For some of the best natural attractions in the state along with excellent food and attractions, visit Illinois’ Trails to Adventure Region
Duration: 4 Days
This itinerary is ideal for: Adults
Begin your tour of Southern Illinois at the Centralia Area Historical Society Museum in downtown Centralia. Two floors of a former wholesale grocery warehouse brim with railroading, mining, oil industry, agricultural and Civil War artifacts along with other treasures from yesteryear that will have your tour members waxing nostalgic about the old days. Head west to Carlyle and stop at Ten Pin Antique Mall, where thousands of items are for sale in a repurposed bowling alley that still has the old signage, bowling lanes and scoring monitors.
Lunch and a tour are scheduled at Hidden Lake Winery in Aviston, which boasts a lovely patio overlooking a private lake. One of five wineries that compose the Carlyle Lake Wine Trail, it makes wine on the premises from Illinois-grown grapes and serves locally sourced foods. In Breese, soda pop takes center stage on a plant tour of Excel Bottling Company, the only independent bottler in Illinois that still uses returnable bottles. Guests can sample Frostie Root Beer and Excel’s popular Ski brand, a citrus-y pop ubiquitous in Southern Illinois, and other products. The fifth-generation family business also makes craft beers, teas and fruity sparkling waters.
Back in the Centralia area, the group has dinner at Jerry’s Bar & Grill in Wamac. Ideal for groups, the restaurant has spacious rooms and an extensive menu that lists everything from the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich to Mexican and Chinese favorites.
Located between Nashville and Okawville, Rainbow Ranch Petting Zoo features not only traditional farm animals but also exotic critters like kangaroos, zebras and camels. Everyone likes the macaw show, and springtime visitors may get a chance to bottle-feed the baby animals. The group continues south to Pinckneyville, “The Friendly Little City,” for a visit to the Illinois Rural Life Museum, which boasts an outstanding collection of farming implements and other antiques displayed in two huge buildings. Catch a demonstration of the rope-making machine, learn about coal mining, see a lard kettle and sausage stuffer, and admire a farmhouse, general store, and doctor and dentist offices from way back when. Also in Pinckneyville, your group visits the 1871 Perry County Jail Museum, where the sheriff and his family lived in quarters above the inmates. Go inside a jail cell and see prisoner artwork still on the walls. If time allows, check out Pinckneyville Antique Mall.
A good lunch choice is St. Nicholas Brewing Company in Du Quoin, a brewpub housed in a former hotel dating from 1879. Menu favorites include catfish with hushpuppies and fries, gourmet mac & cheese, barbecue pork and sourdough-crust pizzas. Or take the group to Alongi’s Italian Restaurant, a local favorite since 1933. Then it’s on to the region’s most prominent natural playground—Shawnee National Forest. Consisting of federally managed lands covering eight counties in the Shawnee Hills, the forest abounds with wilderness recreation areas across the breadth of the state’s southern tip. A group visit to Giant City State Park, nestled within Shawnee National Forest near the town of Makanda, may include a hike on the one-mile Giant City Nature Trail, known for the narrow passageways (or “streets”) threading through massive sandstone walls. The picturesque bluffs, ridges and canyons can be viewed from the water tower observation deck near the park’s historic lodge.
Tonight your group feasts on a fried chicken dinner, served family-style, in the Bald Knob Dining Room at rustic Giant City Lodge, an impressive structure of white-oak timbers and sandstone blocks built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The 34 nearby cabins provide cozy overnight accommodations with all the amenities, including a full bathroom, television and heating/air-conditioning units.
Your group can fly high above the trees on the Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour, which consists of eight zip lines that zig-zag across the national forest’s bluffs and valleys in the Makanda area. The tour also includes three aerial suspension bridges and two short ground hikes. In town, there’s time to shop for art and gifts at stores like Makanda Trading Company.
After a sandwich lunch at Makanda Country Store, enjoy a scenic drive to the eastern side of Shawnee National Forest, where more adventures await at the Garden of the Gods, the region’s most popular recreation site. Observation Trail, a quarter-mile stone path with interpretive panels describing the area’s geology, weaves through massive boulders affording spectacular overlooks of the pristine woodlands. Trail highlights include rock formations like Camel Rock and Devil’s Smokestack. Next, head south to the Ohio River town of Metropolis.
Enjoy dinner at Bridges Dining Company inside the riverfront Harrahs Metropolis Casino. Menu choices cover the gamut, from steaks and seafood to burgers and pasta. Save room for the bread pudding with vanilla sauce or the decadent carrot cake. Before calling it a night, group members may want to try their luck at the casino’s table games, slot machines and new video poker room.
See why Metropolis is known as the “Home of Superman” with a visit to the Super Museum, which contains one of the world’s largest collection of memorabilia relating the TV, movie and comic book hero. Artifacts range from Hollywood costumes and props to lunch boxes, toys and food products bearing the Superman logo. Across the square, pose with the 15-foot-tall bronze Superman Statue by the Massac County Courthouse. At Fort Massac State Park, see a replica of a strategically situated frontier fort on the Ohio River and learn about its historical significance through a video and exhibits at the visitor center.