3 Adventure Road Trips in Southern Illinois

Southern Illinois offers many possibilities for those who like to spend the day (or several days) driving at leisure. Scenic roads take you over rolling hills, along river routes, and through lovely natural areas. Along the way are frequent historical and cultural sites to visit. The two trips we are suggesting here include several significant sites in Southern Illinois history. Along the way, be sure to enjoy some good Southern Illinois cooking at our local restaurants.

ROAD TRIP #1: Lewis & Clark Trail

THE LEWIS AND CLARK TRAIL in Southern Illinois (Celebrating the national Lewis and Clark Bi-centennial)

The territory that is now known as Southern Illinois played a significant role in the Lewis and Clark expedition. Here they recruited members of the team, tested equipment, and planned for their journey.

Their journey in Illinois took them down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi River. Although Lewis and Clark traveled much of the time by boat, this driving tour presents an auto route for travelers of the twenty-first century to see the places that the explorers visited and to enjoy the scenic beauty of Southern Illinois.

Old Shawneetown

Our journey begins in Old Shawneetown located on Route 13 on the eastern side of the State of Illinois. It is here that Lewis and Clark made their first stop in Illinois. At the time of their visit, there were a few settlers in the area and the area was known for its salt. Today, you can explore the Marshall House and the Old State Bank that was built a short time after Lewis and Clark visited.

Cave In Rock

Cave in Rock was a landmark on the maps of the early 1800’s. Lewis and Clark knew of the Cave and its reputation for housing pirates and other rogues. Today, you can see the cave by taking a short walk from the ferry landing at Cave in Rock. If you want to see the area from the water as did Lewis and Clark, you can take a ride on the Shawnee Queen River Taxi
(618-285-3342 )


At the time of Lewis and Clark, visitors in this area would have heard about the Lusk Ferry that operated near here. Today you will find a thriving community that serves as a host for several large festivals and has a great marina.

Fort Massac

Lewis and Clark with their party arrived here on November 11, 1803 and stayed here 2 days. Here you will find a replica of the fort and an outstanding museum. While here, Lewis and Clark recruited several enlisted men and they also hired George Drouillard to act as an interpreter and hunter for the party. He was part native American and proved to be a great asset. Many
scholars regard Drouillard as the third most important member of the expedition behind Lewis and Clark.

Cairo-The Confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers

The six day stay of the Corps of Discovery was one of the longest stops made by the expedition other than the winter camps. Captain Lewis was teaching Clark how to use the navigation equipment of the expedition namely the compass, sextant, and Arnold’s chronometer. Some significant accomplishments in this area included:

  1. Made successful excursions into Spanish territory.
  2. Made their first attempt to trade with the Indians, namely the Delaware and Shawnee.
  3. Caught a 128 pound blue catfish in the Ohio River.
  4. Made a trip to Fort Jefferson, KY., a fort built by George Rogers Clark in 1789.

While in the Cairo area, be sure to visit the Cairo Custom House Museum which has a good display on Lewis and Clark. If you are a history buff, you will want to spend several hours in this museum and surrounding attractions.

Two Sisters Island

The Lewis and Clark party camped here on the night of November 20, 1803. This was their first day on the Mississippi River and they learned a very important lesson. They underestimated the strength of the current of the Mississippi and quickly learned that they would need more men to
accomplish their task.

Horseshoe Lake

The Lewis and Clark party camped here on the night of November 21, 1803 near what is known today as Burnam Island. While here, the party spent some of their time hunting. Captain Lewis mentions in his journal that he killed a “heath hen” or prairie chicken and made soup for Captain Clark who was not feeling well.


On the night of November 22nd, 1803, the expedition party camped on a flat shelf of rock on the Illinois shore about one mile from the mouth of Sexton Creek. They had successfully navigated “the Thebes Gap”, a stretch of the river that contained a chain of rocks that had previously damaged several steamboats. Captain Lewis’ journal describes the clay, the gravel on the hilltops, the sandstone, rushes, cane, white oak timber, and poplar timber that was so plentiful in this area.


