Nature draws people to the Carbondale-Marion area in southern Illinois. It’s the gateway to Shawnee National Forest, which contains seven wilderness areas and the must-see ancient sandstone cliffs and rock formations in the Garden of the Gods. Check out our trip guide on what to see, where to eat and where to stay.

By By the editors of MidwestLiving.com
Rocky Bluff Trail

What to do

Whether you hike, bike, golf or fish, the region offers many parks, lakes and trails. If sipping a glass of wine sounds more relaxing, the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail hits 11 stops on a 45-mile route through the Shawnee National Forest.

Hikers love the Rocky Bluff Trail near Devils Kitchen Lake, part of the vast Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge outside Carbondale-Marion.

Rocky Bluff Trail near Devils Kitchen Lake, part of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Paul Nordmann.

Carbondale-Marion is a cultural center, too, home to Southern Illinois University and its arts venues, such as McLeod Theater.

Off campus, the African American Museum of Southern Illinois and the kid-friendly Science Center add to the region's cultural resume.

Downtown Carbondale anchors a diverse dining, shopping and music scene. Watch live music, live theater and films at The Varsity Center, a 1940 Art Modern venue.

Golfers love the scenic courses in southern Illinois, including Crab Orchard Golf Club in Carterville, a par-70 layout known for its lush fairways.

Photo courtesy of Crab Orchard Golf Club.

Hike through towering rock formations resembling streets trod by behemoths at Giant City State Park in Makanda.

On the Southern Illinois University campus, SIU Arena hosts sporting events and concerts. Rapper Drake did his first solo show here.

In Carbondale's Marberry Arboretum, stroll or hike through 6,000 species of trees, flowers and wildlife, including a bamboo forest.

Black Diamond Harley-Davidson in Marion holds outdoor concerts at its dealership. Past performers include Kid Rock, Eric Church and Toby Keith.

East of Marion, forested hills and rugged bluffs draw hikers to the Shawnee National Forest. A quarter-mile trail leads to views of the Garden of the Gods' striking sandstone and rock formations.

Garden of the Gods. Photo: Ryan Donnell.

What to eat

Try the signature pink sugar cookies at Cristaudo's Cafe and Bakery in downtown Carbondale.

Scratch Brewing Company, just a few miles from Shawnee National Forest in Ava, is one of the world's most beautiful places to drink beer (so says All About Beer magazine).

Scratch Brewing Company. Photo taken by Kendall Karmanian.

At Global Gourmet in Carbondale, international menu items change with what's in season or chef-inspired.

Where to stay

Escape to Pine Manor Estate, a Southern-look luxury bed-and-breakfast in the hills between Giant City State Park and Shawnee National Forest.

The Train Inn, a 1905 Arts and Crafts bungalow, offers unpretentious luxury close to the SIU campus. An adjacent cottage offers more space and privacy.

More information: carbondaletourism.org, marionillinois.com/visiting.html

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