fauna.

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.  

If you appreciate hiking, there are plenty of trails to explore within this park.  We selected an easy trail because of the heat and age of the children in our group during our first trip.  We were short on time that first year,  so there was not a lot of time 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. 

On our second trip, we took the Trillium Trail that was breathtakingly beautiful.  It is a two-mile hike that is a little more rugged, but it still worked fine for our group with 1st and 2nd grade age children.  

The Trillium Trail had a nice mix of terrain, and we loved the views.

The trail was lush and green with moss and ferns during the first half and much more wooded and breezy at the top.

There were lots of rocks and going up and down hilly terrain on the Trillium Trail
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.

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

Campground Overview

The campground within the park is large with plenty of spots.  There is both paved pull-through sites and gravel sites that can be backed into.  With lots of shade throughout the campground, there really isn't a bad spot in the park.  We like to stay closer to the front and near the playground.  

The gravel sites to back into run along the edges of the campground.

The grill/firepits are not the best but can do okay for grilling meals and having a fire.  

Each site comes equipped with a picnic table. 

A view of the campground shows how shady the area is for campers.

The paved pull-through sites are nice and level.  We prefer these sites.

Each site contains a grill that can double as a fire pit.  Some of these are in better shape than others.  However, they are more than capable of grilling meals and making a campfire at night.  There is also a picnic table at each site.  

Campsites have electric hookups but no water or sewer.  There are plenty of spots with water throughout the campground to make it accessible.  There is also an excellent dump station that is easily accessible as well.  While we prefer full hookups, the park makes everything accessible.  So, it is not a problem.

Since our pop up does not have tanks, I set up a water station on my picnic table.  I used this as a place to keep clean drinking water as well as water to wash dishes.  At the opposite end of the table, I washed my dishes as I needed to.  

Our water station on the picnic table provided a place for water that I could use for washing dishes along with a clean drinking water container as well.

I set up a dishwashing station at the end of the picnic table for washing dishes as I needed to.  When I was finished, I would collapse down my containers and store them.

If you are camping without hookups like we did in our pop up, make sure that you are not dumping "grey" or wastewater out into the campground.  I saw more than one set of campers just tossing wash water out into the campsite.  We took our grey water container and just poured my dirty wash water into this during our stay.  It is simple to do this and much more sanitary!

I use the Camco Odor Control in our grey water container during the weekend.  It keeps the water from smelling, and we just dump everything into the dump station when we leave.


Campground Facilities

Within the campground, there is a set of bathhouses and two other smaller bathrooms near the back.  One is located right in the tent camping area.  Another is positioned between the tent area and RV area.  Given that there are no hookups other than electric, these facilities are in high demand on a busy holiday weekend.  You may wait in line to take a shower at night.  It seemed like there had been some updates since our first year, but at the end of a long hot day, it is hard to keep up with the demand.  So, just remember it is not a luxury hotel, but it worked fine for a couple of days.

There is a large playground at the front of the campground.  It was a heavily trafficked spot for children to gather an play.  There is also plenty of room for children to ride scooters and bikes throughout the campground.  

Amenities

On our first trip to Giant City State Park, we took the children to take a short pony ride.  These are $15 for children.  This year, we decided to all take a trail ride.  The trail ride is $50 a person or $45 per person in a group larger than 5.  There is a weight limit of 250 pounds to ride the horses.  The trail ride is about 3 miles and goes for about 60 to 90 minutes.  We really enjoyed this activity and felt like the guides did a great job.  This was really worth the money to do this excursion.

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

The guides for the pony rides are patient and kind.
Within the park you can find:
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Rock Climbing
  • Lots of Hiking - I recommend using All Trails to help determine the difficulty and length of the trail.  The campground also has maps!
There is even a Natural Resources Coordinator that you can contact prior to your trip.  The park offers ongoing activities.  You can schedule a guided hike if you would like.  On the weekend we were there, the park hosted a "Bike the Campground" event.  State Parks may not always update their website regularly, but I would recommend sending an email or calling ahead to see what activities are happening while you are there!

Other Information

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.

We enjoy eating meals al fresco when camping.  We had the perfect set up for this at Giant City State Park.

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.
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.  If you are looking for more ideas, check out my Lists and Menus Page with lots of menu ideas to help you plan.

Until next time...

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