15 Best Things to Do in Cave-in-Rock, IL

Cave-in-Rock, IL
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Cave-in-Rock is a small village in southern Illinois in Hardin County.

As the name suggests, Cave-in-Rock is best known for its tourism centered on Cave-in-Rock State Park, featuring scenic river views and varied terrains.

Within the state park lies a massive cave that dates back to prehistoric times, with the earliest known permanent settlers dating to the early 1800s.

Many outdoor activities are available in Cave-in-Rock, making it an interesting remote destination if you’re feeling adventurous.

It’s along the Ohio River and borders Kentucky, which provides flexibility if you want to include it in your itinerary.

Furthermore, you can access nearby natural wonders in Illinois, mostly attractions within the expansive Shawnee National Recreation Area.

Check the list below for the best things to do in Cave-in-Rock, Illinois.

Reach the Cave at Cave-in-Rock State Park

Inside of a cave at Cave-in-Rock State Park
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Of course, the main attraction of Cave-in-Rock State Park on New State Park Road is its famous 55-foot-wide cave.

The cave is situated up the cliff section of the park, overlooking the Ohio River.

It’s a majestic and eye-popping cave made from limestone believed to have been formed by water currents several thousand years ago.

Outside view of Cave-in-Rock State Park
Daniel Schwen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Trekking the cave isn’t particularly difficult thanks to its gaping entrance—but bring flashlights as the interior remains dark and untouched.

Once you reach the deepest corners of the cave at Cave-in-Rock State Park, you’ll see marvelous rock formations that are sure to leave a memorable experience.

After reaching the cave, you can do a myriad of other activities in Cave-in-Rock State Park, such as camping, fishing, and going on picnics.

View of Cave-in-Rock State Park
K. P. Reed, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stay at Cave-in-Rock State Park Restaurant and Lodging

It’s wise to spend at least a night in Cave-in-Rock due to its remoteness and the number of outdoor activities you can do here, so checking in at Cave-in-Rock State Park Restaurant and Lodging is ideal.

It’s a rustic hotel that gets the job done in terms of cleanliness, service, and comfort—all without compromising on the park's scenic beauty.

You’ll get sweeping views of the Ohio River, making it a serene place to relax and be close to nature.

The rooms here are excellent, too—everything is elegant and modern, mimicking a good country club aesthetic.

If you want to experience the true beauty of Cave-in-Rock while conveniently close to the cave, Cave-in-Rock State Park Restaurant and Lodging on New State Park Road is a no-brainer for your accommodation.

Dine at Cave-in-Rock State Park Restaurant

Cave-in-Rock State Park Restaurant is just a few walks from the lodging, offering delicious meals with scenic views of the river.

Whether you’re checking in at the cabin or going on a day trip at the state park, this is a great place to go.

They serve some of the best-grilled catfish you’ll find in Illinois—extremely fresh as they’re locally caught.

They also serve delicious breakfast meals.

If you’re feeling famished, an All-You-Can-Eat buffet featuring classic American favorites is also available.

There aren’t many great places to eat in this secluded village, so Cave-in-Rock State Park Restaurant is a must for any tourist.

Trek along Hickory Ridge and Pirates' Bluff Nature Trails

Once you’ve checked in or had a good meal at the Cave-in-Rock State Park Lodging and Restaurant, trekking is a good way to kickstart your adventure.

The state park features two distinct nature trails—Hickory Ridge and Pirates' Bluff.

Both Hickory Ridge and Pirates' Bluff Nature Trails offer some of the best ways to explore the thick forests in Cave-in-Rock State Park.

You’ll see many interesting unpaved terrains along your way, leading to beautiful views of both the state park and the river.

The trek is of moderate difficulty only, making this a great family activity.

You can begin your trek near the restaurant and cabin along Park Avenue.

Enjoy Relaxing Ohio River Views at River Shores Campground

On the opposite end of Cave-in-Rock State Park lies River Shores Campground, found along Lower Cave in Rock Road by the Ohio River.

Unlike Cave-in-Rock State Park, River Shores Campground mostly features grassy fields.

However, you can enjoy the Ohio River here much better if you’re only planning to do river activities such as fishing and boating.

While you can pitch your tent or station your vehicle here, there’s also a secondary cabin area where you can check in as well.

Also owned by Cave-in-Rock State Park Cabins, they offer a few quaint cabin rooms that offer a serene escape to the busier state park.

Shop for Gems and Rocks at Palmer’s Trading Post

While there’s not much to do in Cave-in-Rock village proper, it’s home to Palmer’s Trading Post, which is a must-visit during your stay.

Palmer’s Trading Post is a quaint shop that acts as the village’s go-to souvenir store.

They’re well-known for having rocks for sale, particularly fluorite, a sustainably sourced mineral in Cave-in-Rock.

Aside from fluorite, you’ll find many other hidden gems in this shop that make for great memorabilia of this tiny village.

Palmer’s Trading Post is along North Canal Street at the heart of the village.

Reach Kentucky with Cave-In-Rock Ferry

Cave-in-Rock Ferry is a great way to enjoy the river traveling to nearby Kentucky.

This ferry is unique because it allows you to bring your car to Kentucky, as the boat is also equipped to transport vehicles.

You won’t find this kind of service common nowadays in the country, making this a fun little experience as you visit other places in Kentucky.

It’s also a great way to enjoy the river views.

Cave-in-Rock Ferry can be accessed at the end of Illinois Highway 1 in the village proper.

