15 Best Things to Do in Southern Illinois

Southern Illinois
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Southern Illinois is a quaint destination that attracts visitors with its scenic landscapes and outdoor recreational opportunities.

It is one of the Midwest’s oldest parts and is beaming with heritage.

It leaves visitors in awe by giving a glimpse of its rich history through the iconic Forts and ancient rock formations.

This destination is also popular for its state parks, lush green forests, and its mesmerizing rivers.

The impressive wine culture and delectable cuisines also bring visitors to Southern Illinois.

Whether you are in Southern Illinois for a family vacation, romantic getaway, or a solo trip, you won’t be disappointed.

This one-of-a-kind destination is adored equally by everyone from nature lovers, art enthusiasts, to adventure seekers.

With campsites, hiking trails, serene resorts to bustling nightlife, it caters to every vacation need.

Here is a look at the 15 best things to do in Southern Illinois!

Ferne Clyffe State Park

Ferne Clyffe State Park in Fall
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Spread across 2430 acres in Johnson Country, Ferne Clyffe State Park lets you take a step closer to nature.

The Park is home to more than 700 species of plants that display spectacular spring and fall colors.

You can witness majestic rock formations and scenic views as you walk the trails.

It’s a popular picnic spot that offers splendid opportunities for activities like camping, hiking, and fishing.

You can find various picnic areas with tables, cooking grills, parking and even shelters.

The Park also has a 16-acre lake and intermittent waterfalls that add to its mesmerizing beauty.

The most popular trails here are the big rocky hollow trail, happy hollow trails, cedar bluff trail and Bork’s waterfall.

Fort Kaskaskia State Historic Site

View of Mississippi River from Fort Kaskaskia
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Fort Kaskaskia was established by the French and traces its history to the eighteenth century.

Sprawling across 200 acres, the complex has a large campground and pavilions with picnic tables and grills.

It overlooks the beautiful Mississippi River and is perfect for a day trip.

If you visit in September, you can also attend the annual traditional music festival at the Fort.

It allows you to step back in time as you witness remains of the Fort including the earthworks.

The Garrison Hill cemetery that was established in 1891 is also a part of the site.

It also has a monument that commemorates the early settlers of Kaskaskia.

Take a walk to the Pierre Menard Home State Historic Site, located at the bottom of the bluff.

It is a classic example of French Creole-style architecture and features antique furnishing.

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge

Heron at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge
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Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is spread across 44,000 acres of land and water.

It is located primarily in Southwestern Williamson County and is home to a  wide variety of flora and fauna.

It serves as a resting place for many migratory birds and is an excellent spot to reconnect with nature.

Wildlife viewing is an outstanding experience that visitors enjoy here.

You can expect to see white-tailed deer and wild turkey during every season here.

The Refuge has man-made reservoirs where you can spot large flocks of waterfowl and warm-water sport fish.

In terms of recreational activities, Crab Orchard has phenomenal opportunities to offer.

Camping, fishing, photography and hunting are some of the most popular activities here.

They also arrange interpretive programs, outdoor family programs and environmental education programs to make your visit even more fun.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
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Cahokia Mounds is the biggest archaeological site in America’s north of Mexico.

It has been in existence since the pre-Columbian Era.

It takes great pride in being a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Located between East St. Louis and Collinsville, the park is spread across 2,200 acres.

Out of the 120 earthen mounds in the ancient city, 80 are still present on this site today.

Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the Americas is the highlight of this place.

Other features like the Woodhenge and copper workshop makes it more interesting.

You can visit the museum and interpretive center to know more about Cahokia’s history.

It was an important center for Mississippians and guided tours are arranged here to explore more.

Have a beer at Scratch Brewing Company

Located in Ava, Scratch Brewing Company is a beer lover’s paradise.

It is ranked among the best places to drink beer in the world.

The local ingredients and innovative styles make every drink on the menu a masterpiece.

While you are here, do not miss having the brewery’s special farmhouse ale.

It is also recommended relishing the delicious pizza made from locally sourced fresh ingredients.

If you are here for a celebration, you can rent the vibrant serpent room adorned with art and sculptures.

You can also purchase bottles and their brilliant book on brewing with farmed ingredients to carry back home.

It would make the perfect gift and would also be the best way to relive the southern Illinois memories.

At the store, you can also buy t-shirts, posters and other merchandise made by local artisans.

Visit the Science Centre

If you are travelling with your kids to Southern Illinois, make sure to visit the Science Center in Carbondale.

It is creatively designed to give wings to a child’s curiosity with interactive exhibits.

It has hands-on science activities to amuse everyone from infants to teens.

The exhibits are regularly updated and encourage inquiry-based exploration.

Kids are sure to have a great time playing the piano in the musical area and watching the puppet show.

Some other interesting activities for kids are exploring 3-D maps, dome climbing, tower building, and excavation.

They also organize summer camps, science shows and field trips to keep the little guests entertained.

Play Golf at the Southern Illinois Golf Trail

Golf course in Southern Illinois
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Southern Illinois is one of the best golf destinations in the US and boasts impeccable golf courses.

The Southern Illinois golf trail located near Carbondale is one such example.

It has five courses offering a chance to play golf all-round the year for all skill levels.

