10 Least Visited State Parks
and Recreational Areas
Are you looking for the least visited state parks and recreation areas in southern Illinois?
I get it! Not everyone wants to go where everyone is.
Garden of the Gods is an incredible place, but sometimes, it’s just too crowded for comfort. So, I understand wanting to go places where you’ll likely have it all to yourself.
And that led me to the creation of this article!
If you’re looking for the least visited state parks and recreational areas in southern Illinois, look no further than these top 10 spots.
Least Visited State Park 1: Rauchfuss Hill State Recreation Area
Rauchfuss Hill State Recreational Area was merely just a ghost town. Then Senator Dale Fowler and others got the state to reopen it. Some may not like it, but it is another feature in southern Illinois and the Golconda area. It’s a beautiful place that lay wasted and unused, and now it’s opening again.
The recreational area will soon open up as a campground after a new dump station is put in. There are some trails in the area and a scenic overlook. What will you find while exploring this area?
I think it’s best to visit this area in the spring during the daffodil blooms. There are many of them in this area, and a nice trail down to the bottom of the hill is lined with them. There are all sorts of old signs of former settlements along Rauchfuss Hill.
After visiting, I recommend you head to Main Street Golconda for various. After that, walk your meal off along the Golconda Riverfront. If you need lodging and the campground isn’t open yet, check out Dam 51 Houses in Golconda – they have one heck of a view!
Least Visited State Park 2: Kinkaid Mounds State Historic Site
Kinkaid Mounds State Historic Site is a 105-acre tract of land home to an ancient archeological site maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
Native Americans of the Mississippian Culture occupied the Kinkaid Mounds area from around 1050 AD to 1400 AD. The chief who ruled the tribe likely received his power from the sun. This Native American culture is said to be the first people to practice large-scale agricultural activities. It is said that the mounds were built for the chief and elders to live on, and the mound’s construction took over 700 years to complete. Kinkaid Mounds was later historically protected so that everyone could see it and learn its history about it. These were some of the first people in North America who created and lived on these ancient mounds.
Do note that the area is heavily protected. Not only does the area get law enforcement patrols, but there are cameras in use, and neighbors around the area also watch out for suspicious behaviors. It would not be wise to visit with the intention to vandalize or be up to no good. You should also note that when the Ohio River is in flood stage, the area or areas that lead to the mounds may be underwater.
After visiting the Kinkaid Mounds, head over to Metropolis for dining options and all sorts of entertainment. It is the Home of Superman, after all. After eating, you can even hike or bike the food off at Fort Massac State Park. There are plenty of lodging opportunities around Metropolis if you require them, too.
Least Visited State Park 3: Dixon Springs State Park
Dixon Springs State Park offers a lot to do, including a public swimming pool in the summer but overall, the park doesn’t get as many visitors as other spots around southern Illinois. This park was said to be used by Native Americans because of its natural springs and later turned into a health resort where visitors could enjoy the springs. Some of the springs are still visible today. This is one of those least visited state parks you want to experience at least once.
There are many things to do at this state park. You chase waterfalls whether you need something easy such as the Dam Waterfall or, if you don’t mind, a moderately difficult hike (creek crossing required) at Ghost Dance Canyon. On drier days, I recommend you go Mountain Biking on the newly designated bike trails that will take you to Lake Glendale. While at it, complete the Shawnee Challenge by biking, hiking, or both, and earn a fantastic reward. Camping and cabin rentals are also available at the park!
After you visit the park, cool off with some ice cream across the street at the Famous Chocolate Factory, and of course, get yourself some chocolatey treats, too. If you’re looking for a great bite to eat, head to the nearby Shotgun Eddy’s Bar and Grill for incredible food and entertainment.
Least Visited State Park 4: Saline County State Fish and Wildlife Area
Saline County State Fish and Wildlife Area is also known to locals and others as Glen O Jones Lake. This is not just a hunting and fishing destination, either.
This area features a beautiful lake that is very popular among kayakers, stand-up paddlers, and no-wake fishing boats. The area features several smaller trails that are easier for most users. A harder trail around the Tecumseh statue can lead you to Eagle Mountain and even Old Stoneface. Camping is available, with some spots right on the lake shore. There are no electrical sites, but water is available. There is also a bike trail that leads toward Equality.
After enjoying a visit to this area, head to the world-famous Red Onion for some of the best steak in southern Illinois. They have other food choices besides steak. You can also take a short drive to Garden of the Gods Outpost for ice cream, Bigfoot merch, Shawnee Forest merch, hiking supplies, and more.
Least Visited State Park 5: Cave Creek Glade Nature Preserve
Cave Creek Glade Nature Preserve is an interesting hill near Belknap around the Cache River State Natural Area.
This glade features various wildflowers and plant blooms during different seasons. Prescribed burning also takes place to ensure that this glade remains healthy. There is no trail at this glade, which is best viewed from the ground. One could probably put a drone above the glade and get good footage. There is a small parking lot across the highway.
NOTE: Cave Creek Glade now requires a permit to hike on it. There are signs around the glade detailing more about the permit. This was done to prevent damage to the glade. I assume anyone can get a permit since it is public land. Please make sure you follow the rules, and this was done to preserve nature. We don’t have many glades left.
After you enjoy a Cave Creek Glade trip, head to Vienna for all sorts of dining opportunities, such as Ned’s Shed for burgers and malts, Vienna Diner for homestyle cooking and breakfast, and Family Pizza for pizza! Vienna is also home to Tunnel Hill State Trail, which is excellent for cycling, running, and hiking.
