When families think of taking a trip to Illinois, I would bet that usually Chicago is the first place that comes to mind. However, you would be missing out if you didn’t visit the southern part of Illinois. There is so much beautiful nature to be seen here, as well as other kid-friendly activities! There truly is something for everyone. We would know- we live here! Read on for some of our favorite things to do in Southern Illinois with kids!
Ferne Clyffe State Park
Ferne Clyffe State Park is one of our very favorite places to spend a day in Southern Illinois! It’s located in Goreville, Illinois (12 miles south of Marion, Illinois.) There are a lot of different trails here, as well as picnic areas with playgrounds, a campground, and a pond for fishing!
If it’s been raining recently, the waterfall may be flowing. We have been when it’s streaming down, when it’s just a dribble, and when it’s completely dried up. It’s a fun place to play regardless!
The trail to this waterfall is called Big Rocky Hollow Trail and is super easy, stroller & wheelchair accessible. It’s basically a wide road straight there. It’s an out-and-back trail, less than a mile. It only takes about 15 minutes to complete the trail, but we take a lot longer! This is because there are boulders to climb on, a stream next to the trail, and just beautiful nature to take in!
Boulders are covered in moss and there are ferns growing out of the rocks everywhere you look (hence the name Ferne Clyffe). It really is beautiful!
Our other favorite trail here leads to one of the largest shelter bluffs in Illinois. The trail is Hawk’s Cave Trail. Although this trail isn’t a wide road like the other one mentioned, it is still an easy hike, less than a mile, and with a big payoff! The kids love playing around these rock formations! We can easily do both of these trails in one afternoon. Both trails start off at the same parking area.
Even if you are just passing through Southern Illinois, this is totally worth a stop! It’s easily accessible from I-57 and I-24. If you are more local, I’d definitely suggest camping and exploring for the weekend!
Boo Castle Park
Boo Castle Park, or the “dungeons and dragons park”, in Carbondale, Illinois is one of the most fun playgrounds you can find, not only in Southern Illinois, but anywhere!
This park is privately-owned and is a memorial to Jeremy “Boo” Rochman. Entry to the park is free, but donations are accepted to help maintain this amazing park.
There are around 30 different sculptures here, including a stone dragon to climb all over.
The main draw here is the playground that looks like a castle, or fort. There are bridges, towers, stairs, and tunnels. Sculptures, swords, and treasures are scattered throughout.
Trust me when I say you will have to drag your kids away from this park! Might as well bring lunch and make a whole afternoon of it!
Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods is one of the most popular places in the Shawnee National Forest. It’s one of the most photographed locations in the state, and for good reason! There are spectacular views and some great, short hikes, as well as longer and more difficult ones for the more experienced hikers.
The Observation Trail is only 1/4th of a mile and features really cool rock formations. The most popular is Camel Rock. At the end, take in the panoramic views overlooking miles of forest. It takes around an hour to hike this trail.
There are many other trails here to check out, including equestrian trails. There is also a campground and cabins.
Garden of the Gods is definitely one of the most amazing things to do in Southern Illinois.
Our family loves Rend Lake for camping, but we also occasionally come just for an afternoon of swimming.
Our favorite swimming spot is South Sandusky Beach. It has a large sand beach with plenty of space to put up a tent and spend the day. The swimming area has buoys roping it off, and there is a playground as well as picnic shelters behind the beach. They also have restrooms, shower houses, and the amenity I love best at sand beaches – an outdoor rinse-off shower, so you don’t have to bring the sand back into the car with you!
There is a small fee to swim, which you will pay in the parking lot- bring cash! The last time we were there, it was $5 per vehicle. If you have an America the Beautiful pass, those are valid here. The address for South Sandusky Beach is 11981 Rend City Road, Benton, IL 62812.
If you’re looking for a dog-friendly beach, North Marcum Beach is on the east side of the lake. They also have a sand beach, picnic areas, and a shower house.
“Home of Superman” – Metropolis, Illinois
Metropolis, Illinois was named the “adopted home of Superman” in 1972. The town is located at the southern tip of Illinois, on the border of Kentucky.
In the town square, there stands a 15-foot-tall Superman statue. Two blocks from Superman is another statue- a 6-foot Lois Lane.
The town square also has a Superman museum with one of the largest Superman collections in the world, including props and costumes from some of the movies and tv shows.
Each year, the city of Metropolis welcomes fans from all over the globe for a Superman Celebration. For more information on this, you can visit www.supermancelebration.net.
Superman isn’t the only reason to come to Metropolis. They are also the home of Mermet Springs, where you can learn to scuba dive and even dive a Boeing 727!
Metropolis is also home to Fort Massac State Park– Illinois’ first state park, and the Kincaid Mounds, which are the preserved remains of mounds of earth that were once part of a Native American city.
Giant City State Park
Next on our list is one of the best things to do in Southern Illinois with kids! Giant City State Park is in Makanda, IL (near Carbondale).
This state park is a perfect place to spend a day outdoors! There are many trails (including one made for disabled visitors), fishing, horseback riding, camping, and rock climbing. Here are three of our must-do hikes at Giant City for kids.
The park is open 7am-10pm daily. The Visitor’s Center is open 8am-3:30pm.
The trails here have so much to offer! Tall sandstone bluffs, creeks, and rock formations. If you think your kids might groan at the word “hiking”, check out our post on how to make hiking fun for kids! But trust me when I say, our kids have never been bored on the trails at Giant City!
You truly can’t go wrong with a day (or weekend!) at Giant City State Park!
Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour
Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour is a ziplining adventure in the Shawnee National Forest. This is also located in Makanda, Illinois.
There are two different adventures for you to choose from. The Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour has 8 ziplines, 3 suspension bridges, and 3 short hikes. This adventure is $90 per person (pricing accurate as of fall 2022) and includes downloadable photos. It will take about 3 hours to complete this tour.
The second adventure is the Chipmunk Canyon Run. This tour has 5 zip lines, 2 aerial bridges, and 2 short hikes. Photos are also included. The cost of this tour is $75 per person (pricing accurate as of fall 2022).
Biking Tunnel Hill
If your family is into biking, Tunnel Hill State Trail can’t be missed! The trail features a railroad tunnel and many trestles crossing over streams and rocky ravines.
The trail stretches 45 miles from the Cache River Wetlands to the Eldorado High School. You can get on the trail at various different points. For more information, visit the TrailLink website.
The Science Center
The Science Center of Southern Illinois is sure to be a fun activity for your kids! It’s located inside the University Mall in Carbondale, Illinois.
Their hours are 11:00am – 5:00pm Wednesday through Saturday, and 12:00pm – 5:00pm on Sundays. The cost is $7.50 per person, and 2 years and under are free. If you’re able to get there on a Wednesday, it’s currently a free day! (Pricing accurate as of fall 2022).
The Science Center is a children’s museum that features over 50 exhibits, a lot of them hands-on.
So, there you have it! If you are just passing through, or looking for a different family trip, there are a lot of fun, family-friendly things to do in Southern Illinois!
Let us know in the comments, have you been to any of these amazing places? Help us out and share on social media!
What to read next:
- Things to do in Southeast Missouri for Families
- Visit These 5 Epic Waterfalls in Southern Illinois
- 3 Must-do Hikes at Giant City State Park
- Complete List of Essential Road Trip Items for Families
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