Lodging and Dining are as Natural as the Landscape in the Shawnee Forest

This is the scene that will greet you each morning from your deck in the duplex cabins at Cave-in-Rock Lodge, Illinois -- Pat Lindsey photo

This is the scene that will greet you each morning from your deck in the duplex cabins at Cave-in-Rock Lodge, Illinois — Pat Lindsey photo

by Pat Lindsey

If you’re expecting to spend the night in a Holiday Inn or have breakfast at McDonald’s while staying in the Shawnee National Forest, you’ve come to the wrong place. Chain motels and fast food restaurants do not exist in this part of southernmost Illinois, where the Ohio River has cut its channel through some of the most unspoiled country in America. It’s the ultimate destination for peace and serenity amidst lush green forests, trails to caves and rock formations, and sleepy river towns.

Lodging in this area ranges from tent sites and RV hookups to “antique cabins” and treehouses, a beautiful home that can accommodate multiple families, or a bed & breakfast in a historic hotel. The antique cabins are refurbished log cabins from the 1800s that have original rustic charm on the exterior, but are thoroughly modern inside. The bed & breakfast is the 1912 Rose Hotel, the oldest hotel in Illinois. http://historicrosehotel.com/

The lofty accommodations at Tree House and Log Cabin Resort.           — Bob Lindsey photo

Treehouses are the newest homes away from home. They are built in the boughs of sturdy trees about one story above the ground. Packing light is essential when staying here, because luggage has to be carried up the flight of wooden stairs. In some cases, the bedroom is a loft and an additional flight of interior stairs has to be climbed. The treehouses at Tree House and Log Cabin Resort are the newest type of lodging in the Illinois Ozarks. Information is available at www.TimberRidgeOutpost.com.

At Cave-In-Rock Restaurant and Lodge, where we stayed, there are four duplex guest houses with eight suites, each accommodating up to four people comfortably. One suite is handicapped accessible and they all have private decks that overlook the Ohio River. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning to take some gorgeous photos of the sunrise reflected in the river. And what tickled me the most when we checked in was that our last name was written on a chalkboard outside our door and the key was left under the welcome mat. That kind of down-home hospitality is impossible to achieve in a Holiday Inn.   www.caveinrockkaylors.com/

During our two-day stay, we had three distinct dining experiences and the prices were very reasonable. The first was dinner at Cave-In-Rock Restaurant, which has a very extensive menu for a relatively small place. Some of the wine served during cocktail hour came from nearby Blue Sky Winery. The fried catfish got rave reviews that night, as did the shrimp, steaks, and homemade peanut butter pie.

The Garden of the Gods in the Shawnee National Forest.

The Garden of the Gods in the Shawnee National Forest.

Our itinerary for the next day was jam-packed with stops at the not-to-be-missed points of interest in the Shawnee National Forest, so we stopped for a picnic lunch at the new Garden of the Gods Outpost. We called ahead to order sandwiches, chips, and beverages and everything was ready for us when we arrived. The Outpost is one of the few places in the forest that provides essential provisions (including aspirin, insect repellant, and souvenirs) as well as some food and a wide variety of ice cream treats. After our super-sized lunch topped off with ice cream for dessert, we weren’t really hungry for dinner, but a floating restaurant in Elizabethtown was beckoning us.


E’Town River Restaurant at 100 Front St. on the Ohio River is a destination restaurant because of its scrumptious fried catfish and extremely reasonable prices. For $6, you can have your fill of fried catfish fillets and still have some to take home. Full meals, soups, salads, sides, and desserts are daily offerings. All are accompanied with a fabulous view of the river.

Dining in the Illinois Ozarks is always casual and the lodging blends into the landscape. Peace and quiet prevails, but don’t be misled…Not everything is laid-back, because somewhere in the forest there are hikers hiking, bikers biking, fishermen fishing, swimmers swimming, equestrians riding, and rock climbers climbing. The Illinois Ozarks is a mecca of soft adventure and the perfect fall getaway for vacations and scenic drives.

For more information visit: www.illinoisozarks.com and www.southernmostillinois.com

Silhouttte of tourist in Pirates Cave. -- Bob Lindsey photo

Silhouttte of tourist in Pirates Cave.  — Bob Lindsey photo


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