Southern Illinois is one of those places you could miss just driving through. If you stay on the main roads they are flat and straight. The communities seem small and spaced out amongst vast cornfields and waves of grain. It’s honestly quite serene if you enjoy driving through one farm after another, which I do. But what is there to do when one cornfield starts to look like…well, just another cornfield?
A Hidden Landscape
Fortunately for the seekers and wanderers there is a shift in the midst of our three most common rotational crops. The very tip of Illinois is absolutely swarming with diverse landscapes and wildlife. Actually, it’s surprising there isn’t more of an interest in the southernly portion of the midwestern state.
We spend a fair number of weekends, especially when the weather is good, exploring. Discovering new places and experiences has become very important to our family. Travel, in my opinion, is one of the most humbling and exhilarating ways to learn!
Southern Illinois is chock full of massive rock formations, waterfalls, expansive forests, hundreds of hiking trails, waterways, lakes, swampland, hills, valleys and even history. Exploring the Shawnee National Forest is one of our favorites. There is also plenty of opportunity for camping, kayaking, ziplining, wine tasting or spending the day at a family run orchard, like our favorite, Rendleman’s!
This past weekend, we took the kids down to Cave-In-Rock, a small town set on the banks of the Ohio River. Cave-In-Rock has a long and juicy history of river pirates, counterfeiters, thieves and even murder! But don’t worry, that’s all in the past for the quaint little town.
Nowadays, the town’s allure and attraction is, a cave….in a rock! Ha! No really, Cave-In-Rock was most obviously named for its 55-foot wide, riverside cave that was carved out of the limestone cliff by erosion. It’s accessible by descending beautiful stone steps and a flat, easy-to-walk concrete path. You can then walk all the way to the back of the cave through a narrow path created by the Ohio’s receding flood waters. However, reaching the entrance to the cave is only possible when the river is low unless you take a boat or kayak, that is.
Legend has it that the cave sheltered multiple outlaws and gang members, including Frank and Jesse James, and played a part in murderous acts as well. Walt Disney also used the site in his film Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. With all of Cave-In-Rock’s pirate history, I would say it was the perfect place to film!
The Park is Beautiful Too….
After you’re done daydreaming about pirates, don’t forget to admire the river and the oddly beautiful cliff faces. The park has a lot to offer as well. They have a nice, big lodge, amenities and large picnic pavillions overlooking the river.
The kids loved the cave! They were especially interested in the flow of the river. We talked a little about the difference between lakes and rivers, too, something I don’t guess they had ever thought about.
One More Surprise…
Once we were done exploring the cave, Garrett had one more little surprise up his sleeve. The kids thought we were long done and going home, but we had plans to leave Southern Illinois and venture into Kentucky. When they realized we had parked in the road facing the river they were confused as to what on earth we were doing. It only took one of them to notice that cars had just driven onto the boat in the river before excitement and anticipation broke loose. They had never seen a ferry move an entire group of cars across a river!
The ferry in Cave-In-Rock is completely free and works nonstop delivering people, and cars, to and from Kentucky. We were all excited when we realized that once our car was safely tucked onto the ferry that we could get out and stand by the rails. The kids were enthralled by the movements of the boat, the man working with the cables, the noise and all of it! Sometimes thrills really are cheap!
A Weekend Well Spent!
Overall, that was one of the best weekends we have had in a while! If you are ever close, I encourage you to stop through Cave-In-Rock. I don’t think you will regret it.
P.S. Stay tuned for more big family adventures! We will be opening up our travel diary soon!