Some of the best things to do in Southeast Illinois are largely overlooked by tourists. Most of those heading to the state limit their time here to the Northern areas of Illinois. But there are plenty of attractions and things to do to keep yourself occupied even when venturing into the South.
Table of Contents
- 15. Enjoy a few sweets at the Dixon Springs Chocolate Factory
- 14. Relax over ice cream at the Golconda Marina
- 13. Book a small airplane flight at Mt. Vernon Outland Airport
- 12. Go night fishing at Lake of Egypt
- 11. Walk into a cave at Cave In Rock State Park
- 10. Go shopping at Walmart in a quiet town (Fairfield)
- 9. Consider visiting the Lincoln Douglas Debate Museum
- 8. Play Golf at the Champaign Country Club
- 7. Take your children to the Champaign Orpheum Children’s Science Museum
- 6. Photograph a 198-foot cross in Effingham
- 5. Camp at the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park
- 4. Swim at the Shawnee National Forest
- 3. Visit the historic Marion Town Square
- 2. Go horse riding at Bay Creek Ranch
- 1. Visit the Garden of Gods
15. Enjoy a few sweets at the Dixon Springs Chocolate Factory
Did you know you can taste delicious local chocolate straight out of a factory in Southeast Illinois? If you’re driving through Dixon Springs, it might be a good idea to stop by the local chocolate factory if you have a sweet tooth.
Locate just across the road from the Dixon Springs State Park, this chocolate factory makes all types of sweets such as chocolate treats, fudge, and even sugar-free chocolate. Even tourists on a diet can stop by this factory to taste the sweets. If you like the chocolate you sample here you can also order it only through the factory’s webshop.
14. Relax over ice cream at the Golconda Marina
Deep in Southern Illinois, you can find the Golconda Marina. This is the ideal place to visit with your family and kids due to its scenic boat rides. You can hire a boat here but you will be sailing it around multiple other boats locals use as this is quite a busy area.
Alternatively, you can simply walk around the marina with your kids if they’re too scared of getting into their first boat ride. Largely unknown to tourists from outside of the state, it might also be one of the recommended areas to mingle with the locals instead of other tourists.
13. Book a small airplane flight at Mt. Vernon Outland Airport
This small airport can be a good alternative if you’d like to see Illinois from above instead of seeing it from a boat. This airport might be small and located in a remote area, but it even offers flight training classes. The LSA Flight Training program at the airport is ideal if you want to learn how to fly a small airplane yourself.
Traditional flight training is difficult to find in the Southern part of Illinois. This is why the Mt. Vernon Outland Airport is one of the prime locations for all of those seeking to make their way through the clouds without travel far towards Chicago.
12. Go night fishing at Lake of Egypt
Lake of Egypt is one of the main natural attractions of the area. It’s largely unknown to international tourists, except fishermen. This is why this lake can be the perfect ground to set up camp for a few days when going out fishing.
All types of fishing are fun here. But locals are particularly fond of night fishing on the Lake of Egypt. This lake is rather quiet and its remoteness recommends it for all types of fishing during the night. Even using simple flashlights to attract fish might be enough for an interesting catch here.
11. Walk into a cave at Cave In Rock State Park
There are many natural attractions in this part of Illinois but none of them have such a large cave as the one at Cave in Rock State Park. This is a perfect 1-day visit location as the hike to the cave is short and the cave itself is walkable. You can photograph it from different angles in a few hours.
There’s accommodation to look for here as well. The place has a rich history and you can learn more about it by discussing it with staff members at local restaurants. Further out from the main cave, there’s even a ferry ride you can hop on.
10. Go shopping at Walmart in a quiet town (Fairfield)
Walmart is one of the largest companies in the US and the world. Its large stores attract all types of shoppers. Good deals aren’t hard to find at Walmart. But the stores can be a bit difficult to navigate in busy areas.
This is why going for a remote Walmart in Sothern Illinois should offer you all the time you need to check out all products and all of the latest offers.
According to reviews, the Walmart Superstore in Fairfield is cleaner than most other similar supermarkets. You can find great toys here alongside plenty of useful small kitchen appliances. If you’re on a road trip, it can also be a great spot to stop and get some food.
9. Consider visiting the Lincoln Douglas Debate Museum
Found at 126 E St, Charleston, this museum is an interesting addition to the touristic attractions of the state. It offers a new idea of a museum even if debates aren’t new.
The Lincoln Douglas Debate Museum is small and you won’t be here more than a few hours. However, the museum is self-guided which means you have all of the time in the world to learn about debates at your pace.
8. Play Golf at the Champaign Country Club
Golf is very popular in Southeast Illinois. This might just be one of the most interesting sports to get into even if you’re not an expert player. Even those who aren’t in the best physical shape can try golf as it’s fun and it can be ideal for couples or families.
