Ferne Clyffe State Park, Chicago's Hidden Weekend Getaway

A quick google search and you might question how this state park, deep in southern Illinois, could be a good weekend spot for a city as far away as Chicago. Having spent the majority of last week touring around southern Illinois, I want to plead Ferne Clyffe State Park's case.

Trains leaves Chicago every day at 8am and 4pm for Carbondale, Illinois. With the train's bike roll-on service, there's no need to worry about boxing on unboxing your bike, and any experience bringing a bike into an upstairs apartment will have you prepared for "rolling" it onto the train. Though it is small college town, the 8am train will have you arriving around 4pm where you'll find a wealth of restaurants immediately around the station to grab dinner before heading to the park- a 27 mile ride through the country away- just outside the cute town of Goreville, Illinois. I'd recommend avoiding Route 13 unless you enjoy riding on busy highway and the route featuring "Grassy Rd" sounds boring. Once there, no matter how you got there, you'll quickly understand why the huge, diverse population of ferns growing around rock cliffs, canyons, and waterfalls in this park are worth a visit.

After my ride in I spent the evening hiking around the park. It was Sunday and warm- peak visitor conditions, but I only came across a couple of teens having unfortunately loud conversation, as they do, my entire time hiking. I'd be leaving the next morning, so I wanted to stay out hiking until the sun had set. Once the woods were dark I biked towards the camping areas through hilly park roads that abruptly turn to gravel as you leave the RV camping area with it's showers, electric outlets, pump water, and designated campfire grills. The gravel road ends at the backpacker's parking lot, from there you can hike into a far more remote camping experience free of those whale-shaped, car-houses running generators, ACs, radios, and whatever else it takes to make you forget (or at least numb to the fact) that you're in nature. Here, at dark in the backcountry, I fell asleep next to the coals from a small fire I built to cook my dinner. A permit is needed to camp here, which I forgot to get ahead of time and found the main office already closed, though it can be bought ahead of time. But, well, with bike camping you get more acquainted with asking for forgiveness than asking for that pesky other one.

No one ever came looking for me. My only neighbors were the trees around my hammock. Their only noise was their limbs in the wind.