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Downstate Illinois Road Trip Roundup - Spring Break Adventures for Families!

Regional road trips are all the rage right now. Many folks feel most comfortable hopping in the car with their loved ones and exploring sights that are off the beaten path. Some of those sights may even be in your own backyard! For plenty of regional travel ideas, check-in every Wednesday for a Downstate Illinois Road Trip Roundup on themed topics showcasing several destinations across the southern portion of the state. Now that spring is officially here, this week’s topic features some of the best spring break adventures for families! 

 

Carbondale

Green Earth maintains six nature preserves in Carbondale. The sites, more than 220 acres total, are open to the public for daytime hiking. The Green Earth Trails are great for those who want to introduce young kids to hiking. All of the trails are well maintained and are neither too long or too rugged for little ones. The Fernlands Trail’s wide open understory allows hikers an unfettered view of the stream that meanders through the hillsides. The trail winds up and down the hills and crosses the stream but is not difficult to traverse. The banks of the stream are covered with mosses, ferns and other plants associated with a moist habitat. Brush Hill’s Herbie Beyler Nature Trail is a pleasant walk through a hardwood forest. The dirt path meanders through the honeysuckle back into the woods. This part of the trail features the wide open understory typical of oak-hickory forests. Pyles Fork is 124 acres of hardwood bottomland forest. The area is appropriate for a picnic or just a rest. The small creek provides a welcome respite from the dense vegetation. It also allows hikers to catch a glimpse of some of the birds they have been hearing in the more heavily vegetated portions of the trail. William Marberry Arboretum Trail offers 24 acres to roam and is home to more than 100 genera, 600 species and 20,000 plants. Besides the beautiful trees, you can also enjoy pond fishing and access to picnic tables and parking. Did we mention the bamboo forest? Chautauqua Bottoms offers 37 acres of land with three trail systems: the David Kenney Trail, the Maurice Webb Trail and the Woodland Spur. Flaglands Prairie provides one acre where visitors can see a small demonstration prairie with young native trees and shrubs here. Oakland Preserve is the second oldest preserve in Carbondale. Twenty acres in size, the site offers two trails: The Stan Harris Trail and the Woodland Trail.

Castle Park is a wonderful place for kids to adventure while in Southern Illinois. It was designed for children with the centerpiece of the park being a wood and stone castle. The park incorporates a jungle gym of tunnels, stairs,and bridges, hidden doors and passageways. With a Dungeon and Dragons theme, decor includes pennants, gargoyles, knights guarding the ramparts and an ogre with a spiked club. The park is also a beautiful place to spend time outdoors among trees, flowers and hand-made sculptures of gremlins, gnomes, and other fantasy creatures. A favorite photo-op spot is a giant, sleeping dragon. Other cool park features sure to allow kids’ imaginations to run wild are a three-headed dragon perched on a picnic gazebo and a single-headed beast sits atop a fountain of wizard heads spitting water. The park was built expecting only local visitors, but has proved to be popular with D&D fans worldwide.

More than a million visitors of all ages come to see Giant City State Park every year. Nestled in the Shawnee Forest of Makanda, Giant City is about 11 miles south of Carbondale. A great spot for children, there are hiking trails for all ages and skill levels, as well as playgrounds and picnic tables to spend the day. Home to huge sandstone bluffs formed 12,000 years ago, Giant City is an outdoor lover’s paradise that offers camping, horseback riding, fishing, rappelling and numerous trails featuring hundreds of species of wildflowers and more than 75 tree varieties. The Park has more than 85 campsites with water, electricity, showers and sanitary facilities available for tent and trailer camping. A primitive campground area features 14 walk-in sites, outdoor privies and fire rings. Giant City Stables offers guided rides and is open, weather permitting, from March to October. Ponds throughout the park are perfect for fishing. The Visitor’s Center provides various displays on the geology, plants, animals and history of the park. Giant City is a great recreational and educational place for children to explore and enjoy outdoors in Southern Illinois. 

