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Winter Getaway in Shawnee NF  Feature Image

With more than 280,000 acres of diverse landscapes and 403 miles of hiking trails, the Shawnee National Forest is a perfect destination for a weekend away with friends or a romantic getaway with that special someone. In the cooler months, this must-see location offers adventure seekers and nature lovers a new, more intimate perspective of the beautiful, wintery outdoors of Southern Illinois.

From the rustic tree houses to stay in and the unparalleled outdoor adventures, here are the top attractions for a weekend getaway in the Shawnee National Forest:

Little Grand Canyon Trail
Take an exploratory hike for a break from the holiday frenzy. Feel the crunch of the crisp leaves beneath your feet as you travel along the 3.6-mile trail through rock walls, eroded sandstone canyons and craggy bluffs as you meander to the Little Grand Canyon itself. The Little Grand Canyon offers a 365-foot climb from the canyon floor and a panoramic view of the Big Muddy River and the Mississippi floodplain.

Instagramer (at) sarahdesign01 captured this amazing shot on a winter hike through the Little Grand Canyon Trail!

Instagramer (at) sarahdesign01 captured this amazing shot on a winter hike through the Little Grand Canyon Trail!

Garden of the Gods
No trip to Shawnee National Forest would be complete without a scenic hike to the Garden of Gods. With fewer leaves, the cooler months expose the dramatic rock formations and highlight the textured cliffs, offering a unique perspective of the forest. The breathtaking view from Garden of the Gods makes for the perfect destination for photographers and hikers.

Instagramer (at) theroadandandrew captured this amazing shot of the trees dusted in snow against the protruding bluffs.

Instagramer (at) theroadandandrew captured this amazing shot of the trees dusted in snow against the protruding bluffs.

Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour
Thrill seekers can elevate their weekend by soaring through the Shawnee National Forest on a Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour. Open Saturday and Sunday from December to March, you can experience the beauty of the wintery forest by zipping through its exposed bluffs and valleys.

Fly through the terrain of the Shawnee National Forest on a tour of eight zip lines and three aerial suspension bridges. (Photo courtesy of Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour)

Fly through the terrain of the Shawnee National Forest on a tour of eight zip lines and three aerial suspension bridges. (Photo courtesy of Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour)

Timber Ridge Outpost & Cabins
After a day of adventure, get cozy in an authentic log cabin or a unique treehouse nestled in the hills of the Shawnee National Forest. Surrounded by the beautiful woods, enjoy taking in the tranquility of being off the beaten path. Open year round and supplied with heat, there’s no reason not to enjoy the winter season outdoors.

This White Oak Treehouse was built from a 200+ year old White Oak and sits 20 feet in the air.

This White Oak Treehouse was built from a 200+ year old White Oak and sits 20 feet in the air.

For more trip inspiration, visit EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

Trails to Adventure Light Festival Feature Image

The holiday season is just around the corner! From sipping hot cocoa with friends to taking pictures with Santa, Illinois hosts sparkling light festivals perfect for to experience with family and friends. Check out these five must-see light festivals in Central and Southern Illinois to make the most of this season!

East Peoria Festival of Lights and Folepi’s Winter Wonderland – November 23-January 1

With more than two million lights, East Peoria’s Festival of Lights and Wonderland is a mesmerizing display for visitors or all ages. The event kicks off November 21 with a three-mile Parade of Lights through downtown Peoria. The festival will crown a Lights Queen on November 15, conduct a citywide ornament hunt on November 25 and judge a Christmas splendor exterior decorating contest on December 8.

And for those looking to start the New Year on the right foot , sign up for East Peoria’s Get Lit New Year’s Eve Fun Run. This non-competitive and festive run starts at 11:50 p.m. on December 31, winding through Folepi’s Winter Wonderland and offering an exclusive view of the twinkling lights.

East Peoria Lights Festival 1

One of the vibrant displays at the East Peoria Festival of Lights.

Shelbyville Festival of Lights – November 20-January 2

Take a leisurely drive through Forest Park to see Shelbyville lit up in the holiday spirit. With new lights and themes every year, this festival of lights is a must-see this season. Families and couples are sure to enjoy the festive features including Victorian Village, Santa’s Shop, the North Pole and more.

Du Quoin Annual Holiday Lights Fair – November 25-December 31

For the holiday season, the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds get a festive makeover, transforming the grounds into a magical place of lights and decorations. Drive through  incredible lighted displays and decorated trees before enjoying live entertainment, delicious food and, of course, visits with Mr. Claus at Santa’s Train Ride and Workshop.

The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows Way of Lights – November 20-January 1

Illuminating the already beautiful 200 acres of landscape, the Way of Lights festival at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville features fun and festive events such as a new Lego Display play area for children and Tails, Trails and Twinkles, a perfect occasion to share the shining lights alongside four-legged friends.

Take a romantic horse-drawn carriage to admire the twinkling lights at the Way of Lights!

Take a romantic horse-drawn carriage to admire the twinkling lights at the Way of Lights!

Fantasy of Lights – November 30-January 1

Fantasy of Lights in Centralia is perfect for families with kids or couples looking for a spirited night out. Guests can appreciate the lighted displays on a drive through Foundation Park to experience twinkling candy canes or golfing Santa. In December, the ‘Little Obie’ train offers free rides for children – and adults, too – to meet Santa.

