Hiking & Wine Tasting
There are twelve wineries along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail which are best toured over a two or three day period in order enjoy the ambiance, locales and, of course, the wines of each. My favorite approach? To start each morning by visiting some of the natural wonders that Southern Illinois has to offer and then spend the afternoon touring the wineries.
Day 1 – The Pomona to Alto Trail
After enjoying a wonderful night’s sleep at Hidden Lake, exploring area nature trails and sampling Southern Illinois wines is a great way to see the sites. Be sure to flip a coin for a designated driver – or hire a limo! There are seven wineries to enjoy along the Pomona to Alto Trail!
- Start by visiting the Pomona Natural Bridge. A beautiful, pristine walking trail highlighting a stone bridge carved out over thousand of years by the waterway which ran beneath. Only 1/2 mile to and from the parking area, Pomona Natural Bridge has a spiritual aura about it and is definately worth the stop.
- Next, drive on to Little Grand Canyon but bring your hiking boots and your water bottle, Little Grand Canyon is noted for its challenging 3 and 7 mile trails. Assuming our springs rains are sufficient, you’ll find yourself climbing up along side a waterfall! But don’t venture onto this rugged trail in rainy, snowy or icy conditions ….
- Now onto some wine tasting … Your first stop, the Pomona Winery. A producer of fruit wines, a visit to Pomona will have you walking away feeling like a vintner – or at least a knowledgeable wine connoisseur. The owners, George & Jane, take you through all of their wines with tips on how to use many in cooking. Don’t think you like fruit wines? Our last guest to say those words purchased a case to take home! Be certain to try their Orchard Spice – I hear it’s great served over ice cream!
- Next, consider stopping at Hickory Ridge Winery, one of the newest along the wine trail. Rolling hillside vistas of acres and acres of vineyards will have you believing that you’re enjoying a glass of wine in the hills of Tuscany. Or take a jog north on Rt. 127 to visit Kite Hill Vineyard & Winery. I understand they serve up a terrific wine slush!
- Von Jakob Vineyards is your next stop. You have two locations from which to choose – one on Rt. 127, south of Pomona with fantastic views of Southern Illinois hillsides and their original location on the Wine Trail with beautiful decks overlooking sweeping acres of vineyards. Stop in to taste their wines and browse their gift shop. Then choose your favorite wine to enjoy on the deck.
- Onward now to Alto Vineyards, the largest and oldest winery on the Pomona to Alto part of the wine trail. The largest producer of wine in Southern Illinois, Alto Vineyards is also the oldest winery in the area boasting over 230 medals for their award winning wines since 1988. I hear great things about their Chamborcin if you’re into dry reds as well as their Alto Festa if you enjoy a sweet blush. Alto also boasts a neat gift shop to check out while you’re there.
- In need of some lunch? Stop in at the Root Beer Saloon in Alto Pass just south of Alto Vineyards. Offering an eclectic menu – peel and eat shrimp, poor boy sandwiches, applewood smoked duck, and the “Elvis Special” – a honey, banana and peanut butter sandwich – to name just a few. There is also an espresso and cappuccino bar and they have a large variety of coffees, teas and spices for sale. But be warned! The Root Beer Saloon is not for the faint of heart when it comes to taxidermy or eclectic hospitality!
- Next, try Hedman’s Orchard and Winery. A stop at Hedman’s offers the chance to try a few wines, pick up some fresh peaches and enjoy lunch in the Peach Barn Café which serves up authentic Swedish cuisine! You’ll also enjoy their small gift shop as well as great food.
- Then take a drive up to the top of Bald Knob Mountain. Boasting the highest elevation in Southern Illinois, Bald Knob Mountain is also home to Bald Knob Cross, a cross which stands 111 feet high serving as a national symbol of God for all denominations. The views from Bald Knob Mountain make it worth the drive! During the fall color change, a drive up Bald Knob Mountain is an absolute must!
- Last but not least is Inheritance Valley Vineyard and Winery. Inheritance Valley began producing commercial wines during the 2002 harvest and opened for sales in 2003. One of the smaller wineries along the wine trail, Inheritance Valley makes up for it with great service and personality!
More Hiking: Hiking trails are abundant in the State Forests of Southern Illinois. Others include: Giant City State Park on the Anna to Makanda Trail, Ferne Clyffe noted for its impressive rock formations including , a 150-foot-long shelter bluff, and a 100-foot intermittent waterfall; Trail of Tears used extensively by prehistoric Native Americans who were pushed south and west around 1803 as settlers of European descent entered; LaRue Pine Hills – noted for its scenic overlooks as well as its spring and fall snake migration!; Dixon Springs State Park and Garden of the Gods.
Day 2 — The Anna to Makanda Trail
After enjoying another wonderful night’s sleep at Hidden Lake, exploring area nature trails and sampling Southern Illinois wines is a great way to see the sites. And take a copy of the Wine Trail map that depicts not only the Vineyards and Wineries but also the hiking areas and other scenic stops.