The five courses are Hickory Ridge, Stone Creek Golf Club, Kokopelli Golf, Crab Orchard Golf Club, and the Gambit Golf Club.

Whether you are a beginner or a veteran, the golf courses here are sure to amaze you.

You can also get exciting deals when you book packages for stay and play.

The beauty of the surrounding destinations is a bonus while playing golf here.

The authentic southern hospitality will further enhance your golf experience at this beautiful trail.

Visit the Lake of Egypt

Lake of Egypt
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A picturesque lake in the south of Marion, Lake of Egypt features 90 miles (144.84 km) of shoreline.

It has three marinas and offers a plethora of water activities for visitors to enjoy.

Fishing, boating, swimming and watching the serene sunsets are the activities that shouldn’t be missed here.

Adventure seekers can also indulge in kayaking, tubing and jet skiing.

If the idea of camping at the lake fascinates you, then the Lake of Egypt is an exceptional choice.

It allows camping at the Buck Ridge Campground where you can wake up to the soothing sounds of nature.

You can also stay at the resort and enjoy barbecue nights and watch outdoor movies.

Visit the African American Museum

The African American Museum, founded in 1977 is located in Carbondale.

It gives a glimpse of the excellent achievements of African American citizens.

The exhibits here include amazing artifacts, literary works, photographs and quilts.

They also host various events and programs to showcase African American history and culture.

The exhibits change regularly, however, the permanent exhibits include slave artifacts and African Art Collection.

Enjoy a family outing at The Garden of the Gods

The Garden of the Gods
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The Garden of the Gods is ranked among the most popular hikes in Southern Illinois.

It is a part of the Shawnee National Forest and offers breathtaking views.

It amuses visitors with sights of the outstanding rock formations and serene woodlands.

In addition to hiking, it also offers exciting experiences like horseback riding.

The camel rock located along the observation trail is the most iconic rock formation here.

The Garden of the Gods is also known to be the state’s most photographed location.

So make sure to carry your camera and click pictures that will bring back treasured memories.

It is a great destination for enjoying unforgettable camping with your family.

The campgrounds are equipped with picnic tables for you to gather around with your clan.

You can also enjoy sitting around the fire pits and indulging in memorable conversations.

Enjoy Biking through the Tunnel Hill State Trail

The Tunnel Hill State Trail stretches 45 miles (72.42 km) from Harrisburg to Karnak in scenic Southern Illinois.

The dark tunnels, streams and wooded bluffs let bikers can enjoy an experience like never.

The best part is that you might also encounter local wildlife as you travel along the trail.

You might also come across ghost towns and reclaimed strip mines on your journey.

The trail is well-maintained and is suitable for mountain bikes and road bikes due to the crushed limestone.

If you are a cycling enthusiast, you can complete the entire ride in a day.

Visit the Superman Museum

Superman Museum
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For a superhero fan, a visit to Southern Illinois is incomplete without a visit to the Superman Museum.

Located in Metropolis, this museum has some of the most impressive Superman memorabilia collections.

From toys, movie props, comics to costumes, you can find everything related to Superman here.

The Museum has been attracting visitors in large numbers since it opened its doors in 1993.

They host an annual Superman Celebration every year which is a fun family event.

The museum is also recognized as the best small-town attraction in America.

Don’t be surprised if it seems familiar as you visit the Museum since it's featured in numerous TV shows.

Explore the Southern Illinois Wine Trails

The Shawnee Wine trails boast eleven wineries that run along 40 miles (64.37 km).

Each of the wineries has its own character and techniques that delight the visitors.

The beautiful sceneries that surround the wineries make the visit more rewarding and enriching.

There are many on-site winery lodging and dining options throughout the trails.

The specialty stores like the local bakery, gift shops, jewellery shops and antique stores will help you collect the best souvenirs.

Embark on a unique wine tasting journey with your group and create lasting memories.

You may also ask to arrange a private wine tasting with the winemaker to get a deeper understanding of the wines.

Visit Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge

Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge offers an incredible habitat for waterfowls and migratory birds.

It was established in 1990 and has been a popular attraction among tourists ever since.

Some endangered species and wildlife can also be spotted in this Refuge.

Indiana bats, Prothonotary Warbler, and a wide variety of reptiles and amphibians are found here.

Bottomland hardwood forests, canebrakes and Bald Cypress Water Tupelo Swamp are also part of the refuge.

It offers fabulous opportunities for recreational activities like hunting, fishing, birdwatching, boating and photography.

Environmental educational programs, special events, guided canoe tours are also arranged to raise awareness and appreciation of wetlands.

The Bellrose viewing Platform gives a phenomenal view of the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

The sight and sound of the migratory birds, shorebirds and waterfowls are sure to melt away your stress.

Enjoy lip-smacking cuisines at the Ariston Cafe

Ariston Cafe
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The iconic Ariston Cafe came into existence in 1924 and is counted among America’s oldest restaurants.

It is located on the legendary highway Route 66 in Litchfield.

The café holds a place in the National Register of Historical Places by the State of Illinois.

It serves American, Southern, Italian and Greek cuisines that will pamper your taste buds.

From cocktails, cold beer, juices to amazing wine selection, there is a lot to choose from at the bar at Ariston café.

The courteous hospitality ensures that you have a delightful dining experience.