Fort Defiance Park – Cairo, Illinois - Atlas Obscura

Fort Defiance Park

The lowest point in the state of Illinois, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. 


While there is a whole sport dedicated to summiting the highest point in each state, there is not one for summiting the lowest point in each state. You may assume this is because getting to a state’s lowest point isn’t really a challenge. However, very few states without access to a coast have easily reachable low points.

One of the inland states where it is possible to summit the low point is Illinois, whose lowest point is located at a 279 foot elevation at Fort Defiance Point, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.  Known as Camp Defiance during the American Civil War, Fort Defiance is a former military fortification. Formerly a State Park, it now is owned and maintained by the city of Cairo, Illinois. 

The park is not well maintained, but that, perhaps, adds to its charm.  Visitors with any appreciation of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers from frontier, riverboat days right down to the present, can enjoy the unobstructed view, from the point of the vast amount of water,  while surrounded by (overgrown) greenery.  It is easy, while there, to picture Mark Twain’s characters, or the riverboat gamblers, or scenes from the Civil War, when Cairo was considered the “dagger pointed at the heart of the Confederacy.” Few vestiges of the massive earthenware fortifications erected at Fort Defiance remain, but the feel of the place is undoubtedly as if stepping back in time.  The park is physically separated from any other signs of civilization, and the distant riverbanks, across the waters,  are undeveloped, and must appear as they did many decades ago.

Know Before You Go

To arrive, take U.S. 51 south through Cairo, and continue just past the U.S. 51 turn to the bridge to Kentucky. Continue on the road toward "Missouri" about a half block. Take is a left into the parking lot, which has a very visible historical marker. From that lot you can access the road into the park. Be careful, if you miss the turn, you are on the bridge to Missouri.

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