The history of Pere Marquette State Park centers around that of the Illinois River. The forces that formed the river can be traced to ancient glaciers that pushed their way down over most of Illinois, but stopped just short of the park land. In the path of the glaciers and their meltwaters, a rich network of streams and rivers were formed, and tons of soil and bedrock were ground to dust which rose and blew up against the hillsides. These ancient layers of wind-blown soil, called loess (pronounced "less") can be seen along the roads and trails of Pere Marquette.
Gradual climate changes over thousands of years made the region an ideal environment for the prairie grasses and plants which eventually covered two-thirds of Illinois. Deciduous forest, dominated by oak and hickory, held their ground along rivers, streams and upland hills protected from prairie fires.
Throughout the hills, ravines and prairies, Native American people hunted game, gathered food and later made homes. Archaeologists describe six Native American cultures common to this region. Evidence of their presence has been found in the form of fragments of pottery, spear points and planting tools. Burial mounds also are distributed throughout the park, including one atop McAdams Peak.
When Europeans began to explore the Illinois country, most of the Native Americans they met were members of the Illini tribe. The first of these explorers, in 1673, was a group led by Louis Joliet, a cartographer, and Pere (Father) Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit missionary. Marquette and Joliet, accompanied by French voyageurs, paddled down the Mississippi River in search of a passage to the Pacific Ocean. They encountered something on the Mississippi Bluffs which has become a local legend: "we saw…two painted monsters which at first made us afraid and upon which the boldest savages dare not long rest their eyes." They learned that the creature was part bird, with the face of a man, scales like a fish, horns like a deer and along black tail. The creature was called Piasa. A representation of the Piasa Bird is still maintained in paint on the bluffs about 20 miles from the park.
Learning from the Native Americans that the Mississippi River emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, Marquette and Joliet turned back, returning by way of the Illinois River and stopping near what now is Pere Marquette State Park. A large stone cross east of the park entrance commemorates their historic landing.
Generations later, local civic groups sought to preserve this land by the river as a state park. They raised money and were successful in persuading the state to match their funds for the purchase of the land in 1931. The newly created state park was to be called Piasa Bluffs, but by popular demand, it was renamed Pere Marquette State Park in honor of the adventurous French missionary.
There is much to enjoy in the surrounding area, including sensational scenery, award-winning wineries, golf courses, restaurants, water activities, sporting events, antique shopping, historical museums and more. The park is located along one of the most beautiful stretches of the Great River Road, a section that has been designated as the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway.