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Climbers on harnesses crossing a bridge.

The Wild Side of Illinois

Outdoors & Regional

5 Days 180 Miles


Ava, Alto Pass, Makanda, Makanda, Goreville, Belknap, Harrisburg, Karnak, Simpson, Harrisburg, Elizabethtown, Golconda, Carterville, Marion, Murphysboro, Whittington, Benton

Discover Illinois’ natural wonders and best kept secrets

To get your fill of fall colors and adventure, there’s no match for Southern Illinois’ striking landscapes. It’s only natural, given the 403-mile-long trail system across the Shawnee National Forest, plus the various other natural wilderness areas nearby. You can also sample the region’s many seasonal beers and fall wine varieties.

Day 1:

Ava, Alto Pass, Makanda

  • Pizza, beer and side dishes from the Scratch Brewery.

Before you kick off your adventure-filled trip in Southern Illinois, stop by Scratch Brewery’s beautiful farmhouse in Ava where you can enjoy a beer brewed with home grown and locally farmed and foraged ingredients. If wine is more your style, you’ll find 11 wineries along the 40-mile Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, each with their own unique style and winemaking technique. 

While on the wine trail you’ll find Rendleman Orchard in Alto Pass where you can pick up fresh fall items like apple cider, sunflowers, pumpkins and donuts. Then, book a tour to get to know the alpacas at Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch. It’s also a great time to pick up cold weather essentials such as locally produced alpaca fiber scarfs, socks and hats.

Finish your day with a seasonal meal at the Peachbarn Winery & Café and call it a night in Makanda at the Giant City Lodge, or book a cozy cottage at Makanda Inn & Cottages.

Day 2:

Makanda & Goreville

  • People on a bridge crossing the forests with harnesses and safety helmets at Canopy Tours.

Grab breakfast at the Giant City Lodge restaurant before starting your action-packed day. Your first stop is Giant City State Park where you can choose your own adventure – from horseback riding to fishing and rappelling. When you’re ready to really get your adrenaline pumping, make a beeline for Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour and fly through the treetops on eight zip lines and three aerial suspension bridges.

If you’d rather be on solid ground, take a hike on Ferne Clyffe State Park’s Waterfall Trail in Goreville for picturesque rock formations, vistas and of course, a waterfall. Finish your day with dinner at Blue Sky Vineyard complete with breathtaking views of the Shawnee National Forest. Get a good night’s sleep in one of three log cabins at Cedar Rock Cabins.

Day 3:

Belknap, Harrisburg, Karnak, Simpson

  • A family canoeing among cypress trees in the swampy Cache River.

Drive about 30 minutes south to the Cache River State Natural Area in Belknap. There you’ll find the Cache River Wetlands with its ancient cypress-tupelo swamps, massive cypress trees and a variety of interesting plants and animals to see. 

Don’t miss the Heron Pond Trail, an easy hike that takes you to a floating boardwalk where you’ll be treated to beautiful views of the wetlands. For an up close and personal experience, tour the area on water. Didn’t pack your kayak? Rent one at Cache Bayou Outfitters

When you’re ready for a glass of wine and a bite to eat, go to the nearby Cache River Basin Vineyard and Winery and Wineaux’s Restaurant. Then, make your way to the scenic Tunnel Hill State Trail, a scenic bike trail that runs 45 miles from Harrisburg to Karnak. Finish the day with a stop at Tanglefoot Ranch, a unique 950-acre family farm that raises freshwater shrimp. It also has a peach orchard!

Day 4:

Harrisburg, Elizabethtown, Golconda, Carterville, Marion, Murphysboro

  • Hiker on the Garden of the Gods Camel Rock looking over the forest.

Wake up early to see an incredible sunrise over the Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest. Trust us, it’s worth it. Then hit the trails for a morning of hiking or horseback riding with spectacular views of unique rock formations, hills and woodlands. Take a break to eat at E’Town River Restaurant, a floating restaurant right on the Ohio River, and satisfy your sweet tooth at the Chocolate Factory in Golconda.

Next head to the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Carterville for hiking, fishing and seeing wildlife out on the nature trails. There’s no shortage of places to eat and drink in the area like Walker’s Bluff WineryThe Vault Café on the Square17th Street BBQ and Crown Brew Coffee. When you’re ready to turn in for the night, stay at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Marion.

Day 5:

Whittington & Benton

  • Fisherman fishing during sunrise at Rend Lake.

On your last day, go to Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in Whittington, a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. It overlooks Rend Lake, the second largest manmade lake in Illinois and well known for outstanding sport fishing. There’s no shortage of other opportunities to take in nature – hiking, boating, bird watching, picnicking, horseback riding and more. Celebrate the end of an action-packed fall trip at Burton’s Café where you have to try a slice of their famous White Pie.

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