 

Effingham

You don’t have to go far to enjoy a unique spring break adventure with your family. Plan a road trip across the great state of Illinois and discover fun and exciting opportunities for all ages! How much do you really know about the City of Effingham? Find out by orchestrating a scavenger hunt that the whole family can partake in. Can you find one of your ancestors in Oakridge Cemetery? Where can you visit the oldest structure in Downtown Effingham? How many semi-trucks drive under the TREC Trail overpass in just 15 minutes? Count them! With beautiful spring weather on the horizon, spring break is also the perfect opportunity to get outside and stretch your legs. Pick up a map of the aforementioned TREC Trail and go exploring. Enjoy a day of ‘park-hopping’ by visiting each one of our unique community parks, and embrace educational opportunities at Ballard Nature Center, in nearby Altamont, Illinois. Take in the fresh air with a self-guided Sculptures on the Avenues tour and enjoy all the new beginnings that spring brings us! Perhaps you have little foodies-in-the-making? Check out our Visitors Guide for Effingham’s must-stop culinary destinations, like farm-to-table restaurant, Firefly Grill, or our all-new ghost kitchen, Kitchens Unlimited. Be sure not to miss the John Boos & Co. Factory Showroom & Outlet while you’re here! Let your little one pick out their very first cutting board (at a great price) and get it engraved at the one-stop-shop to commemorate the occasion. If planning ahead isn’t your style, stop by the Effingham Visitors Center, at 1505 Hampton Drive, and receive personalized, real-time recommendations on where to eat, stay and play during your spring break experience in Effingham!

 

ILLINOISouth 

There are several different opportunities to get out and about with the family within the 22-county territory of ILLINOISouth, but there are a handful of experiences that just scream SPRING BREAK FUN! One venue with a variety of family-friendly activities can be found in Belleville. The Edge features one of the world’s largest laser tag arenas, as well as fast and furious go-karts, bowling, and bumper cars. Test your skills at their arcade games to win a slew of prizes; and enjoy a movie in their state-of-the-art theaters. Casey may be a small town, but their attractions are BIG TIME. Also known as ‘Big Things in a Small Town,’ Casey is the home to over two-dozen HUGE attractions, including 11 Guinness World Record holders. Spend the day snapping silly photos with the kids in front of the World’s Largest Truck Key, or the World’s Largest Mailbox! Adults can fuel up with a cup of deliciousness at Casey Coffee Company, while the little ones can get some sweet treats at Wildflour Bakery and Candy Company. Take a swing inside the big birdcage, and experience the World’s Largest Teeter Totter - there’s nothing but fun in store for you in Casey!

Another amazingly unique experience is the Popeye Character Trail in Chester. Popeye the Sailor Man has been overlooking the Mississippi River for over decades, and throughout the years more characters have been added to the collection of statues that are scattered throughout town. For interactive family fun, you could even make a game out of it and do a scavenger hunt! You will also want to come back for the Popeye Picnic in the fall when the whole town celebrates their favorite sailor and friends. Make sure to hit up Spinach Can Collectibles for your Popeye souvenir while you’re in town! 

 

 

Mt. Vernon 

Spring break is upon us and after a year of being cooped up and distanced, we are ready to (safely) get out of the house! Check out Mt. Vernon www.enjoymtvernon.com for several day trip ideas for a fun Spring Break. While the Beck Family Center is still closed at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts https://www.cedarhurst.org/, the Goldman-Kuenz Sculpture Park is 80 acres with more than 70 sculptures and a fun Seek and Find Activity great for all ages. Find the downloadable PDF at https://www.cedarhurst.org/sculpture-park. Grab some friends and divide into teams and see who can find everything first! Free admission, closed Mondays. Just around the block is the Jefferson County Historical Village https://historicjeffersoncountyil.com/ . Step back in time as you visit the one room schoolhouse, general store and blacksmiths shop. Walk the trails and enjoy the fresh air… but be good or you will end up in the calaboose, which is an old-time name for jail.  Right now, the buildings are still closed at the Village, but you can still walk around and see the buildings and enjoy the trails - Free Admission.

If Spring Break turns out to be a little rainy or cold, never fear, R & J Tactical Lazer Tag has a location inside Times Square Mall!  https://www.facebook.com/rjlazertagmtv/  Enjoy Lazer Tag, arcade games, pool and more at this location and while you are at the mall, the littles can hop over to see the Easter Bunny! Special daily deals available. After being closed due to COVID, Nu Bowl Lanes is back open! https://nubowl.com/ This bowling center has 28 lanes, a great arcade and delicious refreshments from the Back Office Bar & Grill. Check out their website for specials.

