Way south of St. Louis, just outside of Carbondale IL, you’ll find a little slice of heaven named Giant City State Park. It sits on the edge of the Shawnee National Forest and offers some really good hiking among its many other amenities. Now if you’re at all familiar with the St. Louis metro area you’ve probably found yourself thinking that: A) I’m way too into hiking or B) I’m a little bit crazy for having driven 2 and 1/2 hours for the sake of getting some exercise, but either way you’d be wrong.
I really do enjoy hiking, but more importantly I have family in the area, so 2 and 1/2 hours in the car is easily out weighed by some quality family time. For anyone else, I’d recommend sticking around for at least one night if you’re not big on spending a large chunk of your day in the car. There’s a lodge with really excellent food (I have a lifetime of Thanksgiving dinners to vouch for this), cabins and areas to camp/park your RV, and it’s only about a 20 minute drive from Carbondale which is more than likely to have everything you need/want.
Now to get back to the hiking, there are quite a few trails to choose from which will suit any level of hiking experience you may have. I decided to stick to the most popular trail called the Giant City Nature Trail because it’s quite simply my favorite for one very important reason: Fat Man Squeeze. This is the trail I grew up hiking on every Thanksgiving with my family, and is a really nice 1 mile hike if you stick to the trail and hike it the correct way… which I’ve only done one time in my life thanks to that rebellious year my aunt made us all try it. Anyway, if you want to see if you can make it through fat man squeeze then the first thing you want to do it go the exact opposite way as the first arrow.
Then you’re going to conquer that really big looking hill and make it to the peaceful little area with benches at the top. Once you’re there you can feel secure in the knowledge that there will be no more large hills to climb.
From here it’s as simple as following the path down and around for a fairly lengthy set of trail. You’ll pass some large boulders which are incredibly fun to climb and plenty of open wooded area, where if you’re luck you might see a deer or two. The next section begins when you come to this wall of rock (see below).
You really just need to follow the path which is marked with a red spray painted arrow (which will be pointing at you), but I added this section because it can be a little confusing if you’re unfamiliar with the trail. I passed plenty of people who had gotten turned around during my hike.
Soon you’ll come to a set of wooden stairs, which you should probably take if you don’t want to have to go down that massive hill you had to come up. Next is probably my favorite rock feature of the entire hike. It’s a boulder that’s precariously balanced on top of a smooth pathway… and you’re gonna be walking right underneath it.
Now if you’ve kept reading this far into the post, then I congratulate you for making it to one of the coolest features of this hike (besides the boulder above). It’s easiest to say that it’s a sort of open roofed tunnel which leads off of the passageway pictured above, and opens up to reveal towering walls full of carvings, some of which date back to the 1800’s.
New carvings seem to appear all the time, and it’s easy to lose time here trying to find the oldest date you can. At this point in the hike we are about to come to a fork in the road, which isn’t all that obvious upon first glance, but will give you two completely different experiences. The first is a long wooded bridge leading you along the trail your intended to take … the second is that really shady looking overgrown area to the right that looks as though it might lead to your death. Exciting right!?!?!
So yeah… needless to say I went right. To be fair the path is much more over grown than the last time I hiked this trail, and was definitely a little harder to traverse than usual, but still oh so worth the effort. I fought my way through chest high weeds while hoping none were poisonous, ducked under trees, and climbed over mossy rocks on my way to Fat Man Squeeze.
As I traversed the familiar yet alien looking path, I could hear children laughing from somewhere along the actual trail, and wondered if anyone else even knew there was a path cut among the weeds and tall rocks, or if they had all abandoned the idea of doing so as it became overgrown. Either way, this section is pretty easy. You follow the rocks on up. Mind your step though, especially if the ground is wet from a recent rain.
When you get to the top of the section pictured above, there is now a fallen tree trunk you must duck under or climb over to get to the second half of the path which is on the right. It looked just as dismal and overgrown as the one I just come up, but isn’t obstructed other than a few weeds sprouting up here and there.
Follow the slight curve around, and you’ll have arrived at your destination.
Don’t let the above photo deceive you in any way. Just below the fallen tree is a large step up and a shrinking space between the rocks all at once. It’s a little tough to mange if you’ve got a backpack on, have a camera or dog, so place whatever object/animal might be in your possession up on the top of the ledge, and pray you’re small enough to fit.
After collecting your things, please feel free to sit and wait for assistance from the first kind soul that comes along… KIDDING! If you take a right there is a small path which will place the edge of the rocks on your left. Go down until you’ve come to either the 3rd or 4th break where you’ll see a path both wide and gradual enough for you to make your way back to the trail.