Last year, Fox wanted to spend her birthday with me doing something special. I had gotten her a picnic basket, so she wanted to have a picnic at Pere Marquette State Park in Illinois. After the picnic, we hiked a trail which loops through much of the park. We enjoyed that day so much we got married there the following spring.
This year, we have been working hard at our jobs both at work and in the evenings. We wanted to take a break and wanted to get back to the park where we were married. After running an errand in St. Charles in the morning, we made our way over to Pere Marquette via ferry for an afternoon of hiking.
We took the same loop around the park as last year. The road used to get to the lodge and visitor center also continues into the park itself. To the right of this road, just beyond the turn-off to go to the lodge, a hiking trail begins. This is a relatively easy trail but with some noticeable elevation changes. It proceeds from west to east along the south side of the hills of the park. In the fall, the sun is low in the sky but this trail stays well lit until sunset.
Due to our choice to hike in early November, we were able to experience a backdrop of mostly yellow and orange leaves in the trees during our hike. If we had waited another weekend for the leaves to turn shades of red, we (1) would not be able to go due to work obligations and (2) would be hiking in freezing temperatures and falling snow this weekend and the trees would be mostly fallen and dead.
During the hike, I was so obsessed with the vivid colors of the leaves that I repeatedly stopped and took hundreds of photos using various focal lengths along any point of the trail with a good view of the colorful tree canopy. I took close-ups, wide shots, mixed different colors, and filled photos with a single color while Fox continued walking (probably giving up on me ever finishing the hike).
Eventually we did make it to the eastern end of the trail. After a gradual climb, the trail splits into two. Straight ahead winds to the north and crosses the road. Another path to the right goes down the hill and further to the east. According to the map, the trail continues for a quarter of a mile to a lookout point called “Lover’s Leap.” But the dense bed of fallen leaves obscured the trail after a few hundred yards. All around us we could see tall, dark trunks penetrating about six inches of red and brown leaves that seemed like burnt, crunchy snow. “Lover’s Leap” will have to wait for another day.
When the trail turns north on the east side of the park, it crosses a road along the tops of the hills before turning back to the west. This part of the trail is on the far side of the hills from the sun and is therefore darker and cooler. It also has more variation in elevation and the trail surface itself is rougher and rockier. It’s more fun for people who like hiking up and down hills.
With the sun falling behind the ridge to the south, we crunched through leaves as the trail started uphill. We had already climbed and descended a few hills (and were not necessarily in the best shape anyway) so this hill quickly got our hearts beating in our ears and our chests puffing trying to get oxygen. After a tight u-turn, we spotted a wooden wall at the top of the hill. I remembered that wall from last year’s hike and knew the toughest part of the hike was nearly over.
Turning a corner at the wooden wall had us walking along a pathway partially covered by tree canopy. The slight decline of the path allowed us to catch our breath. Then we could see a bright light shining through an opening at the end of the trail. We got closer and I pulled out my camera in an attempt to capture the sunlight shining on some railroad ties which led out to a clearing.
Walking out into the clearing, we were greeted by the fantastic view offered by the Twin Mounds overlook. The overlook is hundreds of feet above the valley below. We could see a field of prairie grass, multicolored autumn forests, the boat docks across the street from the park, the Illinois River, and miles of grassland and forest in Missouri.
We probably spent ten or fifteen minutes taking in the view before taking a series of steps down another short trail to a second overlook. This one features a small roofed structure with a wooden staircase out to a vantage point. As we walked up to the structure, I noticed two people sitting on the roof filming with a small camera. I silently made my way out from under the roof and captured this second overlook’s in my camera’s memory.
Fox was resting against one of the structure’s support pillars, so I turned my camera on her. Another couple walked up as well and had the same idea. They offered to take photos of us against the scenic background if we took some of them. The guy reviewed the photos I took with his phone and seemed quite pleased with the results. I always feel good when I can make someone happy with my photos.
We left the couple to enjoy the view and we made our way back beyond the first overlook. The trail splits in several directions at one point and we took the quickest way back down to the Visitor Center. We were tired and wanted to get some photos of the lodge while the sun was still above the horizon.
As we walked back to the car, our legs were tired and the air was getting cold. We got in the car and were thankful for heated leather seats and protection from the cold. Fox and I pulled out of the parking lot and headed back down the Great River Road as we made future plans for a return trip. Along with being the site of our wedding, Pere Marquette is a beautiful park with fun and challenging hiking trails and we intend to return year after year.