Fults Hill Prairie Nature Preserve is located near the tiny town of Fults, Illinois. The Department of Natural Resources maintains the site, which is situated on the bluffs near the Mississippi River in the southwestern section of the state. I only learned of Fults Hill because of my son, who went there several years ago with his college class to study the eco system. He talked about it and said there were some really neat views. My curiosity was peaked but since I procrastinate, it took me a couple of years to actually make it there.
My husband and I decided to hike the trail one September afternoon. If you aren’t looking for Fults Hill, you’ll likely pass right by it. The parking lot is tiny with room for 4 or 5 cars at the most. There are no park rangers or facilities available. We were definitely on our own at our own risk. The trail is 1.4 miles and rated extreme, which was not an exaggeration.
The first portion of the trail is a set of wooden stairs that gets you about a third of the way up the bluff. After that, the trail becomes a single file vertical dirt path. There are several places where the trail veers off to the right leading to a scenic overlook. We had to watch our footing because there was nothing to keep us from going over the edge. We caught our breath, rested at the overlooks and drank in the views.
Once we reached the top of the bluff, the path broadened out and leveled off, giving us time to get our heartbeats back to normal. We slowed our pace and walked under a canopy of trees. There was a mosquito that kept buzzing by my ear. As soon as I swatted it, another one took its place. I should have remembered to use insect repellant!
As we reached the other side of the bluff, we saw the hill prairie the site is named for. A hill prairie is an open area on a wooded slope. Though the Department of Natural Resources now uses controlled burns to keep trees from taking over hill prairies, historically wildfires prevented hill prairies from being swallowed up by the trees.
Going down the hill prairie was just as steep as going up. In some places the trail becomes a narrow rocky path and we had to pay attention to our every step. From this side of the bluff, we could look across the flat bottomlands of the Mississippi River. The trail took us about an hour and a half to complete. We saw some great views and though it was a tough hike, it was worth it.