Bell Smith Springs


Hiking with Shawn

Trail Journal

Bell Smith Springs Illinois is one of the most unique places you’ll ever visit in the Shawnee National Forest!

Welcome to another one of my Hiking with Shawn Trail Journal articles, where I feature trail stories, history, legends, and lore of some of the most incredible spots you can recreate at. If you enjoy this article, check back every Tuesday for more like it.

Bell Smith Springs Illinois is a famous National Recreation Area within the Shawnee National Forest. It features hiking, camping, waterfalls, jumping springs, and fantastic rock formations, including one of the most prominent natural arches in the region. Locals and visitors alike are excited about visiting Bell Smith Springs every year.

So, let’s jump right into it and let me share more information about Bell Smith Springs Illinois!


Please Care for Bell Smith Springs Illinois

Bell Smith Springs is such a unique place. It has many natural features that other parts of the Shawnee do not.

Over time, many of the exciting features left behind by early settlers and even some natural features have since vanished. A lot of that was due to irresponsible behaviors of visitors.

Multiple volunteer organizations have group cleanups at Bell Smith Springs each year to remove litter. Michelle and I go every Christmas Eve to clean it up. Last time, I was cut by broken glass and should have gotten stitches. Could you imagine being injured by someone else’s litter while cleaning it up? It should have never happened in the first place.

Bell Smith Springs has a litter problem! It isn’t nature lovers doing it. It isn’t hikers. People go there to party, drink alcohol, and not give a hoot about preserving the area for generations to come. People who litter are selfish and some of the worst kinds of people on earth.

I know that people who read my articles are not litterbugs. But you might witness it. And I plead with you, if you can safely do so, take a picture of the criminal acts and report it to the US Forest Service Law Enforcement tip line. But only if it is safe for you to do so!

Glass containers are prohibited by law from going into Bell Smith Springs Illinois. Feel free to report violations if you see them. The sooner we can get those types of people out, the better. I think law enforcement could make money on DUI arrests if they randomly set up DUI checkpoints on Ozark and Bell Smith road intersections during the summer months. They could also give plenty of underage drinking citations as well. Make some money for your department!

Okay, rant over; let’s get back to some good Bell Smith talk!


Why You Should Visit Bell Smith Springs Illinois

Bell Smith Springs Illinois is truly a magical place.

There are several hiking-only trails that all lead to exciting things to see.

The white trail goes to a jumping spring where people swim all summer. The yellow trail goes to the most significant natural bridge in Illinois. A ladder is built into the bluff to get on top, or you can take a safer trail. The blue trail takes you along Bay Creek, a Wild and Scenic River candidate. I like to call the blue trail the scenic wilderness-like trail of the area. The red trail (Hunting Branch Trailhead) takes you through Mill Branch, and you’ll see a cascade shaved through the top of a barren bluff, one of the forest’s most unique sights.

There are tons of rock formations like Devil’s Backbone.

There is a campground. There are picnic areas. There are signs from the past.

Bell Smith Springs was one of the first National Forest-specific trails that I hiked. It helped get me started with Hiking with Shawn. I love it there. I wish people would treat it better.


The History of the Bell Smith Springs Illinois Area

Bell Smith Springs Illinois is located in a rural part of Pope County. Looking around the area might make one think there haven’t been a lot of historical events that occurred over time. That is so wrong! Pope County has much history, and I want to share some of it in this article today!

Pope County was organized in the very early 1800s. Golconda, the county seat, is one of the oldest towns in the entire state of Illinois. The youngest town in Pope County is Eddyville which happens to be the town closer to Bell Smith Springs.

During the Underground Railroad era, nearby areas of Bell Smith Springs were used to signal and assist runaway slaves in traveling further up north to freedom. Many places in southern Illinois enslaved people, as most of the region was founded by southerners who believed in that doctrine. The nearby town of Miller Grove was known to be a primarily black town made up of free African Americans and ex-slaves. Crow Knob and Sand Cave were also used to help runaway slaves travel to freedom.

Native Americans once inhabited the area of Bell Smith Springs Illinois. Private landowners nearby still hold evidence of Native Americans from rock art. You can even see some of the rock art nearby Millstone Bluff.

Eventually, early pioneer settlers migrated into the area and built a gristmill. The gristmill was located where the red trail is now (Mill Branch), but nothing is left behind that shows much of it at all. The settlers eventually felled all of the large virgin trees that once littered the area. This drove our cougars, bears, wolves, and bison that the area once was home to.

The gristmill was eventually abandoned. The farms in the area were poor due to massive erosion from mass tree harvest. During the Great Depression, President FDR created the New Deal, which bought much of the land to help establish a National Forest system. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) made many landmarks still seen at Bell Smith Springs, including the stairway down to the main canyon. Bell Smith Springs Illinois is one of the more refined works of the CCC that can still be seen today.

Bell Smith Springs was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1980.

According to a historical document, it is said that “Bell Smith’s Spring reportedly was named for Bell Smith, who lived nearby and who at one time owned the land on which the spring is located. However, one of the three original purchasers of the tract containing the spring was named D. Beal and the hollow that opens into where Bell Smith’s Spring is found, is known as Beal’s Hollow. This site does not appear on the map as it lies outside the Trail of Tears 10 mile corridor.” Bell Smith Springs has reportedly one of ten springs in Pope County. Many Native Americans and early settlers typically inhabited near these natural springs.


Thanks for reading another one of my Trail Journal articles. Check out my free ultimate guide to enjoying Bell Smith Springs Illinois. If you haven’t already, subscribe to my free newsletter to get more articles and content, you won’t find anywhere else. Unsubscribing is really simple if you don’t enjoy the newsletter.

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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