What Is Southwest Illinois Best Known For?

When most people think of Illinois, they imagine a sprawling city: Chicago. Although this city captures the vast majority of the nation’s attention, there will always be those who realize you can only understand a state’s people and its culture after visiting the more rural areas. Southwest Illinois is home to nearly 160,000 people. They live in cities like Carbondale, Marion, Herrin, Murphysboro, Anna, Carterville, and Cairo.

Noteworthy landmarks include the scenic Cache River, the prestigious Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, the fast-growing city of Marion, Alto Pass, Bald Knob Pass, Crab Orchard Lake, and the historic city of Cairo from which Illinois receives its nickname “Little Egypt.” There you’ll find the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Outdoor enthusiasts — especially fishers — love this area for its many nature-related exploration opportunities.

One of the most glorious stops is none other than Giant City State Park, a massive 4000-acre natural area. In this park you can stick to the well-worn paths or make your way into the forests or limestone crags to find your own space. An old 1930s lodge is one of the most visited parts of the park, where visitors can stay the night or enjoy home-cooked meals. 

Those who continue their search might try Inspiration Point, a beautiful lookout enjoyed after the LaRue Pine Hills climb. From the top, one can enjoy a panoramic view of the Mississippi River or scout for wildlife living in the region. Trail of Tears State Forest is only a short drive after climbing down. Not done? Head toward the Little Grand Canyon on the other side of Big Muddy River. Its name was derived from the red sandstone valley within, which is often not what people imagine when they think of Illinois wilderness.

Most visitors will make their way to Southwest Illinois from Chicago — especially when flying — and will no doubt enjoy the open prairie views during the drive south. There are plenty of opportunities for detours, of course, but most of this wonderful land is unpopulated!

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