If there's one trail that even casually outdoorsy Carbondale residents have hiked, it's likely the Nature Trail at Giant City State Park. The popular one-mile loop has got it all; "Giant City" streets, a balanced rock, a shelter bluff and other cool rock formations. And it's a relatively easy hike for kids of all ages despite its designation as "rugged."
A review on alltrails.com says it well: "Nature Trail names scare me off as they tend to be lame, but not at all the case here. Short distance but you can spend plenty of time here taking it all in. Really neat little place and very worthwhile."
If you've never been, the Nature Trail has plenty of paved parking and an obvious trailhead with an information kiosk. A short walk leads to the loop, and arrows direct hikers in a counter-clockwise direction around the loop, which encircles a sandstone bluff.
I walked the Nature Trail recently for the first time in a while. The trail has so many memories for me.
I remember my now 24-year-old daughter standing for a photo on one of the many climbable rock formations as a 5-year-old: hands on hips, little belly showing, denim cap pulled down over her curly head of hair. I remember a family walk on the trail right before my wife and I got divorced. I remember bits and pieces of hikes with visiting family members through the years.
There's a familiarity to this trail for me, but out on the trail for the first time in a while I was also rediscovering forgotten nooks and crannies. There's definitely value to returning to any trail at intervals and in different seasons. Of course, there are always new things happening along a nature trail, but you will also see the same things with fresh eyes.
I was at the trailhead by 7 a.m. and had the normally busy trail to myself. Of course, as I sauntered along I took note of the different bird songs. There were too many to list here, but most notable to me was the musical "free-toe-lay" of the wood thrush. The crystal-clear songs of several singing thrushes bounced off the bluffs and seemed to follow me along the trail.
If you walk the trail with kids or grandparents, one time around the loop might be enough. But if you're alone, or with a willing partner, I'd suggest multiple laps. That's what I did. The first lap took me over 45 minutes to complete with lots of stops. But the loop can also be covered in a heart rate-raising 15 minutes.
I used my handy trekking pole (aka walking stick) on the hike, and at this point I can hardly imagine not using one on any trail especially since my knees have begun talking to me while hiking.
Of course, my knees didn't used to talk to me on this trail, back when little people walked with me. But now, those not-so-little people are halfway across the country or still in bed when I go hiking. Now its mostly just me, the wood thrushes and those memories out on the trail.
And hopefully you.
• Mike Baltz has a PhD in biology from the University of Missouri and writes about changing the world from his home right here in Carbondale.