Bell Smith Springs in the Shawnee National Forest

Beautiful view of the rock formations that span the waterways of Bell Smith Springs

Bell Smith Springs in the Shawnee National Forest

Step out of your day to day, walk down Bell Smith Springs’ stone steps, and into a natural jewel in the Shawnee National Forest. Enjoy a day of scenic views or hike all weekend. Bell Smith Springs, made up of a series of clear rocky streams and scenic canyons bordered by high sandstone cliffs, offers 8 miles of picturesque trails and a variety of rock formations painted by blossoming Spring wildflowers.

This location is a designated National Natural Landmark because of the distinct number of plant and animal communities that thrive in a variety of habitats created by the unique geological features that dominate the area.

Stairway to a cliffside overlook of Bell Smith Springs Illinois in the Shawnee Forest

Who Built the Stone Stairs at Bell Smith Springs?

This iconic stone staircase was placed here by hand in the early 1930s. This was the era of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Wikipedia explains that the CCC was a public work relief program which helped millions of families, by providing jobs to unemployed young men during The Great Depression. As part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt New Deal, several of our Region’s natural resources gained improved access, that we still get to enjoy today!

The beautiful stairs, composed from native stone, lead you to the beautiful world of the Devil’s Backbone, a favorite local swimming spot, as well as the largest natural arch in the Shawnee National Forest.

Unique Bird Watching Area

Birders flock from across the nation to view spectacular specimens of tanagers, sparrows, pileated woodpeckers, eastern phoebes, and various species of vireos. This unique canyon provides specialized habitats for over 700 species of flowering plants, ferns, and lichens, a remarkable 20% of the total number of plants and lichens known to exist in Illinois!

Here a piece of Devil’s Backbone, a large rock formation in Southern Illinois, is standing above the creek in Bell Smith Springs IL.

Hiking Trails at Bell Smith Springs

Four individual trails make up the 8 miles of available hikes in the Bell Smith Springs canyon. The dirt trails can be moderate to difficult in some areas. Please, stay on designated trails and watch for poison ivy and sumac plants. The trails pass deep pods and shelter pockets in the bluffs and various rock formations while offering lovely overlooks of Bay Creek.

Discover the Sentry Bluff Trail, marked with blue diamonds, and travel along the exposed sandstone cliffs above the canyon giving the hiker a spectacular view of the gully below. Stop at Boulder Falls to view one of the area’s most beautiful waterfalls.

The General Area Trails, marked with white diamonds, provide 1.5 miles of hiking with natural attractions such as Devil’s Backbone, a series of boulders that create the illusion of a monstrous spine spanning the creek bed!

Explore the 1.5 mile Natural Bridge Trail marked with yellow diamonds to get a panoramic view of Bell Smith Springs from the highest natural bridge in Shawnee National Forest! This natural bridge spans 125 feet and arches 30 feet over the canyon creating an optimal vantage point to soak up the natural beauty of the area.

Experience Mill Branch Trail by following the red diamonds! This trail covers 2 miles and winds on either side of Mill Branch Creek. Take a break to enjoy a bit of history at Old Grist Mill Dam, the last standing structure of the historic community of Hartsville. For long hikes, take water, food, and first aid as the trails can be quite remote. To keep this woodland pristine for generations to come, please remember to take your trash with you.

How do I to Get to Bell Smith Springs?

To partake in the natural wonder of Bell Smith Springs National Natural Landmark, take IL-145 and turn East onto Water Tower Road. In 2.6 miles, continue onto Ozark Road for another 1.1 miles. Then, turn left towards Bell Smith Springs Road and in 0.2 miles, take the first left onto Bell Smith Springs Road. Hike in at the beginning of the trailhead and down the stone steps. Take a right for an up-close view of large boulders that dot the creek bed or turn left for shallow wading to the Natural Arch!

What else is near Bell Smith Springs?

Bell Smith Springs in the Shawnee National Forest is located off of Ozark Road. This road begins in Eddyville Illinois where the Shawnee Restaurant and Lounge is located. As you travel West on Ozark Road, past Bell Smith Springs, you could make a stop at the also popular Burden Falls, which is flowing beautifully if there have been recent rains. Continue West on Ozark Road and you will see signs for Jackson Falls, also a well-known waterfall with camping and rock climbing. You could also round out your day by hiking Sand Cave and Millstone Bluff which are also nearby.

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