5 Southern Illinois
Cycling Trip Ideas
for All Types
Looking to plan a cycling trip? Why not make it a southern Illinois cycling trip? Whether you’re from Chicago or St. Louis, Nashville, or Indianapolis – southern Illinois is a quick drive down, up, over, and out. Think about the gas money you can save just by cruising over here verses somewhere out in the west! A southern Illinois cycling trip is a perfect trip because we a lot to offer for those looking to get away from the city and enjoy a nature-infused cycling trip. So, come on over and see us today and let’s go for a bike ride!
A Southern Illinois Cycling Trip for Family and Kids at Rend Lake
Rend Lake is the perfect southern Illinois cycling trip for families especially those with smaller children. There are over 250 campsites within the recreational area including electrical hookups, shower houses, and even walk-in tent sites. There are also private campgrounds and cabins in the area as well. For family cycling, check out the 20-miles of paved Rend Lake Bike Trail. Enjoy the sections around the spillway for great sights and around the beach to take the kids for a fun summer day swim. For bigger kids and adults, check out the Rend Lake Mountain Bike Trails. Camping and biking? That sounds like a southern Illinois cycling trip that I want to be a part of any day!
For lodging, there are many different options. If you’re looking for a more secluded lodging experience, check out Buck & Bass Cabins for that outdoorsman hunter feel. Or head over to Rend Lake Cabins in the Woods to escape it all. There are over 200 campsites within the state campground area of Rend Lake as well and even more on the federal side of the lake as well, federal-based discounts and passes are accepted, too! And there are also private campgrounds and lodging available as well which usually offer a more unique experience with a chance to support local businesses.
For dining, you’ll love this area! You and the kids or just you have to check out the frozen treats from the famous Custard Stand in Sesser. And head back into Sesser in the morning for some great locally brewed coffee from Brewed on Broadway. Experience something a little more unique for lunch by checking out and even dining at the Farmhouse Harvest Lavender Farm in Benton. And of course, Benton and West Frankfort has plenty of your normal restaurants and grocery stores in case you want a quick bite to eat but the local dining options will be unique experiences to remember, forever!
A Southern Illinois Cycling Trip for a Romantic Getaway at Tunnel Hill
Our beloved Tunnel Hill State Trail is the perfect romantic getaway for cycling in mind. The trail offers 45-miles of cycling/foot traffic only adventure. Ride through cozy little communities and hamlets. Ride across epic bridges and trestles. And even ride through a 500+ foot train tunnel that gives you tunnel vision in the middle. Tunnel Hill State Trail makes for the perfect romantically infused southern Illinois cycling trip for any couples out there. And there is plenty of stuff to do in between such as picnicking, hiking, camping, dining, and even wining.
For lodging in the area, check out Shawnee Paradise Airbnb near Tunnel Hill for a perfect secluded romantic getaway right on the Lake of Egypt. Cedar Rock Cabins in nearby Goreville offer a nice spot close to Ferne Clyffe State Park and a quick drive from the tunnel and Tunnel Hill State Trail. If you’re looking for more of a camping experience, check out Shawnee Forest Campground in Vienna or even camp along the bike trail at Main Brothers Campground in Karnak. National Forest camping is also available around the area at Bell Smith Springs Red Bud Campground.
There are many dining options in the area as well such as burgers at Ned’s Shed or breakfast at Wildfires in Vienna, pizza at Whiffle Boy’s in Goreville, and even BBQ at Murphy’s in Ozark. Check out Cache River Basin for wine and dining as well. The most northern end of the bike trail is located in Harrisburg which has all sorts of dining and grocery options including Mackie’s Pizza which is a Hiking with Shawn favorite. In many of the little communities you bike through, there are also Dollar Stores present. Check out Cache River Basin for wine and dining as well.
A Southern Illinois Cycling Trip for Mountain Biking in Carbondale
Looking for a mountain biking adventure? Look no further than southern Illinois! Check out the brand-new state-of-the-art Touch of Nature Mountain Bike Trails. There is a mountain bike trail for everyone at this bike park. There are technical trails for the serious mountain bikers. There are easier trails for general mountain bikers (like me, ha-ha) and there are even trails for little kids. Got an e-mountain bike? No problem, you’re welcome too! Just remember, no riding on trails when they’re wet. These mountain bike trails were made by mountain bikers for mountain bikers and are said to be some of the best single-track trails in the region. Be sure to check out the nearby Giant City State Park for great road biking and hiking opportunities.
There are many lodging options in the area. If you want to stay close to the trails, I suggest Giant City Cabins or the campground depending on the accommodations you require. The campground does have electrical sites and a shower house. You could also stay at the nearby Makanda Inn for a more luxurious lodging experience. Carbondale is also very close and there are a lot of places to stay in and nearby the city as well.
