Stellar state parks with acres of gorgeous greenery, one-of-a-kind restaurants and some of the best antique shopping all await in Southern Illinois

Looking for some of the best hiking trails in Illinois? Does Superman memorabilia make your heart go pitter pat? Or perhaps homestyle cooking and award-winning barbecue is more your jam. Southern Illinois is more than happy to oblige.

4 Unique Experiences:

  • Shawnee National Forest
  • Garden of the Gods Recreation Area
  • Cache River State Natural Area
  • Makanda Trading Company

Duration: 3 Days
Available: Year-round
Ideal For: Adults over 21

Day 1: Carbondale restaurants, Illinois state parks and more things to do in Illinois


Garden of the gods

Garden of the Gods, located in Shawnee National Forest, features sandstone
rock formations that provide panoramic views of the surrounding area.

Begin your Southern Illinois excursion on a full stomach with a visit to Mary Lou’s Grill in Carbondale. Since 1962, Mary Lou’s has satisfied its patrons with classic diner fare for breakfast and lunch, with its signature dish being a heaping plate of biscuits and gravy.

Once your hunger is satiated, you can work off the calories at Shawnee National Forest. Shawnee is one of most diverse forests in the country and consists of approximately 280,000 acres of federally managed lands across the Ozark and Shawnee Hills. Groups can have fun high above the trees thanks to Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour, which consists of eight zip lines, the longest stretching more than 1,100 feet, that zig-zag across the forest’s bluffs and valleys. Shawnee is also home to geological wonders including Garden of the Gods Recreation Area, a 3,318-acre parcel of land that features dramatic rock formations perched above rolling hills that provide spectacular views.

For lunch, numerous establishments reside near Garden of the Gods, including Dream Baskets in Harrisburg, a 3,000-square-foot specialty store and café that sells an abundance of food and desserts. Next, travel to Vienna, where you will find one of the best antique stores in the state, Max Creek Antiques. This shop in Vienna’s historic square sells a slew of vintage items.

After regaining your appetite, pay a visit to 17th Street Barbecue in Murphysboro. Pitmaster Mike Mills has been branded “The Legend” on the barbecue circuit, thus it’s no surprise his establishment has also received numerous accolades from publications across the country for its baby back ribs, which have been dubbed “the filet mignon of barbecue.”

Day 2: Hearty breakfast plates, antique aplenty and charming small towns in Illinois

Start your day at The Vault Café in Marion, a historic former bank that is renowned for its breakfast plates and sandwiches. Just south of Marion sits the village of Goreville, where visitors will find the Wolf Creek Antiques/Craft Mall. This shop has a wide array of antiques and collectibles in a quaint small-town setting. From there, take a trip to the Cache River State Natural Area in Belknap, home to a wealth of natural features including massive cypress trees, many of which are more than 1,000 years old. The area offers a variety of recreational activities from hiking and biking to fishing and canoeing.

Superman fans can travel south to Metropolis, a town DC Comics crowned “The Hometown of Superman.” Before exploring, groups can head to Bridges Dining Company inside of Harrah’s hotel and casino, where they can pick from a variety of menu items like savory steaks and distinctive Southern dishes. In addition to displaying a 15-foot-tall, two-ton bronze statue of Superman, Metropolis is home to the Super Museum, which features more than 20,000 items, one of the greatest collections of Superman memorabilia in the world.

When you’ve had your fill of Earth’s strongest hero, head north and unwind at Scratch Brewing Company in Ava. Scratch, a farmhouse brewery located five miles from the Shawnee National Forest, has earned a reputation as one of the most idyllic locales to eat and drink in the country. Scratch focuses on farmhouse beers that are brewed with homegrown and locally farmed and foraged ingredients.

Day 3: Shopping in Makanda, Southern Illinois wine trail and classic Italian cuisine in Du Quoin

Harbaugh’s Café in Carbondale is a local landmark that serves hearty plates of classic breakfast and lunch fare, and does so amid an eclectic décor. After filling up, pay a visit to Makanda, a town that offers a wealth of quality shopping options on its historic boardwalk. Among the many shops you can peruse are the Makanda Country Store, featuring gourmet coffee, sandwiches and hand-dipped ice cream; the Rainmaker Studio, displaying impressive metal work from jewelry, sculptures and fountains; and the Makanda Trading Company, which sells a variety of art and gifts from around the world.

Southern Illinois is home to a host of wineries and vineyards, and the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail features 11 superb wineries groups can visit while enjoying the wonders of the Shawnee Hills. Among them are Von Jakob Winery & Brewery in Alto Pass, an alluring winery that features panoramic views of the Southern Illinois landscape and serves a variety of award-winning wines, craft beer and hard apple cider; Blue Sky Vineyard in Makanda, which offers award-winning wines and breathtaking views of the Shawnee National Forest; and Alto Vineyards in Alto Pass, a family-owned vineyard and winery that offers the best of Southern Illinois wine in a picturesque setting.

Those itching to get some shopping in can head north to Pinckneyville, home of the Pinckneyville Antique Mall.

For dinner, head to Du Quoin, where Alongi’s Italian Restaurant has been feeding hungry guests since 1933. Three generations have enjoyed Alongi’s full menu of pasta, pizza and salads tossed with Alongi’s famous Italian salad dressing.

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