Attend a Metal Concert at Hogrock Ranch and Campground

While you may have the impression that Cave-in-Rock is a quaint village focused on nature, one attraction deviates from this because of its loud and vibrant culture.

Hogrock Ranch and Campground may look like an unassuming campground along the river, but it’s a staple for metal rock concerts and wild Oktoberfests that will pique the interest of some travelers.

It hosts tons of bands and other live performances year-round.

Camping is also popular here during events, as you can bring your RV or tent and rent a tipi available on-site.

Visit Hogrock Ranch and Campground during the first week of October and June for the best experience.

Replenish Supplies and Have a Meal at Belt’s First Stop

Belt’s First Stop is a family restaurant that also doubles as a grocery store—a convenient destination considering the remoteness of Cave-in-Rock.

They serve great breakfast menus and comfort food, such as their hush puppies and their deep-fried catfish.

They also have other varieties such as barbecues, cheeseburgers, and sandwiches.

Conveniently found along Illinois Highway 1, Belt’s First Stop is also a great place to meet locals, as this is one of the few village eateries where many villagers go for a quick meal.

Besides the food, they have various items in their grocery store in case you need to replenish on essentials, especially ones needed for your camping trip.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Hike at Garden of the Gods

Sunset over Garden of the Gods
anthony heflin / Shutterstock.com

Garden of the Gods is one of the prime destinations in Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest, which takes about a 32-minute drive from the village proper.

This scenic place offers a fantastic vantage point that gives you sweeping views of Shawnee National Forest.

You’ll do a bit of hiking here, but after that, you’re rewarded with one of the most picturesque areas in Illinois.

Trail at Garden of the Gods
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Not only does the elevation grant you great views, but the very summit itself is a geological wonder made from prehistoric sandstone rock formations.

Despite its daunting name, Garden of the Gods is a great family-friendly hotspot near Cave-in-Rock, as there are plenty of benches, paved paths, and an observation deck for kids and older adults.

Stairs on the hiking trail at Garden of the Gods
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Visit Rosiclare Park

If you want a break from your outdoor excursions, the closest place you can visit is Rosiclare Park in Rosiclare City, located just 20 minutes away from the village via a car ride.

Rosiclare is the closest area near Cave-in-Rock that has a bit of urban life to it, with the Rosiclare Park being a great place just to relax and enjoy the laid-back city.

Unlike Cave-in-Rock, you’ll get a much more city-like appreciation of the Ohio River at Rosiclare Park thanks to its amenities and layout.

There’s a playground in this park and you can also walk your dogs, making it a great all-rounder for any type of family.

Visit the Illinois Iron Furnace

Cave-in-Rock is right next to Elizabethtown, where you can find the historic Illinois Iron Furnace, about a 20-minute drive.

Illinois Iron Furnace is a historic site that features a 19th-century stone and brick furnace of a business magnate during the mid-1800s.

Thanks to the information boards scattered across its park, you can learn about the architectural history of this massive iron furnace.

Picnics are also welcome here as it’s a scenic place to relax with friends and family.

The place is also close to Big Creek, which gives you access to a small swimming area if you want to cool down.

Explore Rim Rock National Recreation Trail

Landscape of Rim Rock National Recreation Trail
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East of Garden of the Gods lies Rim Rock National Recreation Trail, which takes 20 minutes by car from Cave-in-Rock.

Known for its long narrow stairs that lead you deep into beautiful limestone formations, Rim Rock National Recreation Trail offers great photo opportunities near these geological wonders.

There are also other terrains here, such as a small cave and high-arching cliffs.

View of Rim Rock National Recreation Trail
Wildnerdpix / Shutterstock.com

It’s a different experience than Garden of the Gods, as Rim Rock National Recreation Trail is about immersing yourself deep in the rock formations rather than above them.

Located along Karbers Ridge Road, this area is easily accessible.

Wooden narrow stairs at Rim Rock National Recreation Trail
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Go Fishing at Lake Tecumseh

Lake Tecumseh is a quaint lake that’s south of Illinois Iron Furnace, accessible via a 20-minute drive from Cave-in-Rock.

It is mostly secluded, so it’s one of the best places to cast your line.

The trails here have some of the best lakeside views, ideal for photography.

Camping is also permitted in case you want to spend a night at this gorgeous lake.

It gets even prettier during the fall as woodlands and beautiful autumn foliage surround it.

Camp at Tower Rock Campground

If you want an alternative area to camp along the Ohio River, Tower Rock Campground is also in Elizabethtown, which only takes an 11-minute drive from Cave-in-Rock.

Like in Cave-in-Rock State Park, you’ll get great views of the river from Tower Rock Campground.

Unlike Cave-in-Rock State Park, however, Tower Rock Campground doesn’t have rock formations.

Instead, it has high arching cliffs, the inspiration behind the campground's name.

There are a lot of grassy fields in this campground, coupled with tall trees that give it plenty of shade.

Final Thoughts

Cave-in-Rock may be far from the cities of Illinois, such as Chicago, but it sure delivers a unique outdoor experience.

You won’t find as many caves as gorgeous as the one in Cave-in-Rock, especially with its gaping entrance that spans 55 feet wide.

Beyond that, the park also features great amenities, spearheaded by the Cave-in-Rock Cabin and Cave-in-Rock Restaurant, that’ll make your stay all the more memorable.

If you’re planning to stay longer, you may check out all the other natural wonders surrounding this humble village, most especially Garden of the Gods and Rim Rock National Recreation Trail.

Raring to go?

Revisit this list of the best things to do in Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, for a comprehensive guide to this scenic village.

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