For dining, you might want to check out the Giant City Lodge for country cooked styled meals and some of the best fried chicken in the region. Be sure to stop by the Makanda Boardwalk for hand scooped ice cream and unique gifts. If in season, Flamm Orchards has some of the best ice cream around! A good road bike route could be made from Giant City to Flamm and back with the intention of getting ice cream as a ride reward (been there, done that, ha-ha). Be sure to visit Carbondale for even more dining options with a lot of Worldly Diverse Dining Options!
A Southern Illinois Cycling Trip for Scenic Road Biking in Cobden
Southern Illinois is road biking paradise whether you want to ride a smooth pavement or rugged gravel riding. One of the best areas to road bike in southern Illinois is the Shawnee Wine Trail area. There are plenty of country backroads in great condition and plenty of gravel options as well. You could ride from winery to winery if that is your thing or just ride around the orchards and backcountry of the Shawnee National Forest. The great news is that a lot of people bike in these areas and locals are used to sharing the road. Cycling is a big part of tourism in southern Illinois and we welcome riders with open arms. Be sure to check out the Dirty South Gravel Ride in this area as well.
There are many lodging options available in this area as well. Book at stay at the nearby Windy Hills Acres Inn in Cobden. Check out Wine Country Farmhouse if you need a place for a larger group of people. Skyline View Cabins is another great local option. Camping is available nearby at Giant City State Park. The Shawnee National Forest also has a campground nearby at LaRue Pine Hills and the state has Trail of Tears State Forest Campground.
There are plenty of local dining options available in this area especially for those who want t a unique eating experience. The Shawnee Wine Trail is located in this area and features many stops for wine, food, and entertainment. Check out the Iron Whisk in Cobden which is claimed by many as one of the best restaurants in southern Illinois. Visit Taqueria Pequena “Little House of Tacos” for some awesome Mexican food choices. Be sure to Google search for local places to eat around Cobden because there is definitely something for everybody that is a great bike ride away.
An Ultimate Bikepacking Southern Illinois Cycling Trip along the R2R Trail
Have you heard of the Little Egypt River to River Route for bikepacking? The southern Illinois cycling trip is one of a kind for the serious bikepackers out there. Enjoy a large stretch of what southern Illinois has to offer you while also enjoying days’ worth of bikepacking. Ride the whole route or just a section, it is up to you. There are plenty of places to stop in between your miles and there is a lot to see in this part of the Shawnee Forest Country. The route is about 120-miles stretching from the Ohio River to the Mississippi River. The route suggests 2 to 3-days of riding and over half is on unpaved surfaces. Southern Illinois is hilly in these parts of the region – do keep that in mind.
There are plenty of lodging opportunities along the 120-mile bikepacking route. If you want to just do camping styled bikepacking, there will be numerous spots to camp within the Shawnee National Forest (free) as state park campgrounds (fee-based) along the way. Harrisburg has plenty of hotel options and they are right off the route. The Shawnee Forest Campground is available in Vienna. Once you arrive in Karnak, Main Brothers Campground offers plenty of cyclist-friendly camping right at the bike trail. Other camping on National Forest and state park land can be done by detouring your route ever so slightly. You just need to make sure you plan everything out accordingly.
Like I said, within this 120-mile route, there are a lot of places to eat. If you’re starting out in historic Old Shawneetown, why not head over the Nate’s Bar and Grill for a bite to eat and a cold drink before you start your ride. Upon arrival to Harrisburg, you might want to carb-load on some of the best pizza in southern Illinois at Mackie’s Pizza of Harrisburg. Stop by MiMi’s Place at Carrier Mills for some good old fashion comfort food. Once you get to Vienna, there are a lot of great options for dining including Ned’s Shed, Wildfire, and Vienna Diner. In Belknap, stop by the Cache River Basin for some wine and dine. And when you finally make it to the Old Miss, treat yourself with chicken and beer at Bottoms Up Bar and Grill in Jacob. Now that is a lot of great southern Illinois food along that bike route!
And there you have it, 5 southern Illinois cycling trip ideas for all types of riders. Whether you’re a family with small children or an adventurous mountain biker, you can clearly see that southern Illinois has a cycling trip for you. Remember to shop local when visiting our region because our small businesses depend on you to help keep them around. They truly make this region as unique as it is, so please help them out when you can. If you need a more customized southern Illinois cycling trip itinerary, consider my services at Hiking with Shawn Tours. Thanks for reading this article and be sure to share it with another cyclist you know who might be wanting to plan a cycling trip of their own.
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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!
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. I hope you enjoy my website and I encourage you to interact with me!