The Native American pathfinders along the rock palisades of the Mississippi River did as present-day hikers do -- in coursing the bluffs, they took the paths of least resistance. The trails at the Mississippi Palisades, especially the park’s southern routes, put you in touch with the past. Walk them and you’ll trace the footsteps of all those who came before you, some of whom came this way nearly a thousand years ago.
Located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Apple rivers in northwestern Illinois, the 2,500-acre Mississippi Palisades State Park is rich in Native American history.
The gateway to seeing the Mississippi Palisades State Park’s impressive assortment of plant and animal life is its rugged 15-mile trail system. The five trails in the northern part of the park are generally wider and less strenuous than the five in the south, which are narrow and extremely close to the bluff. The southern trails are hazardous when wet.
The North System includes High Point Trail at 3.5 miles and Aspen at 1.9 miles. Sentinel Trail at 1.2 miles, including spurs, is the South System’s longest hike, but it and other southern loops are not for the tenderfoot. Ozzie’s Point, Louis’ Point and Lookout Point, three developed overlooks accessible by short walks, offer a surfaced trail leading to an overlook. Oak Point offers a trail surface suitable for the physically challenged.
Hiking trails are closed during the park’s three-day firearm deer season, which is the 3-day weekend before Thanksgiving Day weekend. Information and maps are available at the park office as well as on this web page.
With 241 Class A and B sites in both shaded and open areas, Mississippi Palisades is in demand by campers. Electrical hookups are available at 110 sites. Showers and flush toilets are situated in three buildings and are in operation from May 1 until Oct. 31. The campground also features water and two sanitary dump stations. Only campers with permits are allowed in the campground, with admittance prohibited from 10 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. Reservations may be made through the Reserve America website at www.reserveamerica.com.
Two youth camping areas also are available. These may be reserved from May 1 through Oct. 31. An adult must accompany every group of 15 minors. Any group of 25 or more must get permission from site personnel before entering the park.
Fishing and Boating
With the Mississippi River and its backwaters the perfect habitat for so many kinds of fish, anglers are consistently baiting their hooks at Mississippi Palisades. Catfish and carp are the most commonly caught fish, but bluegill, crappie and bass are out there, too. Those long on experience might even land walleye and northern pike. There are no motor size limits on boats, and launching ramps at the river access areas are free.
Hunters gather at the park each year for deer and wild turkey archery and firearm hunting. During the three-day firearm deer season, the day use area and hiking trails are closed.
Throw a checkered tablecloth across one of the park’s many picnic tables and enjoy one of summer’s simple pleasures. The shelter houses and drinking fountains in the park attest to the 1930s craftsmanship of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Rock climbing is allowed in Mississippi Palisades State Park, but only in specific areas. Rock climbing is allowed at the Sentinel Area, Twin Sisters and Indian Head. The south tower of Sentinel Rock is closed to climbing. Climbers should bring their own equipment and go directly to the bluff, no check-in is necessary. Permanent anchors are not allowed. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources does not maintain the rocks, cliffs, or other natural features of Mississippi Palisades State Park and are not responsible for climber safety and climbing protection on cliffs.
Don’t let a little cold weather keep you from visiting the park. Mississippi Palisades offers cross-country skiing and sledding for outdoor enthusiasts. Anglers are not left out in the cold either--or maybe they are--because ice fishing is allowed at the boat launch area when the ice is thick enough.