I’ll begin by saying this, Fort Defiance State Park and the city of Cairo, Illinois should be so much brighter and inviting than they are. Like, I could use my “Fort-whatever State Parks” with an actual fort somewhere in the park, but I’m not judgy, I understand there used to be a fort here. I think a better name would be “No-Fort-Here State Park,” or maybe even “Big-Rivers-Meet-Here State Park,” but as they say, it is what it is. The name is actually based on the Fort Defiance that sat there during the Civil War. However, this place marks the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, so it is a must-see if you’re in the area where Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri all meet. I don’t know the history behind Cairo, and I don’t know how the pandemic effected the town, but I just imagined that being located at such a strategic intersection for commerce would cause the town to boom. No matter what, being able to stand with one foot in the Ohio and one in the Mississippi is a neat experience when you visit this place!
It’s awe-inspiring to stand literally at the point where these two rivers meet. You can see a few of the bridges that cross both, and the activity of interstate commerce chugging downstream. There’s also a slight color change where both rivers finally hit each other, though it was harder for us to see because of the cloudy weather. The magnitude of these two bodies of water is almost hard to fathom when you see them together. It’s an experience you simply have to see to understand. Plus, when you stand in the park, you can see three states at one time, which is super neat.
Just like we learned in Paducah, Kentucky, Lewis and Clark’s expedition spent a lot of time in this region of America. As the plaque says above, they and their party spent five days at the confluence teaching each other cartography skills, which I personally like to think consisted of cool map making and lots of pipe-smoking and whiskey-drinking. Regardless, this spot was probably the smartest place for them to camp before they truly set off into the great unknown. It truly feels like the heart of America.
In my humble opinion, this was a neat place to visit, regardless of the missing fort. I could go into the actual history of the fort but I feel like it would take away from the true strength of the park, which is being able to view two of the largest rivers on our continent meeting as one. It’s majestic in its own way, and it is extremely accessible. For us, it was an outstanding place to drive home some geography to our kids, because later on our road trip we pass back over the Mississippi, and they thought it was insane how those large rivers just meander all the way down our country. It was also very cool to teach them that this was the same body of water from which we rode a cruise ship into the Gulf of Mexico out of New Orleans just a couple of years ago. It is a place like this that allows that education to come full circle, and that can’t be understated. Don’t pass up on an opportunity to visit here, just don’t expect to have to spend a ton of time. And definitely don’t go looking for a fort.