Hiking with Shawn’s
Trail Guide Series:
Bell Smith Springs
Bell Smith Springs is truly a magical place of the Shawnee National Forest. It is home to a popular diving and swimming hole, the largest arch in southern Illinois, iconic rock formations that are even featured in black and white photos of the past and numerous trails to meet the needs of all different types of hikers.
As a word of warning, in the summer months, Bell Smith Springs attracts the partying-type of people. There are no stated regulations against alcohol consumption in this area thus it is often occupied by those drinking alcohol. Some people leave their trash behind. You’re encouraged to report suspicious behavior if you see it. Please pack out what you pack in and help us keep our National Forest clean and safe for everyone who visits.
Directions and Stuff!
From Harrisburg, Illinois: Take Highway 45 north 12 miles to Ozark Road. Turn east (right). Go 10 miles to Bell Smith Springs Rd. Turn southwest (right) and proceed 2 miles to Bell Smith Springs.
Drive to the end of the road to reach the main parking lot. There are about 8-10 spaces in the front near the trash can (please use the trash can) and about 6-8 parking spaces at the end of the road where it loops around. Do not park on the side of the road – doing so will risk you getting towed at your own expense. There is a vault toilet on site.
The gravel road before the campground will take you to Hunting Branch, a former picnic site. This is a great area to explore with plenty of parking.
The campground, Red Bud Campground is a non-electrical fee-based ($10.00 a night) open from 3/15 to 12/15. First come, first serve – no reservations. There is no camping in the main recreation area and it is for day-use only.
What You’ll See!
There are many things to see at Bell Smith Springs. There are many trails to take to see a variety of different sights. Take the white trail to walk along wild and scenic Bay Creek, checking out all the bluffage and spring-like puddles. See the iconic Devil’s Backbone rock formation that I have seen featured in black and white photos from the past. Enjoy the CCC staircase at the beginning but it is a gut buster on the way back up – you’ve been warned.
The white trail will also lead you to the spring where you might want to cool off in the water hole and even take a jump in from the jumping rocks aside.
The Yellow trail will eventually lead you to the Nature Bridge/Arch. This arch is the largest arch in the Shawnee National Forest and southern Illinois. There is even a ladder up the trail with the stairs behind a big bluff that you can climb to get to the top of the arch or you can take the longer way for more beautiful sights.
Take the Blue Trail for a longer and more rugged hiking experience seeing more scenic portions of the creek, awesome overlooks, major natural shelters and all sorts of pretty scenes.
The Red Trail can be found at Hunting Branch. This is probably the best looking area of the entire recreation area. Enjoy the waterfall cascade cut right through the barrens area and a beautiful walk through the forest.
There are also all sorts of extra gems at Bell Smith Springs if you’re willing to look for them but always make sure you put safety first. People have died as a result of their injuries at this recreation area – don’t be one of those statistics!
Tips for the Trail!
- Pack it in, pack it out. Please don’t trash our Public Lands!
- Always put safety first – people have died here from unsafe acts.
- There are no lifeguards and cell phone signals can be spotty.
- Bring plenty of snacks and water.
- Always stay on trail to avoid getting lost.
- Venomous snakes and poison ivy occur in this portion of the Shawnee.
- Report suspicious behavior to Law Enforcement.
Watch the videos for this trail!
Below is a recent video that we filmed while enjoying this area!
One last thing!
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Shawn J. Gossman
Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.