Getaway to Southern Illinois
The scenic southern Illinois burg of Makanda nestles near the lush Shawnee National Forest.
Outdoor enthusiasts make tracks to Makanda's Giant City State Park, which gets its name from the steep, carved sandstone cliffs that resemble city streets fit for a giant. Hikers explore miles of trails or gather their gear and tackle rock-climbing and rappelling on the massive bluffs.
The clear and calm waters of Little Grassy Lake, part of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, are ideal for a day of fishing and boating. For a calmer detour, the quirky Makanda Boardwalk showcases the works of local artisans, including metalwork and gemstone jewelry.
Sample the flavors of southern Illinois grapes at 11 vineyards and wineries on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. Blue Sky Vineyard, inspired by a Tuscan villa, is known for its picturesque grounds with outdoor terraces overlooking a lake.
At Cobden's Owl Creek Vineyard, the hard ciders are nearly as popular as the wines and are best enjoyed on the shady upstairs deck.
Cache Bayou Outfitters in Ullin gives guided tours, by canoe or kayak, of the Cache River, Illinois' hidden bayou. Spot little blue herons, black vultures and other wildlife in the wetlands and forests of the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge.
Eat and Drink
For a fine dining experience, Tom's Place in DeSoto offers a six-course menu of seasonal items chosen by proprietor and chef Lasse Sorensen. Dinner at the Brick House Grill in Anna might include a beef filet or steamed mussels. Scratch Brewing Company, just a few miles from Shawnee National Forest in Ava, promises one of the world's most beautiful places to drink beer (says All About Beer magazine).
At Rocky Comfort Cabins, an offbeat lodging option is the hobbit-style Cove, a grass-roof earthen shelter with round windows and sun tunnels that flood the cabin with light. Giant City Lodge offers vintage cabins nestled in the woods with modern conveniences.
The stunning Makanda Inn and Cottages, an eco-friendly retreat located on 18 forest acres, is constructed with all-natural building materials.
The owners of Davie School Inn in Anna have turned a 1910 elementary school into a posh bed-and-breakfast with 11 themed suites.