Hiking with Shawn’s
Trail Guide Series:
Cave-In-Rock State Park is a history-rich state park located on the southern Illinois side of the Ohio River. The area has a history for being a popular place used by river pirates and outlaws as early as 1790 but most of the infamous activity occurred in the 1800s. The large natural shelter cave, what gives the area its name, was a pirate and outlaw hangout, tavern, brothel, and the site of who knows how many murders and robberies. The outlaws were eventually caught or ran off and the area was later turned into a state park which is now what resides there. Aside from visiting the cave, which is a must-the state park is known for their campground, cabins and of course, the good food served at the Lodge. The very nearby village of Cave-In-Rock also provides many more activities for people to partake in.
Dangerous conditions exist at Cave-In-Rock State Park including high bluffs, a fast moving currented deep river, venomous snakes, and the potential for flash flooding. Please use caution when visiting Cave-In-Rock State Park and always put safety first.
Cave-In-Rock State Park is managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. This guide was created for entertainment and educative purposes only – use the information “as is” and at your own risk.
Area Directions and Trail Information
See this map for points of interest in the Cave-In-Rock State Park area.
For driving directions from Vienna, Illinois: Take Route-146 eastward for 23.6-miles. Turn left in the City of Golconda staying on Route-146. Continue for 24.4-miles. Turn right onto Route-1 and continue driving for about 1.8-miles to Main Street. Turn left onto main street and drive to the end. Turn right onto Broadway Street and drive 0.3-miles to the parking lot on your right next to the playground. Park in this parking lot – there is no time limit to park (day use only).
If Route-1 in Cave-In-Rock is backed up due to the River Ferry, an alternative route can be taking by turning left on W Clay Street. Not the second to the last building on your right before turning right onto Broadway. The shed-like structure that is stone on one side and a shed on the other. The stone side is an old jail that was once used by the town. You are allowed to go in it and look around and take photos. Please don’t block the road.
Route-146 and Route-1 is a part of the Ohio Scenic Byway-this route will give you many views and it passes through many small towns along the Ohio River and within the Shawnee National Forest area. Please consider stopping at landmarks, historical markers, and the local businesses in these small town to show your support and to really enjoy the experience.
To the Cave-In-Rock Cave: From the parking lot close to the playground, take the sidewalk trail up the hill in between the parking lot and the playground. You can also drive past the parking lot and turn by the lodge (right) and take the next right to get to the start of the cave trail as well. More parking is available at the playground parking lot, though. Once up the hill, you will see the sidewalk going down to the shoreline of the Ohio River. Take a left at the short and follow the path to the cave. It is less than an eighth of a mile from the parking lot to the cave. This trail is unfortunately not handicap-friendly. If the Ohio River is experiencing flooding conditions, the cave will be inaccessible as the area will be under water!
Hickory Ridge Trail: This 1.9-mile loop trail provides an easy hike (very appropriate for families and young children) with forested views, access to the campground and nearby to the dining lodge. To get to the trail, drive past the main parking lot (by the playground) and about 0.3-miles to your left will be the trailhead with the lodge road being directly across from it.
Area Points of Interest
The main Cave-In-Rock Cave Trail is the main feature that most visitors will visit to participate in. This trail will give to access to the natural cave shelter which is within 30 feet from the Ohio River from the mouth of the cave to the water. If the river is flooded, the cave will NOT be accessible. The cave is a 55-foot tunnel eroded into the bluff from river flooding and likely glacial meltwater from the Wisconsin ice age period. While the feature is called a cave, it isn’t really a cave like that of Illinois Caverns or Mammoth Cave. The mouth is large and there is a hallway like tunnel that anyone of any height can walk through without any need to bend down. Once inside, there is a large opening with a large hole in the ceiling of the cave. The whole is protected by gating and a stone fence at the top side of it. The inside of the cave is often muddy when wet. The cave was once used as a tavern/brothel/inn during rive4r pirate days in the late 1700s to 1800s. Many robberies, criminal activities and murders are said to have happened in and around the cave. Check out this book by local author, Todd Carr, for more information about the river pirates of Cave-In-Rock. Foot traffic only!
Hickory Ridge Trail is an easy 1.9-mile loop that is appropriate for families and children of all ages. Along the trail, hikers will see hardwood and pine forests, scenic creeks, access to the campground and some rolling hill elevation. This is a great trail for birding as well. Foot traffic only!
The Cave-In-Rock State Park Lodge is known for its delicious food. The lodge serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner from 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Please call the lodge for availability information at 1-618-289-4545. Sunday dinners are said to be the best time to visit for dining at the lodge.
The state park offers 34 Class-A electrical campsites for $20-$30.00 a night. There are also 25 tent camping sites for $10.00 a night. Most camp sites have their own grill. There is a shower house, restrooms and dumping station at the campground. The tent sites are very shaded and spaced fairly away from one and another. There are also 4-duplex guest cabins with 8 suites available by the lodge. These cabins have an excellent view of the Ohio River behind them with private patio decks.
There are picnic sites and shelters all along the park. Ample parking is available. There are numerous playground and restroom facilities available as well. There are numerous scenic overlooks on the top of the bluff facing the Ohio River, too.
Fishing can be done by accessing the park pond or by using to Ohio River. All residents and out-of-state visitors must have a valid Illinois Fishing License in order to legally fish in the State of Illinois.
Area Safety and Important Information
Dangerous conditions exist at Cave-In-Rock State Park including high bluffs, fast current river, flash flooding, poison ivy and venomous snakes. Please use caution when visiting, always watch your step and always put safety first.
Never attempt to swim and/or play in the Ohio River. The current will likely overtake you and it will be easy to drown. Never attempt to access the area when it is flooded.
Bring plenty of water and snacks with you when you visit. Wear sunscreen and bug spray. Biting flies and gnats are common in areas where the river is present.
Please throw trash away in trash cans and Leave No Trace when visiting our state parks.
The nearest hospital is about 16 miles away.
Cell phone availability may be little to none in this area.
Please remember to Recreate Responsibly when visiting this State Park.
Area Attractions, Shopping, Dining and Lodging
Other nearby attractions close to Cave-In-Rock State Park include hiking and horseback riding at Garden of the Gods Recreation Area, Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area, High Knob and Rim Rock. For fishing and lake activities such as kayaking and canoeing, check out Lake Tecumseh and Whoopie Cat Lake. The Illinois Iron Furnace is a great spot for picnicking. Big Creek across from it is a favored spot for wading and swimming.
While in Cave-In-Rock, be sure to take a ride on the River Ferry from Illinois to Kentucky and back. It is completely free and a very cool experience. When the river is too low or too high, the ferry will usually be closed until normal conditions return.
For Lodging in the area, check out Cedar Hill River Cabins, Rim Rock’s Dogwood Cabins, River Rose Inn Bed & Breakfast and Timber Ridge Cabins. Electrical and non-electrical camping is available at Pounds Hollow Recreation Area along with a swimming beach as well. Double M Campground and High Knob Campground are the premier equestrian campgrounds in this area. Camp Cadiz is also a good campground for equine and non-equine users.
Check out the E-Town River Restaurant for some of the best fish around the region.
For shopping, check out Palmer’s Trading Post in Cave-In-Rock for cool rocks and local stones. Garden of the Gods Outpost sells hiking and camping gear, Shawnee Forest merchandise, Bigfoot swag and some of the best ice cream around.
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.