The Best Small Group Adventures in Southern Illinois

Illinois Tour Planner, Outdoor & Adventure

These Trails to Adventure are full of great small group activities

By Sophia Divagno

Southern Illinois is full of fine local experiences, thrilling outdoor activities, exceptional shopping and fascinating art and history. making it an ideal destination for small group trips and girlfriend getaways. Here are some of the best small group adventures in the Trails to Adventure region.

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Garden of the Gods Shawnee sunset in Southern Illinois

Garden of the Gods Shawnee sunset in Southern Illinois

Follow the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail

The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is an enjoyable expedition through the hills of Southern Illinois. Consisting of 12 wineries scattered along a clearly mapped 40-mile trail, each one presents its unique style and methods of winemaking. Renovated golf courses, scenic walks and elegant lodging options are just a few of the additional benefits available nearby. Plus, not far from the trail lie specialty shops, eateries and art galleries. Grab your girlfriends and unwind in the hills of Southern Illinois. For January and February, the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail provides great incentives to visit, with its passport program. Enjoy savoring wines and saving big with great discounts on wine, merchandise, food and more.

With your purchase of a winery passport, you will receive discounts at each of the member wineries and a chance to win wonderful prizes along the trail.  Passports are available for sale at

Stop by Scratch Brewing Company

Right outside Shawnee National Forest is the beloved Scratch Brewing Company in Ava. Nestled in the woods and known for its great atmosphere and noteworthy homemade beer, the farmhouse brewery also offers guests menu food items made from local ingredients. Bring cash as credit cards are not accepted here and check their website for opening hours.

Spend time at the Kokopelli Golf Course

An excellent location for an outing with friends is the nationally recognized Kokopelli Golf Course in Marion. The property prides itself on a prestigious 18-hole course, interactive golf simulator, and fancy restaurant and lounge called The Turn. Just a short drive away is Walker’s Bluff Casino Resort, featuring 650 slot machines, table games, a hotel and a restaurant.

Go Back in Time in Kinmundy

Because of its enthralling log cabin village, Kinmundy provides a delightful trip back in time. Wandering around the village’s winding roads, visitors may examine each restored building and learn about pioneer life in rural Illinois. Kinmundy’s log cabin town, with its nostalgic atmosphere and rich history, makes an ideal backdrop for a short trip, with opportunities for exploration and a sense of connection to the area’s past around every turn. If lucky enough to visit Kinmundy in the fall season, be sure to visit the annual fall festival that blooms with over 100 craft and food vendors.

For more Illinois travel ideas and tips, be sure to Download the Illinois Tour Planner for FREE and Subscribe to Leisure Group Travel for more information

Kokopelli Golf course in Illinois

Kokopelli Golf Course in Marion, Illinois

Thrilling Outdoor Adventures in Southern IL

Swing through Bluffs on a Canopy Tour

Partake in a thrilling outdoor and eco-friendly adventure during your time in the Shawnee Hills region. Book a canopy tour through Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour in Makanda and soar through the sky like the Bald Eagles that call this area home. Choose between one of their two tours offering a mix of zip line runs, suspension bridges, short hikes and aerial bridges.

Go Horseback Riding in Grafton

Allow seasoned guides from Pere Marquette Stables to accompany you on a 45-minute journey through two and a half miles of picturesque river and hilly landscapes, with the chance to see typical Midwest wildlife such as white-tailed deer, turkeys, red-tailed hawks, songbirds and more. 35-minute hayrides are also available. Make sure to call in advance for your group as all rides are by reservation only.

Biking in Shawnee Hills National Park

Biking in Shawnee National Forest

Taking in Nature in Illinois

Rent a Boat on the Lake of Egypt

Grab your sunscreen and spend the day out of the beautiful Lake of Egypt, located six miles south of Marion. With over 90 miles of shoreline, this activity is perfect for groups of up to 12 who want to sit back and have the freedom to explore the lake on their own. Also located down the road from Marion, Weiner Rides makes renting pontoon boats easy. And they include kayaks and lily pads for an additional fee.

Camp in the Shawnee National Forest

Fully immerse yourself in Shawnee National Forest through camping. Home to a variety of species and terrains, the park consists of 15 campgrounds perfect for small groups. A popular site includes the Pharaoh Campground because of its proximity to the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area, which features an hour-long hike through old sandstone cliffs and formations. All campgrounds are typically open from April 1 through December 15 and are first come first serve, meaning no reservations are required.