The Lewis and Clark party visited four sites in what is known today as Randolph County. All are located just a short distance off Illinois Route 3 near Chester. These sites include: Pierre Menard Home, Fort Kaskaskia, and Fort De Chartres. All of these sites in Randolph County are open to visitors and have excellent displays. Visitors should plan to spend several hours in this area. Lewis and Clark’s boats landed in this area on November 28, 1803. During the next five days, the Captains recruited about twelve more men that would spend the winter at Camp Dubois to the north. Among them were two leaders: Sgt. John Ordway, who became third in rank, after Clark and Lewis, and Sgt. Patrick Gass, skilled carpenter. These two, plus four other Fort Kaskaskia enlistees became members of the permanent party.

Continuing on up Route 3, we come to Cahokia that has two sites connected to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Two buildings still stand today that were visited by Lewis and Clark. These include the Cahokia Court House and the Holy Church. When you visit these sites, you are certainly walking on grounds where Lewis and Clark stood two hundred years ago. The Cahokia Court House has a room devoted to the expedition and some outstanding interpreters that will make your visit memorable.

Leaving Cahokia, travel north on Route 3 to Hartford. Here you will find the new Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and a replica of Camp River Dubois. This state of the art interpretative center includes a 12 minute video presentation of the journey, a full size keel boat, and full size replica of their winter home of 1803-1804.


Lodging is available at the following places along the Lewis and Clark route: Shawneetown, Cave in Rock, Elizabethtown, Golconda, Metropolis, Cairo, and Chester.

ROAD TRIP #2 – Scenic Wonders in an area Where Illinois Began

This Adventure Trip highlights several areas where the first settlements were founded in the State of Illinois. We’ll see “the way life was” at a log cabin village, we’ll visit river towns that were created by early farmers/merchants coming over the Ohio River in the 1800’s; and we’ll tread on paths that Native American Indians traveled through the Shawnee forest.

Saline Creek Pioneer Village and Museum

After a good hearty breakfast at Marion, we drive east on Route 13 to Harrisburg, home to the Saline Creek Pioneer Village and Museum, located at 1600 Feazel Street in the southwest portion of the city. Here you’ll go back in time when you walk through this log cabin village with its school, old Moravian church, general store and post office. Venture through the 1877 Victorian era museum which once served as the county poor farm. Today each room is filled with unique collections. Also, on the 3 acre complex are several log family cabins and a threshing barn filled with tools and other antique items.

Garden of the Gods

Take route 34 south out of Harrisburg to begin your scenic adventure. At Herod, on Hwy 34, we see the sign for Garden of the Gods. We are now in the surrounding 3,300 acre wilderness of the Shawnee National Forest. Taking one of the many marked paved trails, you’ll find yourself standing on sandstone bluffs that are over 400 feet above the forest floor. Rock formations have been given names such as Camel Rock, Devil’s Smokestack and Noah’s Ark because of their unique shape and size. Bring your camera to capture the views of the plant and wildlife in this majestic setting.

Pounds Hollow/Rim Rock Recreational Area

After visiting the Garden of the Gods, continue east on Karber’s Ridge Road to route 1.  At Pounds Hollow/Rim Rock Recreational Area you will view walls almost a 1/4 mile long and originally 8 to 10 feet high, believed to have been Indian forts. Several enclosures were thought to have been used to entrap animals and thus the name Pounds. Even after the Indians, the early logger pioneers kept their oxen and horses within the fenced in walls. Take the .8 mile long Rim Rock trail to see this old Indian wall plus other interesting geological formations.

Cave In Rock

Back to Hwy 1 and south twelve miles the road ends at the town of Cave In Rock, though there is a free ferry if you want to ride over the Ohio River to Kentucky. Take a turn to the left, up the hill and you are in Cave In Rock State Park. A lodge, restaurant and cabins overlook the river, plus picnic and camping sites. The 55-foot wide cave is a must see. A landmark of this quaint river town for almost 300 years, it has provided lodging for Native Indians, runaway slaves, Civil War soldiers, as well as pirates, outlaws and counterfeiters. Enjoy the walk down Pirates Bluff into the cave and take in the outstanding view of the river. The main street of this river town offers antiques, souvenirs, shops and an ice cream stand right on the river banks.


