Along the south eastern borders of Illinois flows the majestic Ohio River . Over the centuries, the Ohio has silently carved the limestone bluffs which line the shores of the scenic Shawnee area into some of the most beautiful and visited tourist attractions in Southern Illinois.
Among these attractions stands the historic cavern of Cave-In-Rock State Park . Acquired by the State of Illinois in 1929, the popular cavern is located in the village of Cave-In-Rock . Burrowed out by the winds and water of time, the white limestone shines out along the shoreline of the Ohio with an array of flora and fauna. Each year thousands of visitors, both local and out-of-state, walk the gravel trail down to the Ohio ’s beach and stand in awe of the massive opening leading into the mouth of the limestone cathedral.
Upon entering the impressive 55 foot wide mouth of the cavern, one will stand in awe of the one hundred foot vertical fissure leading to the top entrance. In both the 1700s and 1800s, the cave was used as shelter for a wide variety of visitors because of the convenience the natural chimney provided.
The cave was originally discovered by French explorer M. de Lery, but a many decades later, was used as a hideout for river pirates and criminals. Outlaw Samuel Mason is credited with turning the cave into a drinking den for local delinquents. The tavern became a breeding ground which catered to various sorts of trouble, including gambling, prostitution, robbery and even murder.
As pioneers began to head westward, the law eventually drove out the dangerous tenants and the waters and shores were safe once again for weary travelers. Western explorers frequently used the cave for shelter during their stops along the river. The peacefulness and inviting warmth of the area played a large part in drawing early settlers to the village of Cave-In-Rock .
The state park allows camping, hiking and boating to help further enjoy the surrounding wildlife. Camping sites run from $10 to $20 a night and each are equipped with firewood and grill. The 204 acre park has two main hiking trails and wildlife such as deer, raccoon, opossum and even the occasional Bald eagle can be spotted if one keeps a vigilant eye. There are also two main boating ramps located near the park and fishing licenses information can be obtained at the park ranger station. The village of Cave-In-Rock also offers lodging and restaurants for those who have traveled the rough roads.
In the past the Cave-In-Rock was frequented by pirates, robbers, thieves and murders, but as just the weather changes the land, eventually the cave took a step forward into history and played a positive role in westward expansion and local community development. Today, the cave’s natural splendor offers visitors a first hand look at one of the great hidden treasures of Southern Illinois .
Cave-in-Rock State Park is located on the Ohio River in Hardin County, Illinois. To reach the park from the northern parts of Illinois, proceed south on I-57 exiting at Marion, IL, on highway 13 east. Go east through Marion and Harrisburg to the intersection of Illinois 1 and 13. Turn south 22 miles on highway 1 to Cave-in-Rock State Park. From the south, take highway 90 from Marion, KY., and cross the Cave-in-Rock ferry and follow directional signs to the park entrance. From the southeast take I-24 west from the I-24 bridge to exit #16, then go 38 miles east on Illinois highway 146 to the park. From Southern Indiana, proceed through Evansville, IN traveling West on highway 62 and Illinois highway 141 to Illinois Rt. 1, then go south 36 miles to Cave-in-Rock State Park.
Kevin Kepple is a writer, poet, songwriter and English major at Southern Illinois University.