Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Harrisburg, IL

  • Published 2023/02/28

Funded in 1853, the city of Harrisburg is near the southern tip of Illinois.

Currently, it is the seat of Saline County, also referred to as the “Center of Southeastern Illinois.”

The city is best known as the “Gateway to the Shawnee National Forest.”

Tourists come from around the country to explore this United States National Forest through Harrisburg.

Make no mistake; Harrisburg is not just a mere entry point to Shawnee National Forest and everything else in southern Illinois.

From its beautiful nature sceneries to its historical landmarks, Harrisburg is a must-see destination in its own right.

Here are the best things to do in Harrisburg, IL:

Wander the Garden of the Gods

Scenic sunset over Garden of the Gods

anthony heflin /

There’s no question that a trip to Shawnee National Forest is a must when you’re in Harrisburg, Illinois.

From Harrisburg, explore the most beautiful and famous spots within the national forest, including the Garden of the Gods.

The Garden of the Gods offers the best hiking because of its unbeatable nature sceneries and friendly trails.

You can’t get the view of the Garden of the Gods anywhere else.

Hiking trail surrounded with trees leading to Garden of the Gods

Eddie J. Rodriquez /

Check out a smattering of gorgeous rock formations and lush greeneries as far as the eye can see.

At the Observation Trail, hikers will go on an hour-long escapade where they’ll encounter a variety of flora and fauna along the way.

You will also see the famous Instagrammable rock formations.

If you’re looking to spend the night or enjoy lunch in the company of nature, there are camping grounds onsite for resting after taking on the ¼ mile hike.

Sandstone monolith formations at Garden of the Gods

Wildnerdpix /

See the Local Exhibits at Ella Elizabeth Hise Museum of Art

Ella Elizabeth Hise was a teacher and art supervisor who championed the importance of art education for students at Harrisburg Public School.

The public recognized her vast contributions to the community all around.

In 2019, her brothers, William C. Hise and the late James C. Hise, paid tribute to her legacy by opening The Ella Elizabeth Hise Museum of Regional Art.

Located inside Southeastern Illinois College, the Ella Elizabeth Hise Museum of Regional Art spans 8,000 square feet.

Go there to catch a glimpse of the Ohio Valley region’s art history.

The museum houses multiple gallery spaces that feature numerous local exhibits showing artworks native to the area.

Likewise, it’s not just ancient artistic artifacts that you will witness here, as the gallery spaces also showcase local talents.

Feel a sense of Harrisburg pride if you catch an ongoing exhibit of artworks made by students and residents.

Tee Off at Shawnee Hills Country Club

Harrisburg also has something for golf lovers visiting their city.

Bring your golfing buddies and tee off at Shawnee Hills Country Club.

Open to everyone, Shawnee Hills Country Club is a nine-hole golf course that will test your skills and expertise.

Besides the thrilling course, it also provides a scenic place to play your favorite sport with all the luscious trees and grass around.

Imagine swinging your golf club as you take in the gorgeous views!

After an exhausting round of golf, grab a bite at the club’s snack bar or check out some golfing equipment at the pro shop.

Enjoy an ATV Adventure at Williams Hill Pass

Don’t miss out on the thrilling experience of riding an ATV at Williams Hill Pass.

Located along Peak Road, Williams Hill Pass brings you on an adventure and offers 250 acres of land where you can unleash your inner daredevil.

Rent an off-highway vehicle from the shop and get started on your journey across paved trails and through lush forests.

Enjoy the view of the Shawnee National Forest surrounding you while you make the most out of your scenic nature ride.

Williams Hill Pass is also a camping site.

There are several cabins on site where you and your companions can spend the night.

Otherwise, bring your tent or RV and find your spot on the massive campground.

The park also has complete amenities to ensure a comfortable stay for campers, including showers and picnic tables.

Visit the Historic Saline Creek Pioneer Village

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Saline Creek Pioneer Village is an important Harrisburg historical artifact.

Saline Creek Pioneer Village was the former site of a resettlement area that housed Harrisburg’s poorest residents from 1800 to 1840.

The original area spanned 175 acres and included a blockhouse, Quaker church, saddlebag cabin, post office, barn, school, and even a jail.

Today, the artifacts from that era, including famed American lawyer Robert Ingersoll’s desk, are housed in a 3-brick Pauper House museum built on the three 1/2-acre land that remained after selling it.

Explore the Vast Wilderness at Lusk Creek Canyon

You won’t run out of beautiful things to discover at Shawnee National Forest.

While you’re there, don’t miss a trip to see Lusk Creek Canyon.

