7 Kid-Friendly Hikes in Southern Illinois

Are you looking for kid-friendly hikes in Southern Illinois?

State parks are scattered throughout the Southern Illinois region. The Shawnee National Forest is vast, covering nearly 300,000 acres. Signage has never been the best, and sometimes, it’s hard to find a good hiking trail that’s appropriate for a little kid.

But Southern Illinois, our state parks, and the Shawnee National Forest are full of kid-friendly hikes.

In this guide, I’ll show you 7 of the most kid-friendly hikes in Southern Illinois, focusing on ease of use, fun stuff to look at, educational opportunities, and safe areas to reassure your parents that it will be a good place to take your little ones for a hike.


What to Expect on These Kid-Friendly Hikes in Southern Illinois?

The following kid-friendly hikes in Southern Illinois are geared toward kids of all ages.

Some areas may be more appropriate for older kids. I’ll try to note that for each of the following hiking trails.

Hiking in Southern Illinois can present some dangers. Please ensure that you accompany and watch your child the entire time they are hiking. You can be what prevents any injuries and accidents that might occur by being vigilant.

Make sure you bring plenty of water and snacks for both you and your kids.

1 – Chautauqua Bottoms in Carbondale

Chautauqua Bottoms

Chautauqua Bottoms is a Green Earth Carbondale trail that is free to access and hike. The trail has various spurs equaling up to a total of about 3 miles of hiking.

The trails through this nature preserve are very easy. They’re easy to follow, and getting lost would be very difficult. There are no major road crossings, and some of the trails are ADA-friendly.

There are pamphlets available to read to give you an explanation of what you’re seeing as you hike. There are different types of plants, natural environments, and critters to look at along the way. The creeks are very scenic, too.

Directions: Green Earth’s Chautauqua Bottoms is located on the north side of Chautauqua Road, between Emerald Lane and Tower Road. There are a few parking spots, which can be found on your favorite maps app. Trail access is very easy, and the area is safe.

For extra activities in this area, enjoy many restaurants, shopping centers, parks, and family fun in Carbondale.

2 – Cove Hollow in Pomona, Illinois

Cove Hollow Trail Cave

Cove Hollow is an out-and-back trail located along Cedar Lake in the Shawnee National Forest. While this trail is several miles long, it can easily be shortened to a few miles to see the best of what it has to offer, especially as one of the kid-friendly hikes in Southern Illinois.

The trails are fairly easy but can be challenging for some. This would be a good hike for older kids and parents who wish to go on an adventure. Use caution when it’s wet, but this area also has nice waterfalls.

There are many things to see along this trail. There are a few nice waterfalls, plenty of bluffs, natural shelters, and views of the Cedar Lake area.

Directions: Take Highway 127 south 10 miles. For Cove Hollow trailhead, turn east onto Dutch Ridge Road. Turn right on Cove Hollow Road. The trailhead is at the end of the road.

To extend your trip, be sure to check out Pomona Natural Bridge in this area. That is another easy trail that your kids will love to hike.

3 – Giant City Nature Trail in Makanda

Giant City Nature Trail

Giant City Nature Trail is a 1-mile loop trail located at Giant City State Park in Makanda. It is appropriate for all ages and is one of the best kid-friendly hikes in Southern Illinois.

The trail is easy to hike and navigate. There are some hillier sections, but for the most part, you can move slowly enough to ensure that the trail is easy to hike. There are stairs along areas that are a little more rugged.

There is a lot to see along this hike. Enjoy large natural shelters, scenic creeks, rock formations, and old carvings around the Streets of Giant City. What’s the oldest date you can spot?

Directions: Take the Giant City blacktop into the park, passing the visitor center on your right until you reach the T-intersection. Turn left. Drive past the lodge and cabins down the hill, and the trail will be on your left. There is a large parking area, playground, picnic shelter, and restrooms.

Be sure to stop by Makanda Boardwalk for some neat local goods, a rock shop, and snacks.