Veteran’s Memorial Park in Mt. Vernon http://www.enjoymtvernon.com/business/91/veterans-park  is a fun place to spend a sunny day. A Disc Golf Course is available on the north end of the park and the south side has basketball and tennis courts. The middle has playground equipment, and the entire park is looped with a walking path. Fishing is permitted in the park lake with the proper fishing license for adults. Pick up lunch and find a picnic table to watch the ducks and geese… but please don’t feed them!  They have a special diet and bread and French fries could harm them!

 

 

Southernmost Illinois 

With its breathtaking natural beauty and unlimited opportunities for outdoor recreation, a trip to the Shawnee National Forest offers a variety of trails and attractions. Garden of the Gods and Rim Rock/Pounds Hollow Recreational area are two must see locations on the eastern side of the Shawnee National Forest.  Both are located just off Karbers Ridge blacktop 30 minutes from Harrisburg.  Garden of the Gods consists of spectacular overlooks and views of unusual rock formations. One formation, known as Camel Rock, is featured in the America the Beautiful Quarter Program representing Illinois and came out in 2016.  The “Observation Trail” is a .25 mile stone path featuring some of the most well known formations.  At the intersection of Garden of the Gods and Karbers Ridge roads, is a popular ‘selfie spot’ with Sassy the Sasquatch, a7-foot-tall statue weighing in at 2,600 pounds that has become a landmark in the sprawling forest near Herod.  Also located on that corner is the Garden of the Gods Outpost, where you’ll find souvenirs (to include items containing the likeness of “Sassy” – Shawnee Forest Country’s own Sasquatch), snacks, soft drinks, and some of the best ice cream around. Giant City State Park and the Makanda area offers camping, horseback riding, fishing and rappelling.   You will love the many hiking trails.  Especially popular is the Giant City Nature Trail, home of the "Giant City Streets" - huge bluffs of sandstone formed 12,000 years ago.  At Giant City Stables  saddle up for trail rides with experienced wranglers through private trails.  Hand led pony rides are available for children. Enjoy the breeze zipping through the trees, at Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour where safety is always number one, so don't be afraid. This is the place to check zip lining off your bucket list!  You will start off with 'flight school' before you ever get out in the canopy.  Allow 3 hours for an exciting canopy tour. The guides will educate you about the flora, fauna, geology and history of the outdoors by safely traversing an established route of ziplines and aerial bridges between platforms built in the trees. Schedule a visit to Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch and get to know the alpacas that call Rolling Oak home. While you are there you can shop locally produced products that include alpaca fiber.

 

Visitsi 

We invite you to spend your spring break exploring all that Southern Illinois has to offer! Williamson County has great destinations for family friendly spring break adventures! The Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge has over 43,000 acres of land and water just waiting to be explored! Take a hike one of their beautiful trails like the Rocky Bluff Trail or the Harmony Trail, where you will be able to spot various plants and wildlife. You can also enjoy a number of water activities like fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and more! If you don’t have your own kayaks, Fisheye Kayak Rentals will deliver them to any Southern Illinois waterway and pick them up onsite for a fun, hassle-free experience! In Marion, Magnus Fear is the area’s leading paintball course. They offer a number of packages and playing options, including private group reservations and equipment rentals! Pirate Pete’s in Marion is a classic arcade with food, games, and laser tag! For those little makers, there are great options for crafts and creations. Fish Tales Pottery in Herrin has a large selection of pottery and paints just waiting to be turned in to one-of-a-kind works of art! The Creative Getaway in Marion is another great little shop to get your craft on. Their “Pinterest inspired” workshop is the perfect place to create special gifts, home décor, and more! If you’d like to add a little learning into your activities, Williamson County has several historical museums and statues that make for a fun and educational afternoon of exploring. Along with the Williamson County Historical Museum and the Carterville Heritage Museum, the Harrison Bruce Historical Village at John A. Logan College offers an experience steeped in history. Places like the Doughboy Statue and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Vietnam Memorial and Tank are great places to pay tribute and remembrance to our military. Enjoy a few carefree days in Williamson County this spring!