Least Visited State Park 6: Wildcat Bluff Nature Preserve
Wildcat Bluff Nature Preserve is located along the Cache River State Natural Area. While Heron Pond Preserve is more popular, Wildcat Bluff would be the least visited area that you might enjoy instead.
Wildcat Bluff features an extensive bluff system overlooking the Cache River watershed. There are numerous trails in this preserve. The overlook trail is an easy 1-mile out and back walk that will take you to a beautiful overlook. I would imagine it is gorgeous during the fall color season. You can also take a trail that will take you to Bost Cabin, Boss Island, Little Black Slough, and even Heron Pond. This area has two venomous snakes (copperhead and cottonmouth), so please be careful.
After you enjoy a hike in this area, head over to Goreville for some excellent food at Whiffle Boy’s Pizza and walk the downtown area for some great shops, you’re also pretty close to Ferne Clyffe State Park if you’re looking for more hiking and waterfall chasing opportunities.
Least Visited State Park 7: Section 8 Woods Nature Preserve
Section 8 Woods Nature Preserve is a great place to visit for families with very young children or people with limited mobility or wheelchair requirements. The trail is short and consists of a boardwalk with no stairs attached.
The trail’s main feature was the large tree that once stood in the swamp. It was a state champion and dated to be extremely old. Sadly, in nature, trees eventually die. And they become vulnerable to the wind, which happens at this Nature Preserve. The wind took the tree down. The tree now lays down in the swamp for critters to enjoy as a home. Nature is truly unique and powerful. Luckily for us, there are still many outstanding trees and swamp life to view along this short hike. This area is a swamp. Snakes are present. Make sure you use plenty of bug repellent.
After visiting this short trail, head to the Henry Barkhausen Wetland Center for more accessible ADA-friendly trails and visitor information, and museum exhibits (free) in the center. You can also start riding the Tunnel Hill State Trail from the Wetland Center, but note that they will be closed at night.
Least Visited State Park 8: Mermet Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area
Mermet Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area makes the list of least visited state parks and recreation areas because it is a quiet little spot north of Metropolis that gets very little recreation attention. But it is popular among the bow hunting community, especially in the sporting portion of it.
But the area has many recreational opportunities for just about any type of user. Do you like herping or snake watching? Mermet is an excellent place to see cottonmouth, water snakes, and even mud snakes if you’re lucky enough to find one. Do note that handling snakes at Mermet is prohibited on all state-managed public land. You can also drive around the lake and see pretty sights, especially during sunrise and sunset times. This is an excellent birding area. I’ve seen bald eagles, egrets, hawks, herons, and others. Hunting and fishing are popular here. Kayaking is also possible. You can even walk or bike on the gravel loop around the lake if you want to.
Close by to Mermet Lake is Mermet Springs Diving Center. This probably sounds like any ordinary diving center, but there is a BIG gem about this place. That BIG gem is the exact Boeing 727 aircraft that was used in the movie U.S. Marshalls. That aircraft is submerged underwater, and divers have the opportunity to get to it. That’s pretty unique if you ask me!
There aren’t many places to eat in this area. It’s pretty remote. I suggest you head down to Metropolis to find dining, entertainment, and lodging options, or bring a picnic basket with you and enjoy a lovely outdoor dining experience.
Least Visited State Park 9: Piney Creek Ravine Nature Preserve
Piney Creek Ravine had to make my list of least visited state parks and recreation areas because it is so unique and special. It’s not just a ravine. It’s home to the most amount of Native American petroglyphs in the State of Illinois.
Piney Creek Ravine Nature Preserve is located near Ava in southern Illinois. Amish country surrounds it aside from the access point the public may park at and use, which is managed by the state. The ravine features a few different locations of Native American rock art. There are some interpretive signs pointing out what you might see along the way. When visiting the area while wet, you can expect to see many different waterfalls and cascades. This area is also one of two locations where native short-leaf pine trees grow. The other site is LaRue Pine Hills. This is truly a remarkable gem in southern Illinois.
Please note that this is a protected nature preserve. Stay on the designated trail to avoid damaging the precious flora and plants. During flash flooding, this area can be hazardous. It is a ravine, after all. Live security cameras have been put into place (and they are real!) to watch for vandalism. These are connected to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police officers. This was done due to modern graffiti and vandalism by people who don’t care.
There are a few dining options in the area. Check out Crazy Joe’s Fish House for good fish, Brunzeez Café for pasta and more, Hillbilly Pizza for great pizza, or head to Murphysboro and eat at the famous 17th Street BBQ.
Least Visited State Park 10: Pyramid State Recreation Area
Pyramid State Recreation Area is a popular hunting and fishing destination located in a more northern portion of southern Illinois near Du Quoin and Pinckneyville areas. Still, there is even more, to do for other users.
This area offers many opportunities for hunters and fishing enthusiasts. But there are also other opportunities, too. There is a campground for classes C and D, equestrian, and youth group camping. There are no electrical units, however. Boats of 10-HP or less are welcome, making this area great for kayaks and canoes. There are 16.5-miles of trails designated for hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian use. The roadways through the area are paved and great for road biking. There are also a few spots for day use, such as picnicking.
After you enjoy a trip to this area, head to Pinckneyville for several great restaurant options.
And that wraps up the ten least visited state parks and recreation areas in southern Illinois. All these places are worth visiting when you’re just looking to get away from the crowds but still have plenty to see and do. What ones are your favorite? If you enjoyed reading this post, I recommend you subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t miss any future posts – it’s free, and I’ll even give you a gift!
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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