Lusk Creek Canyon is part of the Lusk Creek Wilderness Area within Shawnee National Forest, considered the largest wilderness area in the National Forest, spanning 6,352 acres.

Lusk Creek Canyon is also the most recognized whitewater run in Southern Illinois.

At Lusk Creek Canyon, you’re in for an adventure as its rugged terrains filled with hillsides and cliffs challenge beginner trail walkers.

No matter which trail you take, you’ll feel gratified because of the beautiful forest views you will see.

Relax and Play at Paul Emery Park

The Harrisburg Park Township District manages the Paul Emery Park, equipped with manicured lawns and beautiful pond views.

If you want to try outdoor activities, the park also has many recreational facilities open for both adult and kid guests.

You won’t run out of things to do at the park, from walking trails and picnic areas to playgrounds and even a swimming pool.

Watch out for the scheduled events and activities at the park, such as swimming lessons and fitness classes.

Entertain Yourself at Southern Illinois Axe and Ale

If you’re looking for a unique experience in Harrisburg, visit Southern Illinois Axe & Ale.

Southern Illinois Axe and Ale is an ax-throwing destination, but it also caters to craft beer enthusiasts with its Tap Room.

Go there to sample a selection of craft brews, cocktails, and sodas on tap.

If you came for the ax-throwing experience, wear closed-toe shoes and sign a waiver.

Experience the thrill of throwing axes at one of their several lanes and feel your stresses and frustrations melt away with every ax thrown.

Besides ax-throwing and craft beer-tasting, the Axe and Ale also offer more game facilities for you, ensuring time is well spent.

Go on a Camping Trip at Pounds Hollow Recreation Area

If you prefer a more relaxing experience at Shawnee National Forest, then Pounds Hollow Recreation Area may fit you.

The gorgeous Pounds Hollow Lake fronts this recreational area, covering 25 acres.

Enjoy various activities from fishing, swimming, and kayaking.

Rent your kayaks at the nearby Garden of the Gods outpost.

The grounds are perfect for a picnic in the company of nature.

If you are ready to rest after a day’s worth of fun activities, Pine Ridge Campgrounds can accommodate campers who want to stay the night and sleep under the stars.

Bowl at Ross Cottom Lanes

Harrisburg does not run out of recreation options.

If you love bowling, head to Ross Cottom Lanes.

The Ross Cottom Lanes have 16 bowling lanes, four lanes of Highway 66 mini bowling, and a pro shop.

After scoring a strike, replenish your energy with filling snacks and appetizers and an array of beverages at the cafe.

Rooster’s Bar can also serve you stronger drinks.

Besides bowling, visitors will enjoy the indoor arcade with various machines to suit the tastes of both kids and kids-at-heart.

Meet the Wildlife with Winkeler’s Wings and Wildlife

Animal lovers will surely enjoy the unique tour offered by Winkeler’s Wings and Wildlife.

Les Winkeler, an experienced nature photographer, takes tourists on a wildlife adventure tour across Southern Illinois.

He lets guests move up close and personal with the native wildlife as they go around the most beautiful nature spots in the area.

As you venture through the forests and lakes with Les, you’ll encounter numerous species, from waterfowl to songbirds and some deer.

Bring a camera because Les will teach you how to take wildlife photography.

Otherwise, you can rent one from him.

Find a Treasure at Shawnee Hills Antique Mall

Shawnee Hills Antique Mall is regarded by many locals as one of the best antique shops in all of Saline County, and you can find it in Harrisburg, along Veteran’s Drive.

The antique mall is a perfect opportunity to score a couple of neat souvenirs during your trip, whether for your home decor or as a gift.

While Shawnee Hills Antique Mall may seem small, it’s packed full of interesting goods that are surprisingly displayed neatly together.

Besides antiques, they also have other goods here for essential or everyday use.

With reasonable prices and a great staff, you can’t go wrong visiting Shawnee Hills Antique Mall for a little treasure hunt.

Spot Cool Cars at Sloan Harrisburg Raceway

Sloan Harrisburg Raceway is an awesome place to spot a lot of different good-looking racing cars, especially vintage and retro ones.

The raceway is one of the most anticipated events of the locals of Harrisburg, as each race offers exciting head to head battles between cars you won’t normally see everyday.

Besides seeing the race, you can also take photos of cars up close which are really the star of the show.

Seating is great and the atmosphere is festive; it’s a good way to immerse yourself with the locals who share a passion for racing.

Sloan Harrisburg Raceway is found along highway 34; check their website for their yearly event calendar.