The Champaign Country Club is one of the most interesting additions to the Illinois golf scene. This place has better rates than most other golf clubs next to large municipalities in the state. You might even find yourself booking local accommodation just to stay and play golf for a few more days here.
7. Take your children to the Champaign Orpheum Children’s Science Museum
There are plenty of things to do in Southeast Illinois even when the weather isn’t perfect. The Champaign Orpheum Children’s Science Museum should be a priority on rainy days or during the winter. This museum is ideal for kids but parents can join the science experiments as well.
All rooms of this small museum offer multiple small science projects for kids to enjoy. It can take up to an hour to finish each of these projects which means you can enjoy a full day here with your family.
6. Photograph a 198-foot cross in Effingham
Most people are amazed such a large monument is found while arriving in Effingham. Situated next to a busy highway, the 198-foot cross is truly remarkable. Its size is impressive as it can be a few times higher than a truck.
This large cross is well-preserved and most of those driving here for leisure also stop at the nearby church. This small church next to the large cross is also known for having distinct nativity scene sculptures. Both attractions are worth visiting when in Effingham.
5. Camp at the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park
All of those camping or traveling through Southeast Illinois with an RV can easily turn towards the Fitzgerrell State Park as a place to camp. It offers all of the amenities you need for your RV, including a battery charging station.
Roads are paved inside the campsite and there are even usable showers for your family to clean up on the premises.
This camp is ideal for all of those mainly traveling to see the state park. If you love the outdoors you don’t need to spend thousands on expensive accommodation. You can use the campsite at the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park as a base.
From here, you can head out to explore the park. With small lakes and a few good cycling paths, this state park is ideal for at least a few days of relaxation out in nature.
4. Swim at the Shawnee National Forest
The Shawnee National Forest can look unreal even to those living in Illinois. It features tall rock formations and unique pathways taking you through a tunnel-like hiking experience. Parts of this park are made with wide boardwalks but others require good hiking boots.
A few areas of the park feature deep-enough rivers for a swim as well. Pets are allowed in these areas and you could go for a refreshing summertime splash experience with your dog here as well. The park is most crowded in areas with tall rock formations and most rivers rarely see any visitors which makes them ideal for quick swimming sessions.
3. Visit the historic Marion Town Square
The city of Marion might be small, but it is nicknamed ‘The Hub of the Universe’. This small town is distinct as it features a square-style downtown area surrounded by shops, restaurants, and cafes. It’s also an ideal place for those who love to take photos.
A tall obelisk dominates the old town square. If you’re not in a rush, you can also take part in various events and clubs around the city. The Marion Seniors Center is a top spot for those who’d like to meet other seniors or for those who’d simply love to learn more about the history of the place.
2. Go horse riding at Bay Creek Ranch
Horse riding is one of the quintessential American experiences. Horses helped shaped the country and the state of Illinois. Today, many horses are simply used for leisure. Various horse riding activities are available through the Southern part of the state.
Bay Creek Ranch offers some of the most immersive horse riding experiences. They take tourists out in nature. One of the distinct aspects of these rides is that it includes small river crossings. This makes horse riding even more spectacular.
Tent camping is also allowed in designated areas of the camp. Those who want to experience a full camping trip can certainly find a good place to start here at the farm. Access to trails is easy at the farm and there might not be too many reasons not to visit the area at least for a couple of days.
1. Visit the Garden of Gods
One of the most appreciated natural wonder destinations in Southeast Illinois is The Garden of Gods. This place looks spectacular through the combination of natural landscape variety. Both arid and green areas are seen in the natural habitat. But the main appeal of this place is its tall rock formations.
Multiple hiking trails are available around these rocks. On a lucky day, you might even spot deer making their way around the park.
Easy access makes the Garden of Gods a recommended visit for people of all ages. Paved trails allow even seniors to make their way to the high rock formations. It represents one of the best places in Illinois when it comes to trail markings as well.
One of the downsides of this place’s popularity is the large crowds. If you’re not the type of person who loves crowds, you are better off choosing one of the less popular trails around the rocks.
The sandstone formations are just part of the appeal of this nature center. You can also book Jeep tours around the park to admire the large sandstones from a different perspective.
Cycling is another fun activity around the Garden of Gods. You’d have to bring your mountain bike here if you’d like to cycle its trails, however.
On the other hand, there are Segway services you can count on right next to the natural reserve. This is where most people can hire a Segway to go on guided tours that are less impactful on the legs.
Those who love adventure can also find Garden of Gods the place to be in Southern Illinois. Rock climbing spots are very popular here. Those new to rock climbing can even join dedicated classes where the climbing safety equipment is provided by staff members.
The Garden of Gods is also a preferred running spot for the locals. You can join an ongoing running event here every Thursday. This is the time where 5K running marathons are organized around the sandstone formations. It can be a fun experience allowing you to enjoy nature from a different perspective and stay fit at the same time.