Boating and Fishing
Boating and fishing are permitted on and along the Ohio River. Anglers will find bullhead, carp, catfish, crappie, drum and largemouth bass. The boat dock and launch ramp easy river access.
Campers enjoy Fort Massac's 50 Class A vehicular campsites, complete with electricity, a disposal station and a shower building. Tent camping and a separate group campground also are available. Camping reservations can be made through ExploreMoreIL.
Disc golf is a flying disc sport in which players throw a disc at a target, and is played using rules similar to golf. It is often played on a course of 9 or 18 holes, but other formats are common.
Hunting is permitted for squirrel, woodcock, dove, deer (archery only) and rabbit in some parts of the park. Contact the park office for site-specific hunting regulations. For more information please review the Hunter Fact Sheet. A site hunting area map is available
Fort Massac is the perfect place for a picnic lunch. Tables, grills and drinking water are located throughout the grounds and children will enjoy the three playgrounds. Four covered picnic shelters are available. Shelter reservations can be made through ExploreMoreIL.
The park contains a 1-mile loop trail through grassy woods with the trailhead near the fort. This trail is designated as a Forest Watch Tree Identification Trail and brochures are available in the visitors' center.
The 2.5-mile Hickory Nut Ridge Trail shouldn't be missed, as it takes hikers along the scenic Ohio River.
The George Rogers Clark Discovery Trail is an 8.7-mile bicycle/pedestrian trail connecting the cities of Metropolis and Brookport through Massac County and Fort Massac State Park. Approximately 4.0 miles of the trail is within the confines of Fort Massac State Park with most of the trail on a dedicated bike path and a small section using a shared roadway.
History of The Fort
The rich history of this site begins before recorded history, when Native Americans undoubtedly took advantage of its strategic location overlooking the Ohio River. Legend has it that Europeans took this same advantage as early as 1540, when the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto and his soldiers constructed a primitive fortification to defend themselves from hostile native attack.
The French built Fort De L’Ascension on the site in 1757, during the French and Indian War, when France and Great Britain were fighting for ultimate control of central North America. Rebuilt in 1759-60, the structure was renamed Massiac in honor of the then French Minister of Colonial Affairs, and came under fire only once, when unsuccessfully attacked by a group of Cherokee.
Following the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the French abandoned the fort and a band of Chickasaws burned it to the ground. When Captain Thomas Stirling, commander of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, arrived to take possession, all he found was a charred ruin.
The British anglicized the name to “Massac” but, despite the counsel of their military advisers, they neither rebuilt nor re-garrisoned the fort. This oversight left them vulnerable and in 1778, during the Revolutionary War, Colonel George Rogers Clark led his “Long Knives” regiment into Illinois at Massac Creek. From there he was able to capture Kaskaskia, 100 miles to the north, without firing a shot, thus taking the entire Illinois Territory for the State of Virginia and the fledgling United States.
In 1794, President George Washington ordered the fort rebuilt, and for the next 20 years it protected U.S. military and commercial interests in the Ohio Valley.
U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr and Gen. James Wilkinson, who allegedly drew up plans to personally conquer Mexico and the American southwest, met at Fort Massac during the summer of 1805. Edward Everett Hale later used the setting of Fort Massac and the Burr-Wilkinson plot as basis for his classic historical novel, “The Man Without a Country.”
Although ravaged by the New Madrid earthquake in 1811-12, the fort was again rebuilt in time to play a minor role in the War of 1812, only to be abandoned again in 1814. Local citizens dismantled the fort for timber, and by 1828 little remained of the original construction. In 1839 the city of Metropolis was platted about a mile west of the fort.
The site briefly served as a training camp early in the Civil War, marking the last time U.S. troops were stationed at the site. The fort was abandoned after a measles epidemic in 1861-62 claimed the lives of a substantial number of soldiers of the Third Illinois Cavalry and the 131st Illinois Infantry, who were using the fort as an encampment.
In 1903, through the efforts of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 24 acres surrounding the site were purchased by the state. On Nov. 5, 1908, Fort Massac was officially dedicated as Illinois’ first state park.
Archeological and historical excavations were conducted on the site from 1939-42 and attempted again in 1966, 1970 and during 2002. In the early 1970's a replica based on the 1794 American fort at Fort Massac was reconstructed off the original site of the forts. This reconstruction was brought down in the fall of 2002, when a replica of a 1802 American fort was constructed. The original site, where all the forts were built, has the archeological outline of the 1757 French Fort.
(Note: The replica 1802 fort at Fort Massac State Park remains closed pending structural rehabilitation)
The unique Fort Massac Encampment is held for two days each October. This re-creation of the lifestyles and atmosphere of the late 1700s attracts approximately 200,000 people. Several times throughout the year, the park puts on living history weekends where visitors can experience the past for themselves (check with the park office for specific dates). An antique car show takes place every June, in conjunction with the nationally known Superman Days in Metropolis.