For me, staying in state park lodges has become an experience that is comparable to dining on a favorite comfort food.
There is something comforting about an old stone- and timber-built lodge that offers modern amenities amidst beautiful natural scenery. My enjoyment of these lodges has contributed to my family and me staying at lodges in Illinois and Indiana in recent years.
After a trip to St. Charles, Mo., this spring, we headed north back into Illinois for our first stay at nearby Pere Marquette Lodge.
We drove part of the Great River Road/Illinois Route 100 to the lodge at Pere Marquette State Park, which is located near Grafton. This road lived up to its National Scenic Byway status as it followed the shorelines of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.
Following the River Road took us to the expansive back lawn of the chalet-style lodge, which overlooks the Illinois River. Visitors there can enjoy the view while relaxing on the Brussels Terrace, which offers an excellent vantage point for watching the sunset.
The lodge’s front door faces a tree-shaded area ringed by cabins and a statue of French Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette. He and explorer Louis Joliet became the first Europeans to enter what is now Illinois, landing in 1673 near the lodge’s present site.
Staff members at Pere Marquette kindly let us tour a room in one of the newly renovated limestone-walled cabins and a room within the lodge before we chose where would stay for the night.
Our 6-year-old daughter was happy to see that the cabin room contained a wood-framed bunk bed, so her excitement helped sway our choice toward the cabin. She quickly claimed the top bunk as her bed.
We nearly stayed in a room that overlooks the lodge’s atrium pool. Later that night, we took a dip in the pool and found the water temperature to be soothingly warm. Usually, our teeth chatter for several minutes after we enter the water of an indoor pool.
Our daughter had fun swimming and playing with the giant wooden chess set in the Great Room. Having never played before, the big chess pieces helped her visualize the moves and learn the game with little instruction.
The Great Room is a good showcase for the craftsmanship of the of Civilian Conservation Corps workers who built the lodge in the 1930s as part of a federal public works project during the Depression. The lodge opened in 1940.
Massive timbers support the high ceiling of the Great Room, which is illuminated by large metal chandeliers. This room shares a 700-ton limestone fireplace with the lodge’s adjacent restaurant.
In the restaurant, we shared a family-style fried chicken dinner that fed our family of four. Pere Marquette’s fried chicken is billed as being “World Famous” and is well regarded enough that the seasoning for this entrée is sold in the lodge’s gift shop.
The next morning, we fueled up on breakfast at the restaurant before heading out for a scenic drive through the woodland and rolling bluffs in Pere Marquette State Park’s more than 8,000 acres.
I became a fan of the restaurant’s Johnny cakes/corn pone, which is served with maple syrup and butter at breakfast. Our relaxing stay at the rustic Pere Marquette Lodge provided both literal and figurative comfort food, which I hope to try again some day.
This column and previous entries in the series also can be read at www.facebook.com/RobStroud.DayTripper.
Rob Stroud is a staff writer for the JG-TC. Contact him at email@example.com or 238-6861.