Growing up, going for a nature hike often meant a visit to Grafton, Illinois to walk the trails of Pere Marquette. I always felt so proud of myself for climbing the bluffs that characterize the Grafton area and later felt regret when as a day camp counselor I dragged a dozen 5-12 year olds on four miles of mostly uphill climbing… Anyway, now my kids totally love this day trip for its beautiful scenery, tough trails, and maybe the fudge shop nearby that I let them visit afterward.
Grafton exists along gorgeous bluffs and is right along the Mississippi River. Meaning the drive to get there is gorgeous and half the fun as you follow the river on your left and the bluffs towering over you on the right.
On your way to Pere Marquette, you will pass the Piasa Bird Cave. Just off the roadway, this area is definitely worth a stop. The Piasa Bird legend tells of a bird/mammal/fish/reptile monster that would carry off and eat the local Native Americans, until it was killed by the Illini Chieftan Owatoga. The original bluff painting was a place for local tribes to shoot poisoned arrows as they passed remembering their deliverance from the monster. You can pay your respects to the new painting, although you’d have to bring your own arrows (j/k, please don’t do that).
As you get closer to Grafton proper you will pass a variety of cute shops offering up Missouri merchandise, information on local history, and crafts made by locals. And of course the aforementioned fudge shop!
Finally when you arrive at the State Park the trails offer a variety of paths of different lengths starting at the Pere Marquette Lodge and visitors center. On our last visit the girls and I decided to take a combination of paths (all clearly marked by colors) that equalled around 3 miles and started to the left of the visitor’s center. All the trails are beautiful, while not being the easiest hiking paths I’ve ever been on. As you are on bluffs, the paths are steep and have large drop-offs without much keeping you from falling. I love it, but as someone who twists her ankle every couple of years, I was extremely cautious. Pretty much every path leads you to this gorgeous look-out point where there is nothing, but water, trees, and fields for miles in every direction! We spent a long time enjoying the view and not just because I needed a chance to get my breath back!
On the way back down we were in a secluded valley whose foliage took our breath away! Although there were many others on the path that day, we felt alone in the wilderness. I had to be careful on the large declines, but overall I was able to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Pere Marquette is definitely a drive from St. Louis, taking a little over an hour to get to from downtown, but it is decidedly worth the wait! You could also take your time and make this into a weekend trip, as Grafton is full of lots of cute Bed and Breakfasts, camping grounds, wineries, and of course the Pere Marquette Lodge itself. I know the girls and I agreed we want to do an overnight stay soon.