If you had to guess, where could you find waterfalls, canyons, spectacular forests, creeks, lakes, swamps, a mighty river, bluffs, caves, vineyards, and a plethora of wildlife? You could find such wonders in Africa, Australia, Brazil, Alaska, or Hawaii, but could you imagine them all in one county of Southern Illinois?
Some of the best boulder and rock climbing in the state can be enjoyed in Jackson Hollow, around Jackson Falls, Burden Falls or Bellsmith Springs in the McCormick section just one to six miles out of Ozark. A whole day can be spent in pursuit of waterfalls ranging from wide waters pouring over bluffs at Bellsmith Springs to a broad waterfall reaching out at Jackson Falls to fast-running crashing cascades at Burden Falls. Bay and Hunting Branch Creeks created the canyons strewn with giant boulders, and accented by majestic cliffs, flora, and fauna. Climbing tours and swamp adventures can be booked with Shawnee Adventure Guides, who offer instruction, safety training, and provide equipment to the sites of exploration.
A staircase carved into stone at Bellsmith Springs allows for an easy descent into the canyon, and locals call this the “Stairway to Heaven.” Continuing on the lower path, you will pass caves and follow a creek to two boulders in the stream. Native Americans say these two rocks lived near each other so long that they fell in love and married. Everywhere in these natural areas, there is the sound of water, which washes away cares and every day frustrations. Another trail crosses the Devil’s Backbone, featuring a 30 foot high natural bridge more than 150 feet across.
Eddyville is the trail-riding capitol of Illinois, and visitors can enjoy campgrounds, cabin rentals, stables, and trails in and around Eddyville, Glendale, all the way to the Johnson County line. A nine-day encampment and trail ride each summer attracts riders from all points in the middle United States. Lusk Creek Canyon features a 100 foot gorge, and the 4.5 mile portion of Lusk Creek in Pope County is rated by American Whitewater Rafting as a class I-III section. While in Glendale visit Pope County’s first vineyard, Hogg Hollow Winery, which is on the Southern Illinois Wine Trail, and enjoy fishing, swimming, and many outdoor activities at Lake Glendale. Lake Glendale Stables offers equine adventures for riders of any skill level, and they have very tame horses for beginners.
Dixon Springs State Park is 801 acres on a giant block of rock dropped 200 feet along a fault line that extends northwesterly across Pope County. The park includes a modern swimming pool, bathhouse, and water slide with lifeguard is on duty at all times. Don’t miss the chance to taste hand-made chocolates before continuing on to the site of a mass burial of Cherokees at Brownfield, Illinois just off Route 146. The Trail of Tears crossed Pope County from Golconda to Dixon Springs as the Cherokees were marched west for resettlement. Many in the area have Cherokee ancestors, and the Western United Cherokee still celebrate their culture throughout the year in programs and festivals to which the public is invited.
The Shrimp Festival in September and Deer Festival in November celebrate the harvests of fresh water shrimp and white-tail deer with great food, music, entertainment, and fun for all the family in Golconda. The 80-acre Golconda Marina is a full service boat marina with 206 slips and serves as the gateway to the Smithland Pool area of the Ohio River, which is recognized as one the finest fishing and boating areas in the nation.
Views from the Ohio River levee looking across to Kentucky are delightful backdrops to picnics, gatherings, romance, and are amazing sights at sunset. Couples eloping to Pope County get marriage licenses at the historic courthouse in Golconda one day and can marry the next. Visiting and local couples have married on the Ohio River, on horseback, under waterfalls, on bluffs, in B&Bs, inns, lodges, and campgrounds. The increasing interest in eloping to the Shawnee National Forest is making Pope County a preferred wedding destination in Illinois. In fact, The Irish Inn, located in Northern Pope County, is listed as the #1 place to elope in Illinois by bestelopeideas.com!
On the Ohio River National Scenic Byway Bay City offers a unique spot to view riverboats, excursion, paddle-wheelers, and pleasure vessels, and was the location of the airplane crash scene from the movie “U.S. Marshals.” All of Pope County is a fisherman’s and hunter’s paradise, and locations on the Ohio River at Bay City will please sports enthusiasts in every way. Continuing down the scenic byway ten miles southwest of New Liberty, the Kincaid Mounds Historic Site consists of 105 acres and is on the National Register of Historic Places. This prehistoric Native American site on the border of Pope and Massac counties contains eleven Mississippian Mounds, including a ceremonial area.
No discussion of Pope County could be complete without mention of the starscapes in the Shawnee National Forest. Being a sparsely populated county with vast forested areas and little artificial light, the stars feel closer here. Constellations are easily identifiable, and some say they can sense the Earth move when viewing the night skies in our part of the forest. The clear skies here are beautiful in all four seasons. Visit Pope County this year, and see for yourself. You will not believe you are in Illinois, but seeing is believing!
To start your adventure today in Pope County, Illinois today, contact The Irish Inn at 618-695-3355. Photograph by Michelle Rositch
More Information: Shawnee National Forest Surrounding The Irish Inn
Illinois tourism & sightseeing