Day Trip Southern Illinois (Video)

day trip southern illinois

Day Trip Southern Illinois

Lying between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers is an area littered with parks, vineyards, and wildlife sanctuaries. I recently visited this beautiful area and had slightly more than a day to explore. This article describes the perfect day trip out of the Carbondale and Marion, Illinois area.

Regardless of whether you are a parent of an SIU Saluki, a businessman with a day off, or a road tripper needing to stretch your legs, the local rocky bluffs and wilderness areas of Southern Illinois are a great place to explore. When you are done, the vineyards provided the perfect recovery for your wild hikes. This particular trip started with dinner in Carbondale, a waterfall hike in Ferne Clyffe State Park, then a drive to the Shawnee Wine Trail to stop for lunch at Blue Sky Vineyard. We finished the day with a quick stop to the hippy town of Makanda, Illinois.

A Perfect Southern Illinois Day Trip

We arrived at the local Marion airport by mid-afternoon to start our trip. After a quick limo ride to the hotel, we changed clothes and talked to the front desk staff about helping us plan our day trip. Luckily, they had a rack full of brochures and business advertising to tourists. That is where our adventure begins.

Enjoy watching this movie here or on our YouTube channel. The rest of the article is further below.

Local Tips for Renting Your Car

Usually, it is easy to find a car. This time I looked up two rental companies, Hertz, and Enterprise. I don’t feel like I need to mention car rentals very often, but in this case, I did. This day trip I really needed to rent my car on a Saturday afternoon and then return it the next day but we couldn’t find anyone who could work with our schedule.

We flew in around 3 PM and our check-in time the next day was 10PM so we had somewhere around 30 hours to enjoy. In my experience, when I rent a car, I just tell them when I need to return it and they work usually with me pretty well. Not this time. What I wanted to do was a 4PM pickup and then a 9:30PM (28 hours) return for a single day price.

First I tried Enterprise and couldn’t get them to answer the phone or get their website to give me a quote. Then I went to Hertz. After I had booked the car online, I learned I had to return it by 3 PM the next day or I had to pay for the second day. Out of options, I agreed to their terms but it kind of left a bad taste in my mouth because it left me with six wasted hours around the hotel.

Ferne Clyffe State Park

Ferne Clyffe Lake

Our first stop was to Ferne Clyffe State Park. The first thing we came upon at the park was a little lake called Ferne Clyffe Lake. It is stocked with trout and had a wonderful easy walkway around the outside. Coming from Minnesota, there wasn’t too much to this lake but it was a beautiful little setting and we enjoyed the easy walk through the nearby woods.

Big Rocky Hollow Trail and the Ferne Clyffe Waterfall

We could not find clear directions online to find the waterfall.  Evidently, there is some confusion about the trail because half of the hiking sites and google results had incorrect trail names or comments from people who couldn’t find the falls. With the help of some locals we had no problem finding the waterfall and the actual name of the trail at the park.

The correct trail with the waterfall is called the Big Rocky Hollow Trail. It is accessed by an unnamed road in the park. To make it excruciatingly clear (because the signage at the park is not), I put a couple of labels on a google map and embedded it below. Feel free to plug this into your phone to find the parking lot and enjoy the lovely hike!

As you can see above, Ferne Clyffe State Park is not that large. When you enter the park, take the first left turn past the lake and then continue on the immediate right turn and take that road to the end. Once at the parking lot, you can join the beautiful Big Rocky Hollow Trail.

The Big Rocky Hollow Trail is a very easy, flat trail that has a lot of improvements to it. If you can walk through a mall, you can handle this trail. Along the route, you will see several rocky cliffs which make for an eerie yet beautiful stroll through the forest.

Gradually, the rocky cliffs come closer and closer together until you find yourself in a wooded grotto surrounded by maple-covered cliffs. Here, after recent rains, a tall waterfall cuts through the picturesque landscape. Unfortunately, those rains didn’t cooperate with our schedule and we were left to imagine what it might look like.

After a few minutes at the falls, we headed back to the car and went on our way down the Shawnee Wine Trail to Blue Sky Vineyard.

Blue Sky Vineyard

Highly recommended by both our front desk lady AND an Uber driver, the Blue Sky Vineyard did not disappoint. The vineyard had a beautiful tasting room with an attached kitchen and patio.

We ordered surprisingly inexpensive food. I had a pulled pork sandwich on a croissant bun and the Captain had another great looking sandwich. There was also a free grilling area, so if you are road tripping through plan on grilling here and trying some of their wine. Unfortunately for us, we had to work later in the day and couldn’t try any ourselves.

Make sure to take a walk around the property, the lawn and gardens are beautiful and the acres of grapes provide a lovely setting for a stroll.

After the vineyard, we continued our drive to Makanda before heading home.


Hippies have a distinctive smell and it is unmistakable what I am talking about when you turn the corner to Makanda. The odd mix of sweaty people and incense wafted from several of the doorways as you approach the only building in town with any life in it.

The old historic-looking building at the center of this scene had a few shops, ice cream, and art galleries. Furthest to the right and probably the most interesting part of Makanda is a working studio and shop called Rainmaker Art Studio and sculpture garden.

The eclectic collection of metalwork in the front studio led through the building into a sculpture garden of wandering walkways, creeping plants, and some old structures. It was messily charming and unique.

Where I’m Going Next Time

It was a shame that we had to return our car so early in the day (and that I am so cheap I wouldn’t pay an extra $32 to keep it a few more hours). There were plenty more places that I wanted to visit. The first was a hike to the Natural Bridge in Ponoma and the second was to the other highly recommended vineyard, Alta Vineyards.

In fact, I think it would be a wonderful couple’s retreat to drive down to Southern Illinois for a day of hiking and Vineyards and then returning home. From Minnesota, a trip could start at the Great River Road Wine Trail through the Minnesota and Wisconsin borders and then continue through cute cities like Moline, Illinois on the way to the Shawnee Wine trail in southern Illinois. From Minneapolis, it is a 10-hour drive, and from Chicago, it is 6.

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