4 – Rebman Trail in Goreville

Rebman Trail Waterfalls

Rebman Trail is a loop trail less than a mile long. It is located at Ferne Clyffe State Park in Goreville and is appropriate for kids of all ages.

This trail is very easy to hike and flat. There is a creek crossing, but you could stop at the crossing and go around to the other side from the start of the loop.

This trail offers a lot to see. There is an area where people rock climb, which might be fun to watch. There are multiple waterfalls when the area is wet. There is an area where carving occurred long ago.

Directions: Take Highway 37 south of Goreville for about a mile. Turn into Ferne Clyffe State Park. Drive to the four-way intersection. Turn left. Drive past the lake on your left. Take the first right and drive to the end. The trail is across the creek. Pods are provided to easily cross the creek; otherwise, boots may be needed.

Be sure to stop by Wiffle Boy’s Pizza in Goreville for some delicious pizza options after your hike.

5 – Heron Pond in Belknap

Heron Pond Swamp

Heron Pond is an easy trail system that is just shy of about 2 miles in length. Heron Pond is located within the Cache River State Natural Area in Belknap.

The trail is fairly easy to hike. There are signs along the intersections telling you which way to go. There are stairs over the larger creek and concrete stepping stones over the smaller ones. The trail consists of both out-and-back sections with a loop.

There is a lot to see on this trail. You can enjoy different interpretative signs, creeks, a swamp boardwalk, amazing cypress trees and their knees, and a very large oak tree, which is a state champion tree.

Directions: Take Belknap Road toward Belknap. Turn onto Heron Pond Lane by the old church. Drive to the end of the road. The trailhead is at the end of the road. Bring plenty of bug spray, as this area gets buggy during the warmer months. Venomous snakes may also be present.

Head into Metropolis after your hike and enjoy many places to eat and other activities to do.

6 – Tunnel Hill in Tunnel Hill

Kid-Friendly Hikes in Southern Illinois

Tunnel Hill State Trail is a great hiking trail for kids of all ages. This section is located in the village of Tunnel Hill.

The trail is easy to hike. There are no intersections along this route, so you can’t get lost. The trail is also relatively flat for hikers. It’s open to pedestrians and bicyclists. Please watch out for one another and share the trail.

If you start hiking towards Vienna from the trailhead (go right if the restroom is in front of you), you can walk through a 500+ foot train tunnel in less than two minutes. If you hike for 2.5 miles (5-mile round trip), you can reach the largest trestle on the trail, Breeden Trestle. There is also an honor-system ice cream store shortly after the tunnel (cash only).

Directions: Take Tunnel Hill Blacktop to the Village of Tunnel Hill. Park at the Trailhead.

Drive to Vienna for great places to eat and other family-friendly activities.

7 – Mill Branch Trail in Simpson

Mill Branch Trail Cascade

Mill Branch is a fun loop trail within Bell Smith Springs in the Shawnee National Forest. This trail is better for older kids and teenagers and is about a 2-mile loop.

The trail is fairly easy to hike. You’ll be following red diamond blazes. There is a creek crossing. It’s right next to a fun swimming hole that locals and travelers alike love to swim in during the hotter months.

There is a lot to see along this hike. The coolest feature is the stone creek carved into the rock barren area. It features multiple waterfall cascades. When wet, please use caution around this area as it can be slick.

Directions: Take Ozark Road from Ozark past Burden Falls Road. Turn right onto Bell Smith Springs Road (be careful of the potholes). Turn right on the gravel road right before the campground. Drive to the end. Cross the creek to take the red trail.

Head over to Eddyville and enjoy some good food at Shotgun Eddy’s after hiking at Bell Smith Springs.

Final Thoughts About Kid-Friendly Hikes in Southern Illinois

This concludes my article about 7 great kid-friendly hikes in Southern Illinois. Please share this article with other families if you have enjoyed it.

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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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