Have a Feast at Bar-B-Q Barn

Bar-B-Q Barn is one of the most visited restaurants in Harrisburgs, perfect if you’re looking for a heart feast during your trip.

It’s a restaurant that specializes in slow-cooked meats, tenderized in their barbecue pits after long hours of smoking.

You can’t miss out on the ribs here, so try that along with an assortment of classic side dishes such as fries, mac n’ cheese, and mash.

The restaurant also features a salad bar, and it has some amazing pies and deep-fried catfish if you’re not in the mood for meat.

You can find Bar-B-Q Barn along North Main Street.

Have a Blast at Saline County Fairgrounds

Saline County Fairgrounds is one of the most anticipated annual events in Harrisburg, typically held during the fall season.

Tons of activities can be done here with the family, as there’s all sorts of stalls and events happening throughout the fair.

From arts and crafts bazaars to rodeo shows, Saline County Fairgrounds offers a lot of fun for people of all ages.

Of course, there are also rides here that’s a must try, along with some delicious food for dinner.

Saline County Fairgrounds is typically held along Dorris Heights Road, near Harrisburg’s Main Street.

Watch a Movie at Showplace Cinemas Harrisburg

If there’s a movie you want to watch during your trip and you have some time to spare, Showplace Cinemas Harrisburg is the right place for you.

It’s easily the best cinema in Harrisburg and nearby areas, mostly because it gets the basics right for what you want in a movie theater.

It’s clean and has modern seating, making it a comfy place even for large groups of friends or families.

Showplace Cinemas Harrisburg also has a VIP option if you want some more privacy with added bonuses.

But regardless, simply walking in and catching a movie here is a delightful experience.

You can find Showplace Cinemas Harrisburg along North Commercial Street.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Explore Camp Dubois at the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site

Exterior of Lewis and Clark State Historic Site

RozenskiP /

Just two hours away from Harrisburg, the Lewis and Clark Trail in Hartford, Illinois, marks the starting point of the historic Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Camp Dubois became the expedition’s preparation site in 1803 before Lewis, Clark, and their men set off to the Missouri River to explore the West after the Louisiana Purchase in 1804.

Camp Dubois at Lewis and Clark State Historic Site

Kbh3rd, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, you’ll learn more about the historical event through the exhibits and resources at the 14,000-square-foot Interpretative Center.

What’s more, there is a replica of Camp Dubois and the Settler’s Cabin, which will give visitors an idea of how the historic preparation took place.

Monument of Lewis and Clark expedition at Lewis and Clark State Historic Site

Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Challenge Yourself at the River to River Trail

This activity best suits guests planning extended stays in Harrisburg to explore the areas beyond.

If you want to explore everything in the Shawnee National Forest and Southern Illinois, try the River to River Trail.

Popular among adventurers and hiking groups, the River to River trail spans 160 miles.

It starts from Battery Rock in Hardin County and ends at Devil’s Backbone Park in Grand Tower, Illinois, on the Mississippi River.

Depending on the trail you will take, the entire route can take two to three weeks to finish.

Check Out the World’s Largest Superman Collection at Super Museum

Exterior of the Super Museum

Daniel Schwen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

About an hour’s travel from Harrisburg, Super Museum is located in the aptly-named city of Metropolis in Illinois, which they call the “Home of Superman.”

Comic book fans—particularly fans of The Man of Steel—will surely be in awe of the massive collection of Superman-related memorabilia made by Superman enthusiast Jim Hambrich over the years.

A car parked beside the Super Museum

Roberto Galan /

Feel your jaw drop as you take in over 70,000 Superman items at this family-owned museum along Market Street.

If you feel like starting a collection of your own, the museum also has a gift shop where you can buy souvenirs and official merchandise.

Make a Splash at Collinsville Aqua Park

A two-hour drive away from Harrisburg, Collinsville Aqua Park, located along Gateway Drive in Collinsville, Illinois, will give you that much-needed fun under the sun.

This fantastic waterpark has all the amenities to ensure a most enjoyable time for all ages, including seven waterslides, a lazy river, and even an Aqua Climb Wall.

Several swimming pools to choose from, including a lap pool and a leisure pool for a most luxurious dip.

Final Thoughts

Harrisburg has so much to offer its visitors.

As the “Gateway to Shawnee National Forest,” the city gives you access to the most beautiful and exciting sites, such as the Garden of the Gods and Lusk Creen Canyon.

Harrisburg is so much more than a gateway to nature, and the city carries its old-town charm that attracts visitors from all over.

Book your trip to the charming city of Harrisburg!

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