For more ways to celebrate the holiday season, visit EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

Reveal Mermet Springs FEATURE

Southern Illinois is known for its winding nature trails, breathtaking cliffs and spectacular vineyards. Many don’t realize that Southern Illinois is also home to an array of offbeat museums and wacky monuments. Check out these four quirky attractions you didn’t know were in Southern Illinois!

The Super Museum—Metropolis

Childhood heroes come to life at The Super Museum in Metropolis, Illinois. The museum features more than 20,000 items of Superman memorabilia collected over 60 years—the largest collection of its kind on earth!

Super Museum visitors love learning about this mythical caped hero. (Photo by Donnelle Waldschmidt)

Super Museum visitors love learning about this mythical caped hero. (Photo by Donnelle Waldschmidt)

The Americana Hollywood Museum—Metropolis

After an afternoon exploring the Super Museum, Metropolis visitors won’t want to miss a trip to the nearby Americana Hollywood Museum. The museum is an amazing tribute to America’s most famous Hollywood icons, which features life-size figures, wardrobes, costumes, movie props, statues and celebrity collectibles from around the world. Travelers will love learning about the lives of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and more!

Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tours—Makanda

Always wanted to try zip lining above a lush forest canopy? You don’t need to travel far! Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tours in Makanda consists of eight zip lines that crisscross the property’s stunning bluffs and valleys. A canopy tour is an exciting way to experience the flora, fauna, geology and history of Illinois’ great outdoors!

Instagramer @trashhand loved zooming through this leafy forest.

Instagramer @trashhand loved zooming through this leafy forest.

Mermet Springs—Belknap

Mermet Springs in Belknap is a unique spring-fed stone quarry where divers marvel at underwater treasures such as a submerged motorcycle and cement petting zoo—deep sea adventurers can even explore the airplane used in the movie U.S. Marshals! A dive at Mermet is the perfect way to explore something new on a summer day in Southern Illinois.

Planes, trains, and automobiles have all been sunk as attractions at this Illinois diving spot. (Photo by Mermet Springs)

Planes, trains, and automobiles have all been sunk as attractions at this Illinois diving spot. (Photo by Mermet Springs)

For more information on fun places to explore in Southern Illinois, check out EnjoyIllinois.com.

–Illinois Office of Tourism

Cahokia Mounds Feature Image

This week we asked followers to “find something more” in Illinois! If you identified and found Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, congratulations! Be sure to follow us on Instagram for upcoming weekly challenges.

Hint_wk14_CahokiaMounds

The challenge photo of Cahokia Mounds (Photo by Dustin Holmes)

Cahokia Mounds is Illinois’ only United Nations World Heritage Site. Located near historic Route 66 in Collinsville, the 2,200-acre site preserves the largest historic Native American settlement north of Mexico. Cahokia’s Interpretive Center presents a coherent account of this sophisticated prehistoric culture. Visitors can Climb Monk’s Mound for an unforgettable view of the ancient village grounds.

Reveal @itsalyrae

Photo by Instagramer @itsalyrae

@brightjoey

Photo by Instagramer @brightjoey

@caddis_hat

Photo by Instagramer @caddis_hat

@sjali1 (1)

Photo by Instagramer @sjali

@sjali1 (2)

Photo by Instagramer @sjali

@superbrewhaha

Photo by Instagramer @superbrewhaha

-The Illinois Office of Tourism

Getaways FEATURE IMG

There’s nothing quite like summer in Makanda. Warm weather and sunshine make the season the perfect time to explore the city’s many outdoor attractions. From zip lining over a towering forest canopy to gabbing over a glass of Merlot in a sprawling vineyard, you and your friends will have a blast. Check out the top four reasons your friends will love exploring Makanda this summer.

Poplar Camp Beach

Catch up with friends while soaking up sunshine at Poplar Camp Beach on beautiful Cedar Lake. Locals rave about this stunning sandy waterfront – it’s one of Makanda’s best-kept secrets. The beach is open Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and weekends 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Instagramer (at) tyler4701 loved visiting Cedar Lake and Poplar Camp Beach!

Instagramer (at) tyler4701 loved visiting Cedar Lake and Poplar Camp Beach!

Giant City Stables

You haven’t seen Giant City State Park until you’ve toured it by horseback. Offer your friends a unique way to get in touch with nature when you tour the park with Giant City Stables. They’ll love marveling at the park’s spectacular woodlands and sheer sandstone walls. All trail rides are guided by experienced wranglers.

Visitors love exploring Giant City State Park by horseback!

Visitors love exploring Giant City State Park by horseback!

Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tours

Give your friends something to talk about for years to come when zipping through dense forest valleys with Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour. The tour consists of eight zip lines, which zig-zag across the property’s bluffs and valleys. The longest zip line stretches more than 1,100 feet. Canopy tours are an exciting way to experience the natural beauty of the great outdoors. And they are just plain fun!

Adrenaline junkies love the Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour! (Photo by Instagramer (at) trashhand)

Adrenaline junkies love the Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour!
(Photo by Instagramer (at) trashhand)

Blue Sky Vineyard

What better way to end a day of outdoor adventure than with a trip to Blue Sky Vineyard? Stroll through the vineyards, enjoy wine tastings and relax on the outdoor terrace with the rolling countryside as your backdrop. This stunning Tuscan-inspired winery and vineyard is the perfect setting for relaxing and laughing with friends.

Blue Sky Vineyard is the perfect place to relax with friends after a long day of summer fun!

Blue Sky Vineyard is the perfect place to relax with friends after a long day of summer fun!

For more information on fun places to explore in Illinois this summer, check out EnjoyIllinois.com.

–Illinois Office of Tourism