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 American Indian history.
Palisades is the word used to describe a line of lofty, steep cliffs usually seen along a river, and Mississippi Palisades, 3 miles north of Savanna in Carroll County, handsomely lives up to its name. Caves are evident as are dangerous sink holes--limestone caves that go straight down. Erosion has carved intriguing rock formations, including Indian Head, with its aquiline characteristics, and Twin Sisters, a pair of humanoid figures on the bluff tops. The U.S. Interior Department recognized the remarkable nature of this area in 1973 when it designated acreage here as a national landmark.
Wooded ravines, whose brilliant hues splash the cliffs with color each autumn, dissect the unglaciated terrain. Ferns dot the deep ravines, while in the park’s northern region, white birch leaves of ripple in the wind. Each spring and summer the valleys and slopes are dappled with the blooms of trillium, bluebell, lobelia, shooting star and yellow ladies’ slipper.
Animal life, within the park and the river areas immediately adjoining it, is varied. Waterfowl and shorebirds are numerous, as are wild turkeys. Striking pileated woodpeckers make their home in the park, and depending on ice conditions, eagles feed at the river in January and February. Because so many birds migrate along the river, their lyrical songs can be heard at the Mississippi Palisades each spring.
But not all that’s fascinating about Mississippi Palisades’ wildlife is in the skies. White-tailed deer, gray squirrel, skunk, muskrat and weasel can be viewed in the park, as can mink, gray and red fox, woodchuck and, occasionally, badger.