Continue west on Hwy 146 to the river town of  Elizabethtown, another place to get a great meal.  E-Town (local talk for Elizabethtown) was named for the wife of James McFarland, who ran a ferry business in early years. He also built a beautiful home and lodge for river travelers, and it stands today remodeled, restored and open again for travelers. The historic Rose Hotel dates back to 1812, the oldest lodging still in existence in Illinois. Today you can enjoy the view from the veranda, rest a spell in the old gazebo which sits right on a rocky perch near the river bank, take a tour inside or reserve a nights lodging (call ahead 618-287-2872).

Illinois Iron Furnace

You might sojourn north of E-Town and visit the site of Illinois Iron Furnace. Now on the National Register of Historical Places, you can see the remains of huge 1837 stone furnaces. During the Civil War pig iron was smelted here, then shipped down the river to make the Union iron clad boats. Explore some of the easy hiking trails and you may see coyotes, gray and fox squirrels, little brown and red bats, and many songbirds and woodland flowers in a forest of towering beech and maple trees.

Rosiclare American Fluorite Museum

The mining of fluorspar has been an important industry for this area. Continuing west on highway 146 to Rosiclare , be sure to visit the Rosiclare American Fluorite Museum ( 618-285-3513) located in downtown Rosiclare. .This was the only active mine in the United States at one time. The state mineral of Illinois, fluorspar is important to the aluminum, steel and chemical industries. Rosiclare is also home to the new Shawnee Queen, a river taxi that gives scenic rides up the Ohio River. Call ahead at 618-285-3342 for a schedule.


In about 10 minutes Rte. 146 leads us into the pretty town of Golconda. A good place to stretch your legs, and walk around the marina and the main street shops. Starting in 1798 there was quite a busy ferry business here. The Cherokee tribe that followed the Trail of Tears across Illinois, crossed the Ohio on this ferry. Remains of that history can be seen at the Buel House and the Davidson Cabin on Columbus Ave. Today tourists seek Golconda for fishing, and hunting. Several festivals include the spring River to River Relay Run, and in the fall the Shrimp Festival and Deer Festival.

Dixon Springs State Park

Follow your sweet tooth west on Hwy 146 to the Chocolate Factory which is right across the highway from Dixon Springs State Park. There’s over 50 kinds of chocolates, in a wide variety of shapes, hand painted novelties, plus ice cream and the best chocolate turtles! (open 7 days a week, 9 to 5, Sun. 1:30-5) You might find some real turtles, not chocolate, at Dixon Springs, plus 78 acres of unique rock formations, cliffs and waterfalls. At one time a great hotel and spa was here with promises that the mineral water could cure anything from alcoholism to rheumatism.

Powell House Museum

This day trip ends in Johnson County in Vienna. Just recently opened the Powell House Museum at 404 West Vine Street is open Wed- Fri & Sat 1 to 4. The former Sec. of State, Paul Powell lived in this home and willed that it become a museum for the county and his political mementos. If you want a good home cooked meal, Dolly’s Restaurant can fill the bill.

From Vienna, you can take highway 37 north or Interstate 24 west to Interstate 57 north to Marion.


from Mt. Vernon…

This is a county where villages like Beehive, Horse Prairie, Divide and Fair Play sprouted stores, churches, schools, blacksmiths and mills. History and scenery combine to make this tour memorable! In just one day and all within 10 to 20 miles, you can discover Rend Lake, museums,  a wine trail, shopping, antiques,  fine art and crafts, and fun dining places.”


The Mt. Vernon area offers the traveler several excellent lodging and dining choices. Start the morning with a grand breakfast. While in Mt. Vernon, travel east on Hwy 15 or Broadway to 27th Street. Turn left or north and precede to Richview Road to visit beautiful Cedarhurst, an 85 acre estate featuring Mitchell Art Museum, nature walk & bird sanctuary, outdoor sculpture park and art center (618-242-1236-open 10-5 Tues-Sat.; Sun 1 to 5)

Historical Village

One block northwest of Cedarhurst on 27th Street,  is the Historical Village. Walk through this collection of log cabins, printing shop, blacksmith shop, an 1820 calaboose, and more (open Sat.10 to 4; Sun 1 to 4 -618-246-0033)

