Mississippi Palisades State Park Features Scenic Vistas of Old Man River
Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s, the large stone shelter located in the park’s south end is one of many structures still standing from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program. (PA photo/M. Nester)
By Mike Nester | For The Prairie Advocate News
SAVANNA – Towering majestically over the east bank of the Mississippi River, the bluffs of the Mississippi Palisades State Park serve as a reminder of our area’s primitive past.
Once inhabited by American Indians, the 2,500 acre state-run facility provides the ideal setting for sightseeing, hiking and camping—not only for visitors but also area residents.
Located just north of Savanna on IL Rt. 84, the Palisades, operated by the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources, also provides an economic boost to the area due to its visitors.
Highlights of the one-of-a kind state facility include unique rock formations, intriguing trails, a nature preserve, access to the Mississippi River, scenic vistas, and an expansive campground.
Thousands of visitors come through the state park each year, including many who spend their time camping at the facility.
One of the largest camping areas at any Illinois state park, the campground features 241 sties, 112 which have electric, along with handicapped accessible sites. The campground also has three shower/flush toilets buildings, a youth camping area, and three walk-in primitive sites.
All camping is based on a first-come, first served basis, and reservations are not accepted. There is no alcohol allowed in the campground.
One of the trademarks of the Palisades is Indian Head Rock, located in the south end of the park, and visible from Great River Road.
A 1915 article about Savanna in the Chicago Commerce referred to the rock formation:
“Viewed from the north, this peculiar formation of the cliff presents a truly striking resemblance to an old Indian chief, his head, forehead, nose, chin and neck plainly discernible, while a few small pine trees on top of the rock form a headdress and add the finishing touch to the picture.”
Other rock formations near Indian Head include Twin Sisters, Open Bile and Sentinel, or Lone Boy.
The original Mississippi Palisades Park acquisition was made in 1929 with the purchase of 420 acres, located at the south end.
It was with this purchase the Illinois DNR acquired what would become Sentinel Nature Preserve.
This 48-acre tract of land contains mesic and dry mesic upland forests, a loess hill prairie, a cave and sinkhole, as well as outcrops and dolomite cliffs.
In addition, the preserve offers the best collection of spring wildflowers found anywhere in the midwest. Among the more unique plants are American bugbane, ill-scented trillium, Canada violet, and the jeweled shooting star.
Shortly after the purchase of the park, the facility got a boost from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal as the Civilian Conversation Corps went to work.
Numerous structures, many of which still stand today, were constructed at the Palisades including the large stone south shelter, several other shelters, part of the Sentinel Trail system, the spring at the south end entrance, and numerous fire pits.
The United States Dept. of Interior recognized the unique diversity of the area and in 1973 designated 669 acres as a National Natural Landmark, the only one in Northwestern Illinois.
The Palisades Park wouldn’t be complete without access to the Mississippi River and Miller Hollow Recreation Area provides that.
Located across from the park’s north entrance, Miller’s includes multiple boat launch ramps, a large parking lot, restrooms, and a picnic area.
Miller’s Hollow is one of the few free boat launches still available on the river.
The main residents of the Mississippi Palisades State Park are the abundant wildlife that flourishes within its boundaries.
White-tailed deer, turkey, coyotes, squirrels, rabbits, fox, and raccoons are just a few of the creatures who inhabit the park.
With a vast assortment of trees throughout the park that serves as habitat, birds are abundant from one end to the other.
Including the Miller’s Lake area, over 170 species of birds have been identified. Some of the most productive birding areas include the river’s edge, mouths to the valleys that extend back into the bluffs, and open areas in the north end of the park.
Some of the more unique birds to the park are several species of woodpeckers including the Pileated, several different types of hawks and owls, numerous song birds, and the ever present Turkey Vultures who silently patrol the skies overhead.
Park Trails and lookouts
The Mississippi Palisades State Park has fifteen miles of trails which are clearly marked and provide a variety of challenges for hikers of all ages. (PA photo/M. Nester)
By Mike Nester | For The Prairie Advocate News
Whether you’re looking for a challenging hike amidst the limestone bluffs or seeking an easy jaunt to take the family, the Mississippi Palisades Sate Park trail system has an adventure waiting for you.
The park’s 15 miles of trails carry the hiker from the bluffs of the Palisades to the flood plains of the Mississippi River bottoms and through densely hard wood forests. A variety of plant and animal life is found along the trail system.
All trail heads are clearly marked, including a detailed map of the trail. There are also numerous spur trails.
The Mississippi Palisades State Park’s trail system is divided into two systems.
The North Trail System
An easier hike than the south section, the North Trail system is tied to the park’s campground.
The most ambitious hike is the High Point Trail which traverses along the bluff and ends after a 1.5 mile jaunt at a shelter, which provides a scenic vista of the Rush Creek bottoms.
Other trails in the North Trail Systems include Aspen (1.7 miles), Deer (1.5 miles) Bittersweet (.9 miles) and Goldenrod (.5 miles). The north trail system provides access to the park’s three primitive camp sites.
The South Trail System
The most challenging trail at the park is Sunset Trail, located in the South Trail System. The one mile hike moves along the park’s bluffs and includes a short side track to include Lookout Point.
A parking lot provides the ideal trailhead to the South system’s other three trails Pine (1 mile), Sentinel (1 mile) and Prairie View (.4 miles).
Hikers should be aware of poison ivy and nettles and also be aware that mosquitos, bees, wasps, and ticks may be encountered.
The Mississippi Palisades State Park overlooks, which are accessible by car and a short walk, provide postcard views like one from Lookout Point. (PA photo/M. Nester)
Appropriate footwear will make your hike more enjoyable, and binoculars and field guides will help you identify wildlife and plant life.
Another popular feature of the Palisades are its four developed overlooks which allow onlookers postcard views of the Mississippi River backwaters and its main channel.
Accessible by car and a short walk, the breathtaking vistas are located in the park’s south end and include Lookout Point, Louis Point, Ozzie’s Point, and Oak Point, which is handicapped accessible.