10 Cool Hiking Spots in Southern Illinois to Enjoy this Summer

It’s a scorcher out there, and cool hiking spots in Southern Illinois are what you need to enjoy the outdoors this summer.

Lucky for you, I’ve spent years finding the best places to beat the heat and still enjoy a nice trek through the woods.

I’ll show you 10 different cool hiking spots in Southern Illinois to enjoy this summer and a few great nearby local businesses to stop by for a refreshing drink or snack. Remember to shop local because it’ll make your experience even better.


Safety Matters at Cool Hiking Spots in Southern Illinois

Safety is your number one priority when visiting these cool hiking spots in Southern Illinois.

There are many more hazards in the summer months than in any other month. For example, severe weather is more prone to occur. Venomous snakes are out. Poison ivy is rampant. Everything is green, and it’s hard to recognize hazards quickly. The heat and humidity mixed with rolling hills can also put you down.

It’s important to plan first and always keep your personal safety in mind before you go hiking.

Carry a first aid kit. Make sure you have plenty of hydration and snacks. Tell someone where you’re going before you go. Try not to hike alone. Plan for your hike. Know the weather. Dress appropriately. Watch your step.

Basically, folks – use common sense, and you’ll be fine!

Leave the hiking trail with good memories, not bad injuries.


Cool Hiking Spots in Southern Illinois List

Now, on to the list of cool hiking spots in Southern Illinois to enjoy during this scorching summer heat.

1 – Hutchins Creek South

Hutchins Creek is on my list because it’s easy to get to and has plenty of nice, big, clear pockets of water to wade and swim in on a very hot day.

Hutchins Creek

This is one of my favorite cool hiking spots in Southern Illinois.

You can drive right to the creek, start walking the creek, and find all sorts of great spots to take a dip.

Bring your water shoes and a bathing suit, and enjoy!

Afterward, head over to Bottoms Up Bar and Grill for some refreshing beverages and great food.

2 – Rend Lake Bike Trail

Rend Lake Bike Trail is a great choice because you can enjoy a nice bike ride all the way to the public beach for a nice dip in the water.

Southern Illinois State Parks

Since you’re on a bike, you don’t have to pay to access the beach, either.

You can park at the Spillway area, enjoy a nice ride, and cruise right into the main public beach area.

Cycling shorts double as a great bathing suit, too, and they dry quickly after you’re done!

After you’re done, head into Sesser and get a sweet treat from the famous Custard Stand.

3 – Giant City Nature Trail

Giant City Nature Trail is on my cool hiking spots in Southern Illinois list because of all the bluffs you get to walk around and in the middle of.

Nature Trailhead Sign

These bluffs provide a natural air conditioning feel to them, and the trail is short, too.

Park at the Nature Trail big parking lot and follow the trail to the bluffage.

There is a lot to see along this trail, too.

After your hike, head over to Giant City Lodge for some amazing food and drinks.

4 – Panther Den Wilderness

Panther Den Wilderness is a bit of a longer hike, but once you get to the “panther den,” it provides a very natural cooling experience.

Panther Den

When the creeks are up, this is also a great place to wade at, too.

Park at the Panther Den Trailhead and then head up the trail towards the rock formations.

This is a wilderness area, so to be safe, stay on the marked trails.

After your hike, head over to Carbondale for a wide variety of different dining and beverage options to enjoy.

5 – Blackjack Oak Trail

Blackjack Oak Trail is a great choice because of all the overlooks and the nice canopy you hike through as well.

The overlooks are high enough to feel a breeze if you choose a windier day to hike. The rest of the trail is by the bluffs and under a canopy to keep you cool.

Park at Ferne Clyffe Lake and cross the road to access this trail.

If you go when wet, the creek area in the main parking lot for the other trails provides a nice wading area.

After you’re done having fun, be sure to head into Goreville and dine at Whiffle Boy’s Pizza for some great food and drink.

6 – Tunnel Hill State Trail

The Tunnel at Tunnel Hill State Trail is worth biking to whether you want a short ride from Tunnel Hill or you want to work for it starting at Vienna.

Tunnel Hill State Trail

The bluffage and tunnel acts as a natural air conditioner and man does it feel really good when you ride through it.

Park at Tunnel Hill for a short few minutes ride to the tunnel or at Vienna for a 20-mile round trip.

Tunnel Hill is primarily crushed limestone, so your best bet is a gravel, hybrid, or mountain bike.

Bring some cash with you so you can get some ice cream from Sandburn Junction near the tunnel along the trail.

7 – Mill Branch Trail

Mill Branch Trail is a wonderful spot to go for swimming, wading, and enjoying a nice dip away from most of the crowds, at least.

Hunting Branch Winter

This part of Bell Smith Springs doesn’t get much attention, even though I promote it heavily.

Drive to the Hunting Branch Trailhead and follow the red trail (Mill Branch) to enjoy the area.

You can enjoy a swimming hole and wading creek right at the trailhead, or you can hike the trail to find other great areas to enjoy the water.

After you’re done, head over to Shotgun Eddy’s for some great food, beverages, and weekend entertainment.

8 – Garden of the Gods Observation Trail

Garden of the Gods Observation Trail is where a lot of visitors will be, but if you choose a day that has some wind, it’s a great place to catch a cool breeze.

Garden of the Gods Observation Trail

Just remember to use caution on this awesome trail. People do fall here, and there have been a few fatalities over the years.

Drive to the main observation parking lot and enjoy the trail.

Explore all the other hidden gems around the area, too,

After you’re done hiking, head over to the Garden of the Gods Outpost to get some of the best ice cream the area has to offer.

9 – Rim Rock to Pounds Hollow Beach

Some cool hiking spots in Southern Illinois include Rim Rock and Pounds Hollow.

Enjoy a short hike from Rim Rock to Pounds Hollow Beach.

Park at Rim Rock and hike to the beach and back. At the time this article was published, the beach was free to use.

Wear a bathing suit as your hiking attire so that it dries off as you hike back to Rim Rock after you’ve enjoyed a trip to the beach.

Garden of the Gods Outpost is again the closest place to go for some ice cream after you’ve worked up an appetite.

10 – Cave-in-Rock State Park

The Cave at Cave-in-Rock State Park is a great place to visit on a hot summer day.

Cool Hiking Spots in Southern Illinois

This is because the cave is deep inside and acts as a cool place, being right next to the Ohio River.

Park at Cave-in-Rock State Park on the upper road and enjoy a short hike down to the cave.

If the Ohio River is above flood stage, choose an alternative hike because the cave will be underwater.

Head over to Cave-in-Rock Lodge for some great food and beverages after you’ve enjoyed hiking the cave area.

Now, Over to You!

And that concludes the cool hiking spots in Southern Illinois for you to enjoy this summer.

I’d love to see other spots that you would recommend. Reply to this blog and suggest other areas in Southern Illinois to check out.

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And until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

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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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