Mississippi Palisades Park
Towering majestically over the east bank of the Mississippi River, the cliffs of the Mississippi Palisades State Park serve as a reminder of our area’s primitive past.
Once inhabited by Native Americans, the 2,500 acre state-run facility provides the ideal setting for sightseeing, hiking, and camping.
The United States Department of Interior recognized the unique diversity of the this area when in 1973 it designated acreage know as Sentinel Nature Preserve a natural landmark.
Located just north of Savanna on Illinois Rt. 84, the park, owned and operated by the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources, also provides an economic boost to the area.
Highlights of the one-of-a-kind state faculty include unique rock formations, intriguing trails, a nature preserve, access to the Mississippi River, scenic vistas, and an expansive campground.
The campground is one of the largest camping areas in a state-owned park and features 241 trailer and tent sites in a non-alcoholic environment. Reservations may be made through the ExploreMoreIL™ website.
The campground has two youth camping areas, three walk-in primitive sites, three shower and toilet buildings, water, and two sanitary dump stations.
Another popular feature of the park is its four developed overlooks which allow the onlooker postcard views of the Mississippi River.
Assessable by car and a short walk, the breathtaking vistas include Lookout Point, Louis Point, Ozzie’s Point and Oak Point.
For those more adventurous, the park’s trail system winds nearly 14 miles through wooden ravines and unglaciated terrain.
Broken into two sections, the six northern trails total 9.2 miles are generally wider and less strenuous than those in the south end. Access points are found near the campground entrance and at three other locations in the campground. All are signed and loop back to the campground.
The south trail system’s six trails are only 4.6 miles but are rated moderate to extremely difficult. These trails traverse the bluffs edges at various locations and at primary access points are reached by trail head signs located off of park roads.
Located at the south end of the park off Great River Road is one of the trademarks of the Palisades—Indian Head Rock.
A 1915 article about Savanna in the Chicago Commerce referred to the rock formation:
“Viewed from the north, this peculiar formation presents a truly striking resemblance to an old Indian Chief, his head, forehead, nose, chain 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 Bible and Sentinel or Lone Boy.
The original Palisades Park acquisition was made in 1929 with the purchase of 420 acres, now located at the south end. It was with this purchase that the Illinois DNR acquired what would become the Sentinel Nature Preserve. This 48-acre piece of property contains mesic and dry mesic upland forests, a loess soil prairie, a cave and sinkhole, as well as out crops 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 jeweled shooting star.
Shortly after the purchase of the park, the Civilian Conservation Corps built several structures at the park including the south pavilion, several shelters, part of the Sentinel trail system, the south end spring, and numerous fire pits. Many of the original structures still stand.
The park wouldn’t be complete without access to the Mississippi River and Miller’s Hollow Recreation Area provides that.
With multiple boat launch ramps, large parking lot, restrooms, and a picnic area, Miller’s Hollow is one of the few free boat launches available on the river.
The main residents of the park are the abundant wildlife that flourish with its boundaries. White-tailed deer, turkey, coyotes, squirrels, rabbit, fox, and raccoons are just a few of the creatures who inhabit the park.
Over 170 species of birds have been identified and some of the most productive birding areas include the river’s edge, mouths of the valley that extend back into the bluffs and open areas a the north end of the park.
A view of Indian Head Rock as it looked in 1910.
A photo of Twin Sisters taken in 1908.
A postcard of Sentinel Rock in 1913.
A postcard with Twin Sisters to the right and Open Bible on the left.
The Shelter House that still stands today at the south entrance of the Palisades was constructed as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930s.
Workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps pose for a picture after completing a bridge.
A picture taken from one of the Palisade's bluffs looking south after the building of the Savanna-Sabula Bridge.
Looking north from the Palisades before the lock and dam system was started in 1934.