Hiking in Southern Illinois

Hiking in Southern Illinois

Glamp in the Shawnee National Forest

Groups looking for a more relaxing way to enjoy the outdoors should check out Shawnee Hills Glamping Dome for a memorable retreat amid the National Forest. Designed for comfort and tranquility, this dome offers guests a luxurious camping experience while maintaining a connection with nature through unmatchable panoramic views. A unique option perfect for a girlfriend’s weekend getaway.

Participate in a Petting Zoo

Adventurers are drawn to Nashville, Illinois’ Rainbow Ranch Petting Zoo. This 170-year-old family farm spans acres of gorgeous countryside. With a wide variety of animals housed on the expansive grounds, guests may get an up close and personal tour of the animal kingdom. There are over 200 animals that live at Rainbow Ranch Petting Zoo. All ages are welcome to tour the farm.

Savor the Carlyle Lake Wine Trail

Carlyle invites adventurers with its unique blend of natural beauty and culinary delights. Nestled along the shores of Carlyle Lake, the largest man-made lake in Illinois, outdoor enthusiasts can indulge in a myriad of water activities, from boating and fishing to kayaking and swimming. After a day of exploration, the nearby Carlyle Lake Wine Trail offers a perfect opportunity to unwind and savor the flavors of local wineries amidst scenic vineyards. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll along the lakeshore or a tasting tour along the wine trail, or booking sailing lessons with the Carlyle Sailing Association, Carlyle promises a small adventure brimming with relaxation and discovery.

Kayak or Paddleboard around Cedar Lake

Located in Jackson County sits Cedar Lake, a lovable lake within the Shawnee National Forest. Self-serve kayak and paddleboard rentals can be found near the Cedar Lake boat ramp. All guests need to do is download the app, select what they want to rent, enjoy their time on the water and then return the rentals. A perfect activity for groups looking to enjoy the water at their own pace.

For more Illinois travel ideas and tips, be sure to Download the Illinois Tour Planner for FREE and Subscribe to Leisure Group Travel for more information

Shopping in Southern Illinois

Shopping in Southern Illinois

Southern Illinois Shopping 

Shop on Main Street in Anna

Grab your girlfriends and head to Main Street. The street is home to a considerable number of superb boutiques including Kenz Boutique, Farmer’s Daughter Boutique and Enchanted Gardens. At the heart of it all is Annabelle Market, which features more than 10,000 square feet filled with striking boutique, antique and handcrafted items. Home to over 40 individual vendors, the market caters to a diverse range of tastes and preferences, ensuring there’s something special for everyone.

Head to the Makanda Boardwalk

The Makanda Boardwalk is a sequence of shops sitting along a charmingly rustic boardwalk, famous for their homemade goods and relaxed atmosphere. The Makanda Trading Company and the Day Shift are just two of the many stores to keep an eye out for. While in the area, groups should also explore the Giant City State Park or dine at the lodge.

Walldogs Murals in Streator, Illinois

Walldogs Murals in Streator, Illinois

Art in Southern Illinois

Explore Murals in Marion

Crafted by both local and internationally recognized artists, the Marion Mural District has dozens of beautiful murals scattered throughout the compact city. Take a stroll while learning about the themes and significance of these remarkable pieces of art found on buildings and in alleyways. Surrounding the mural district, groups will discover a diverse array of restaurants, vibrant nightlife and distinctive shops.

Roam around Cedarhurst Center For the Arts

This stellar art institute in Mount Vernon is open year-round applauding everything from visual and performing arts to large sculptures. The 80-acre property also highlights a stunning outdoor environment and exciting special events. Try something new and sign your group up for a class in drawing, painting, ceramics, stained glass, or knitting.

See why Metropolis is known as the “Home of Superman” with a visit to the Super Museum. Photo courtesy of Enjoy Illinois

See why Metropolis is known as the “Home of Superman” with a visit to the Super Museum. Photo courtesy of Enjoy Illinois

Museums in Southern Illinois

Visit the Jefferson County Historical Village in Mount Vernon

Step back in time with a visit to the Jefferson County Historical Village, an outdoor museum portraying life from the inception of the county. A 19th-century log house, church, jail, school, print shop and more can be toured and read about. Groups should set aside one to two hours here and check online for operating hours. Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated.

Discover Metropolis

Claiming to be the hometown of Superman, the Super Museum showcases a vast collection of Superman-themed items, including over 20,000 comics, toys and shirts. And down the block on Market Street stands the World’s Largest Superman Statue at 15 feet tall. While in the area, groups can also go scuba diving at Mermet Springs, one of the best dive facilities in the Midwest, walk around Fort Massac State Park, Illinois’ first state park and eat delicious peaches at Remer’s Orchard.

For more Illinois travel ideas and tips, be sure to Download the Illinois Tour Planner for FREE and Subscribe to Leisure Group Travel for more information

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