Scenic hikes? Check. Boating? Check. Zipping through tree tops? Check check. With these activities and more, there are endless ways to embrace outdoor adventure in southwest Illinois when the weather is just right.
The Great Rivers & Routes region is packed with gorgeous nature to explore — and if your preferred mode of fun comes with a little bit of adrenaline shot into it, we've got that too. Whether you want to bike, hike or boat, southwest Illinois has all the exciting outdoor activities you could want on a vacation.
A Day in the Park
(Pere Marquette State Park. Photo by @arielletewell)
Pere Marquette State Park is a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts, with options for biking, boating, hiking (over 12 miles of marked trails!) and even rock climbing! Try your hand at horseback riding inside the park with 20 miles of equestrian trails by starting with a reservation at the Pere Marquette Riding Stables. If you'd rather go for a hike, choose from an easy .5-mile hike like the Ravine Trail or spend some time on a moderate trail like Fern Hollow that will take you 2.5 miles.
(Beaver Dam State Park. Photo by @KaitlinNicole74)
Over near Carlinville, Beaver Dam State Park spans 750 acres, and offers a variety of recreational and fun activities. Though known for fishing, the Illinois state park also features hiking, hunting, winter activities and tent and trailer camping.
Southwest Illinois Walkabout
(Watershed Nature Center. Photo by Eric O'Donnell)
Set in Edwardsville, the Watershed Nature Center features over 40 acres of prairie, forest and wetland habitats fit for exploring. Head down one of the many walking trails (open 365 days a year) and the raised marsh walk and enjoy the abundance of nature and wildlife viewings.
(Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Photo by @Model.N.Q.Kunoichi)
Further south in Collinsville, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site — a UNESCO World Heritage Centre — offers walking trails across its 2,200 acres enclosing the remains of a prehistoric native civilization. Try the 6.2-mile Nature & Culture Trail, or the aptly named 10 Mile Trail.
Ultimate Road Tripper
Sometimes the ultimate journey starts with the open road. Good thing southwest Illinois is home to a fun stretch of Historic Route 66 — arguable the most adventurous road in the country. When traveling through the area, be sure to stop for the restored Soulsby Service Station in Mt. Olive for a look at a 1926-bult gas station — complete with a classic, photo-ready Shell Oil sign. Further along in Collinsville, it’d be hard to miss the 170-foot Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower — built in 1949 and one of the icons of the Great Rivers & Routes region.
(Soulsby Service Station. Photo by Kerilyn LaFournaise)
Fishing is a popular activity in the rivers around Alton and Grafton, especially in the milder weather of fall and spring. The Mississippi River joins the Illinois River just north of Alton and is broken into "pools" by a series of locks and dams which makes for safer fishing. You'll find fish like the largemouth bass, crappie and channel cats.
(Mississippi River fishing.)
Biking is Abundant
For cyclists who are as interested in the view as the workout, the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail is an ideal ride. The 20-mile paved trail goes from Alton to Pere Marquette State Park and runs parallel to the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway. Thanks to the completely paved trail, this is an idea outing for families of all ages. You'll bike through historic Elsah and Grafton if you want to take a break for a stroll and a snack.
Or check out the more than 130 miles of trails in Madison County. Looped and stand alone trails are the hallmark of Madison County Transits trail system. Nine different trails take adventurers throughout the county highlighting prairie, woodlands and dramatic views!
Just One Zip
If you seek true adventure and thrills, head for the Grafton Zipline Adventures, which originates in downtown Grafton across from Grove Memorial Park. Zip through the tree tops for a total of almost two miles of zip line options — from the shortest Baby Bear clocking in at 300 feet to the longest Deer Hollow and Barn Burner zips, which are 1,500 feet each. Plan to spend about two hours if you want to complete all nine zip line options.
(Grafton Zipline Adventures)
Pick Your Vessel
Boating more your speed? Rent a kayak or a canoe for a day of floating your way through the scenery. Whether you want to launch out of a state park or one of the major towns, there are plenty of options from which to choose. Try Big Muddy Adventures for a guided canoe trip if you aren't ready to be in charge of your own oars. You can even head out in their flagship vessel, a 30-foot wooden voyageur canoe meant to feel like the ones used in the fur trading era.
(Canoeing on the rivers)
Find the day of adventure that suits you best in the Great Rivers & Routes region!