Photograph: Courtesy of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Walk This Way
Head south this weekend and you can celebrate spring on the trails and byways of Southern Illinois’s scenic Makanda, where Giant City State Park, a 4,000-acre swath of the Shawnee National Forest, is ushering in the warmer months with spectacular views from trails fit for hiking, horseback riding, and rock climbing. There are eight footpaths through the area, ranging from easy, one-third-mile treks through young forests and bottom lands crisscrossed by creeks to rugged 12-mile routes over sandstone bluffs eons in the making. For a quick, scenic trip, try the Giant City Nature Trail, a one-miler over bluffs and through ancient “streets” of trees. And if you’re feeling mildly ambitious but not quite up to a dozen miles, take the two-mile Trillium Trail, which winds up and down hills through forests, over creeks, and around cliffs. For those who want to break into spring with a bit of rock climbing (and have the equipment to do so since the park doesn’t provide gear or training), the 100-foot-high Devil’s Standtable provides a scaling challenge.
The horse stable inside the park (722 Giant City Rd., 618-529-4110, giantcitystables.com) are also now open for the season. You can sign up for half- or full-hour guided trail rides or full-day/weekend-long clinics, which run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and include lots of riding time—lessons and trail-riding—as well as “unmounted” sessions on horsemanship and husbandry. Rates for short rides range from $30 to $45 per person; daylong sessions are $100 to $190 per person.
GO Giant City State Park, 235 Giant City Road, in Makanda, Illinois. 618-457-4836, giantcitylodge.com/park
While You’re in the Area: Southern Illinois University in nearby Carbondale is hosting a 5K “Glow in the Night” run starting at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 13. The $40 entry fee goes toward the Boys and Girls Clubs of Carbondale. The run/walk/jog takes place under the glow of blacklights (participants are asked to wear white shirts) and participants are dusted with glow-in-the-dark color powder (totally breathable, nontoxic, and machine washable) every 10 minutes. Step off is on Douglas Drive next to the Aviation Management and Flight Building. For more information, click here.
Where to Stay: Giant City State Park Lodge (460 Giant City Lodge Rd., 618-457-4921, giantcitylodge.com) has one-room cabins built on the original site of the Civilian Conservation Corps cabins and larger, more luxurious cabins with bluff-side views; rates range from $90 to $150 a night. The Makanda Inn (855 Old Lower Cobden Rd., 618-697-7929, makandainn.com) has cottages and suites convenient to area wine trails, Carbondale, and Giant City State Park; rates range from $110 to $249 a night.
Where to Eat: The Global Gourmet (102 E. Jackson, Carbondale, 618-549-0771 globalcarbondale.com) changes its menu daily (past hits include bourbon-pecan salmon, lamb kabobs, stuffed quail) and offers an extensive dessert menu (chocolate raspberry truffle cake is the house specialty.) The Newell House Bistro Café (201 E. Main St., Carbondale, 618-549-6400, thenewellhouse.com) offers classic American cuisine, with an emphasis on upscale interpretations of comfort food (salmon with ancho-honey glaze, duck with sun-dried cherries, Jambalaya pasta).