Illinois Wineries

For a taste of Southern Illinois start the wine trail at the Genkota Winery. Travel  back to Broadway, go west to North 44th Street (618-246-9463). This winery also creates made to order gift baskets. Continue your wine trail by traveling 15 miles south on I-57, to Exit 77. Turn east or left to Hwy 37 Turn left at stop sign and you’ll see the sign for Pheasant Hollow Winery. Offering gifts, tours and wine tastings, you can also enjoy Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre on weekends with rsvp (618-629-2302)

Southern Illinois Artisans Shop

Going back west, cross over I-57 at Exit 77 and you are in Rend Lake Land!  home to Southern Illinois Artisans Shop & Visitors Center (located ½ mile west from Exit 77).This is a distinctive shopping experience, featuring the work of juried Illinois artisans and craftsman. Also, at the shop is the  So. Illinois Art Gallery presenting a changing exhibit of treasures from the Illinois State Museum collections. (618 629-2220 -open 9 to 5 every day)


Several options for lunch include Burton’s Café (just 2 miles north of the Pheasant Hollow Winery on Hwy 37 ( 618-629-2515) famous for “White Pie” as well as other homemade pies, catfish fillets & daily lunch specials; Seasons Restaurant at Rend Lake Golf Course, dining on the lake at Windows Restaurant (618629-2567) or several nice cafes can be found on the square at Benton .

Benton, IL

Benton is just 6 miles south (Exit 71 off I-57), the county seat of Franklin County and home to the Historic Jail Museum. Travel east to 209 West Main.  This turn of the century structure serves as a display of the gang era which existed during the days of prohibition. You may have a chance meeting with the ghost of Charlie Birger when viewing the old jail or the gallows. The museum also features the life and history of Civil War Gen. John A. Logan and other famous Benton citizens.( 800-661-9998 open 9 to 4, closed Sun-Mon)

1910 Franklin Co. Garage

A must see for those who like vintage cars and belt driven machinery is the 1910 Franklin Co. Garage, 2 blocks from the jail on Hwy 37 north of the Benton Square (618-438-2121 -open Mon-Sat 11-4 ) Before leaving Benton check out the stores on the beautiful Benton Square.

Frankfort Area Historical Museum

For more museum browsing travel five minutes south on Hwy 37 to West Frankfort’s (originally Franks’s Fort!) Frankfort Area Historical Museum (618-932-6159) Follow Main Street east to 2000 E. St. Louis Street. Located in the Old Logan School, you’ll find display rooms of memorabilia from 1802 to present, mining history, & an extensive genealogy library of the area.

Antique Shopping

If you’re wanting an antique adventure this county is full of excitement!

  • At Christopher, 7 miles west of Benton on Hwy 14) you’ll find Phyl’s 3 buildings on the main street, and Aunt Janes’s Treasures at 905 N. Victor.
  • Just north 5 miles on Hwy 148 is Sesser, with Rend Lake Antiques & the old Sesser Opera House on the Main Street.
  • Other antique finds are Arnett’s Country Store, West Frankfort,  618-932-6633 & Antique Treasures Collectables, Whittington 618-629-2945.

Rend Lake

From Sesser, take  Hwy. 154 east across  beautiful Rend Lake where the outdoor adventure never ends. Spend your afternoon on a pontoon boat. Go horseback riding at Ranchero Bandero Stables 618-629-2260. (Cowboy World is another riding adventure at West Frankfort, 618-932-8801) Take in an hour of golf at Rend Lake Golf Course (618-629-2353). Do some sport shooting at the Rend Lake Shooting Complex (618-629-2368) or cool off with a dip in Rend Lake water at South Sandusky Beach or inside at Rend Lake College Aquatics Center.  For more information on Rend Lake call Visitor Center 618-439-7430


For a relaxing evening, choices might include…homemade root beer & barbeque at Mike’s Drive-In, a drive-in restaurant popular since 1953 located on the Main Street of West Frankfort and shopping at the VF factory Outlet Mall also on the Main Street. Or a buffet dinner at Seasons Restaurant at Rend Lake Golf Course. Or Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre at Pheasant Hollow Winery.

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