Ferne Clyffe is an area of southern Jersey County, Illinois, United States, in the region known as The Ville. It was formed from a portion of the original site of Joliet, which itself grew up around a French fort after the British had forced the French and their Indian allies out of Canada during the Seven Years’ War (1754-1863).
Additional acquisitions have brought the park to nearly 400 acres. Located adjacent to Lake Michigan, the park offers miles of shoreline for swimming, hiking, biking, fishing, camping, picnic areas and shelters, cabins, miniature golf, cross country skiing, horseback riding, and other typical outdoor recreational activities. There are 12 miles of trails open year round, 6 miles groomed for cross-country skiing in winter, and 4 miles of equestrian trail. The park has four campgrounds containing a total of 350 campsites, all within walking distance of Lake Shore Drive, the main road running through the park. Two boat ramps are provided, plus a separate handicapped ramp. Visitors can enter the park via either the east entrance or west entrance, both of which offer RV sites with water access, primitive group campsites, youth group campsite, camper cabin, and equestrian facilities.
Entrance fees are only charged from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. Campsites cost $10 per night; additional charges apply for electricity and parking. Group campers may use some of the equestrian facilities for a fee. An overnight stay facility contains 80 guest rooms, many equipped with fireplaces, plus 10 cabins and 2 lodges available by reservation. Half of these rooms have lake views. The lodge features a meeting room, fireplace, and kitchen. Advance campsite reservations can be booked through Reserve America. Reservations for the overnight stay facility can also be made through Reserve America. The park includes several lakes, most notably Big Blue, Little Blue, and Sand Blue. Ice fishing opportunities exist throughout the winter months, particularly at Snowy White, where thick ice is conducive to catching largemouth bass, muskies, pickerel, channel catfish, bullhead, sucker, carp, eel, trout, white perch, yellow perch, red ear sunfish, and black crappie.
During warm months, swimmers can enjoy the beaches, which contain silt, sand, and muck. Bikers need to bring their own bikes since no bike paths exist yet. No pets are allowed, though there is plenty of space for them to roam about off leash. Parking fees are in effect from June 1 – September 30. Metered spaces are half price between May 29 – June 5, April 22 – May 28, March & October 15 – 19, and Tuesdays through Thursdays from November 16 – December 21. Non-metered parking is $5 daily, with free parking for children 14 and under and disabled veterans. Annual passes can also be purchased. The park receives almost 200,000 visitors annually. On special occasions, as many as 500,000 people converge on the park to participate in reenactments dedicated to historical events, demonstrations, sports, and other programs. One famous example took place in July 1974, when more than 250,000 people showed up to watch as Henry IV led a parade of horses through the streets of Paris, pausing to give speeches along the way.
Other events include living history presentations, military drills, Mardi Gras parades, and historical soccer matches. The park hosts an annual fireworks show every Fourth of July, attended by hundreds of thousands of people. Every Labor Day weekend, the park plays host to the World Music and Dance Festival, attracting crowds of over 150,000. The festival began in 1978, and has been held every Labor Day weekend except 2008. In 2010, due to financial constraints, the event was moved to the spring of 2011. It was held from Friday, May 25, through Sunday, May 27, 2011. The 2012 edition of the festival will take place on Friday, August 13, 2012. The park also serves as the site for wedding receptions, company picnics, birthday parties, and corporate outings. The park’s miniature golf course is consistently rated among the top five in the nation. Course architect Victor Miller designed the original version of the course, creating a fantasyland of castles, kings, queens, knights, bears, elephants and other fantastical creatures.
Since opening in 1971, the course has undergone seven expansions, each adding new holes and increasing the length of the hole previously completed. Hole #12, the longest hole in the entire course, measures 786 yards (732m), and requires players to carry a ball 300 yards (280m) up a steep hillside using a tunnel underneath. Hole #13, the signature hole of the entire course, demands precision driving over a small island green protected by a large pond. Hole #14 starts play backdropped by trees and shrubbery, requiring players to carry a deep valley green 270 yards (250m) to a narrow ridge overlooking a second valley. Hole #15 begins play behind a forest, beneath a waterfall, with the pro shop and snack bar located beside the green. The park’s disc golf course is considered one of the most difficult courses in the nation, rating 93% difficulty according to the Official Disc Golf Guide published by PDGA. The park’s nine-hole disc golf course features multiple terrains, ranging from lightly wooded hillsides to heavily forested mountainside, and even includes a swamp section.
The park preserves part of the historic path followed by Robert de Lery, Jr., on his return to St. Louis with supplies for Fort Duquesne in 1757. This trip became known as La Salle’s Road because it was used again and again by the explorers who followed in his wake. Ferne Clyffe takes its name from one such clyfe or turn-point along this route, marking the farthest extent of Father Louis Hennepin’s exploration of the western reaches of New France. At the time, the entire distance across the Mississippi River was called le Grand Trompe, but when Hennepin returned to St. Louis he found that someone else had already named the point “Clyffe,” so he renamed the whole journey Le Rocher (meaning “The Rock”).
In later years, this stretch of land would become very popular with tourists, especially those interested in taking the waters at Wilson’s Beach just below the rock cliff. A hotel was built there in 1871, then burned down in 1895. After the 1900 season, the property changed hands three times before being purchased by William Ferris and John Kinney, two men with ties to the Yewell Club, a private golf course located nearby. They donated 120 acres of land, including the beach, to the state of Illinois in 1920, hoping to see it preserved as a public park. Though they died soon thereafter, their wish was granted when their home town of JOLIET was made into a state park in 1925.
Another local man, Fred Harvey, helped maintain the park through the Great Depression, working first as a lifeguard and then as superintendent until his death in 1943. When he retired, he was replaced by Don Conner, another former lifeguard, who remained at the helm until 1967. That year, under the administration of Mayor Richard Daley, Chicago attorney Thomas Lynch Beecher offered to donate 100 acres of land toward establishing a new state park near Joliet. With help from state senator James R. Thompson, Jr., legislation authorizing such a donation was passed in 1969.
- Ice fishing
- cross country skiing
- horseback riding
Fish species tend to vary depending upon the time of year, with:
- northern pike