High Point Trail and Rock Top Trail

Mississippi Palisades State Park, Illinois

Trip Date: Sunday, June 2nd, 2019
Last Updated: Thursday, October 17th, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★☆☆☆☆(1/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 3.8 miles roundtrip
Time 2 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No


Hike Summary

If I chose one word to characterize this hike in Mississippi Palisades State Park, it would be disappointment. As someone who loves climbing anything labeled a high point, I was immediately attracted to this overlook, especially since both the official park map (linked at the bottom of the page) and the Natural Atlas map above both use a camera symbol to imply there is scenic beauty at the end of this hike. However, this trail told the story of poor park maintenance and the stereotype that Midwesterners would rather drive to an overlook than spend any time earning their views. This is one of only a handful of 1-star hikes on this site, and I've reviewed it here precisely so you don't make the same assumptions I made and waste your time.

From the parking area, walk across the grass to the gravel trail/service road signed for "high point", then begin the gradual climb to the top of the bluffs. Throughout the hike, you'll see evidence that visitors used to be able to drive to the High Point overlook, including sections of pavement and a clearing near the overlook that used to be a parking lot. The climb isn't particularly hard, but the effort makes you expect a reward, especially because there's nothing to look at but forest.

The wide trail heading uphill into dense forest

The wide trail heading uphill into dense forest

Normally, a former road would make for a nice, easy trail; however, you'll have to dodge and climb over fallen trees, like pictured below. I so badly wanted to give the park the benefit of the doubt, thinking that they simply haven't had the time yet to clean up the trail after a recent storm. But, a closer look while straddling each tree for a second revealed that most of the bark was missing and the trees were already decayed more than would be expected for fresh deadfall.
You'll have to climb over numerous fallen trees on this hike

You'll have to climb over numerous fallen trees on this hike

The High Point overlook itself is a forgotten place. Should you venture this far, you'll find a dilapidated shade structure with a formerly good view that has been reclaimed by nature, as shown in the first picture below. All it would take to improve this place is an afternoon having fun with a chainsaw, but instead you are stuck with this disappointment. I was especially annoyed knowing that maintenance crews could drive the entire distance to this overlook instead of having to lug heavy equipment 3 miles roundtrip. I did see the cool fungus in the second picture below to brighten my day though.
The view from High Point

The "view" from High Point

This fungus on a dead tree was the most exciting thing on the hike

This fungus on a dead tree was the most exciting thing on the hike

Hoping to redeem the hike, I decided to try the trail to Rock Top on the return trip. Leaving the easy to navigate service road, I found myself struggling to find the overgrown trail. It also seemed that others before me had difficulty following this trail, since I often found contradictory use trails leading me away from the true route. After a bit of frustration trying to figure out the right way to Rock Top, I met another disappointment with the obstructed view at the end of the trail, pictured below.
The view from Rock Top

The "view" from Rock Top

Until the park maintains these trails, I highly recommend you avoid hiking in this part of the park. Instead, try the Sentinel Trail or hike to Indian Head for a more satisfying trip. Or just give up and accept the Midwestern stereotype and drive to the overlooks in the south part of the park. Connect with me using the social media links below and share your adventures!

Important Information

Dogs are allowed on leash. Don't take your family on this hike: it's too long, too hilly, and lacks any scenic value beyond the forest. You can hike in the three warm seasons and possibly during the winter; some of the trails in the park are used for cross country skiing, but the park's website does not specify which trails nor if hiking is allowed on ski trails. The uphill climb at the very beginning of the hike deters most people, so this is one place in this popular park you can go for solitude.


Mississippi Palisades State Park is about 3 hours from Chicago. Take Interstate 290 to Interstate 88 west. After about 60 miles, take the exit for Interstate 39/U.S. Highway 52 heading north. Take the exit for Illinois Highway 64, then turn left. Turn right onto U.S. Highway 52. Continue straight onto Illinois Highway 84, continue past the south park entrance, then turn right into the north park entrance. Park in the small lot on the left side immediately after turning into the park. If full, more parking is available at the park office.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free! Restrooms are available by the park office.

Nearby Hikes

The Twin Sisters and the Mississippi River beyond in the late afternoon sun
Sentinel Trail to the Twin Sisters
Mississippi Palisades State Park, Illinois
Indian Head
Mississippi Palisades State Park, Illinois
The view of Bellevue and the Mississippi River and bluffs from the overlook
Overlook Trail
Bellevue State Park, Iowa
The small pond and metal sculptures in the butterfly garden
Quarry Loop
Bellevue State Park, Iowa

External Links