- Begin your day of hiking and wine tasting adventure by driving up to Giant City State Park for some hiking. Stop off at the new Visitor’s Center and pick up a map of the hiking trails. Giant City State Park offers six different hiking trails for you to explore with such curiously interesting names as Devil’s Standtable, Post Oak and Stonefort to name a few. The bluffs that make up the majesty of Giant City are incredible to behold. The naturalist will point you in all of the right directions! And while you’re at the Visitor’s Center, stop in the viewing room for a brief 10-minute movie highlighting the park, why it’s called Giant City, and more.
- Hungry after hiking? Check out Giant City Lodge before you leave the park. Built by the CCC during the Depression, the Lodge is famous for their all-you-can-eat fried chicken family style dinner. They also offer a full menu of tasty entrees including some lighter fare. The architecture of the Lodge itself is worth checking out even if you’re not hungry!
- Now onto some wine tasting! Your first stop… Starview Winery – this winery, formerly Winghill Winery, boasts a truly lovely new tasting room complete with a back deck overlooking a beautiful koi pond. As a lover of dry red wine, I can highly recommend Starview’s SuperNova.
- Then move onto Owl Creek Vineyard. Boasting one of the prettiest tasting rooms, Owl Creek produces wine only from grapes grown here in Southern Illinois. Try some as you relax on their back deck and gaze over the vineyards of Owl Creek. I understand that their Water Valley White is terrific! And be sure to ask for some of their recipes which incorporate their wines in the making.
- Next stop – Blue Sky Vineyard. Blue Sky Winery brings the ambiance of Tuscany to the hillsides of Southernmost Illinois! 360-degree hand painted murals of Tuscany fill the arched ceilings of the Tuscan style villa which comprises their tasting room. A little off the beaten track, Blue Sky definitely is worth the drive!
- Lastly stop by Orlandini Vineyard, another of the boutique wineries on the wine trail, you’ll receive personal attention from the owners.
More Hiking: Hiking trails are abundant in the State Forests of Southern Illinois. Others include: Little Grand Canyon on the Pomona to Alto Trail, Ferne Clyffe noted for its impressive rock formations including Hawk’s Cave, a 150-foot-long shelter bluff, and a 100-foot intermittent waterfall; Trail of Tears used extensively by prehistoric Native Americans who were pushed south and west around 1803 as settlers of European descent entered; LaRue Pine Hills – noted for its scenic overlooks as well as its spring and fall snake migration!; Dixon Springs State Park and Garden of the Gods.
Just Wine Tasting
If you are just interested in touring the wineries and vineyards of Southernmost Illinois, there are certainly enough to keep you tasting for days. At present there are twelve wineries which make up the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail … with more opening all the time.
Start your wine tasting tour by heading up Rt. 127, just west of Jonesboro. There are seven wineries along Rt. 127: Kite Hill, Pomona, Hickory Ridge, Von Jakob, Alto, Hedman’s, and Inheritance Valley. They each offer a unique presentation and atmosphere. Alto, for example, is the oldest and largest provider of wines in the area. In fact, Grandpa Renzaglia together with his son, Paul, were the first to plant a vineyard in Southern Illinois back in 1983. Correspondingly, Alto offers the largest selection of wines. Inheritance Valley, on the other hand, is a boutique winery where Tim Waller, the owner and operator, offers personal attention to all who visit. Pomona has the unique status of being the only provider of fruit wines on the wine trail. A presentation at Pomona will have you walking away feeling like a vitner with a headful of ideas on how to incorporate their wines into some gourmet cooking. Situated nearby to Pomona is the newest winery on this side of the trail, Hickory Ridge. Sitting on their deck, sipping a glass of wine, Hickory Ridge offers truly breathtaking vistas of hillside vineyards at their best. Hedman’s is owned and operated by a couple from Sweden. Their wine tasting room incorporates the Peach Barn Cafe which serves up mouthwatering Swedish meatballs amongst other tasty tidbits. Von Jakob has two tasting rooms on this side of the trail. The original site is set amongst the vineyards while their newer tasting room, with breathtaking views of the Southern Illinois hillside, is situated just off Rt. 127. Offering live music most weekends, the back deck at Von Jakob is great place to veg-out on a lazy summer day. Kite Hill, last but not least, serves up an unusual treat in the hot summer months … a delicious wine slushy! Picture yourself sipping on a wine slushy as you overlook their pond and wile away the afternoon!
Owl Creek WineryNow onto the east side of the wine trail. Here you will find another five wineries: Rustle Hill, Starview, Owl Creek, Blue Sky and Orlandini. Rustle Hill, the newest winery on this side of the trail, boasts a beautiful tasting room and an outdoor amphitheatre. Every weekend, live music is featured at Rustle Hll, and unlike, many of the wineries which close at 5-6pm, Rustle Hill is open until 9pm on the weekends for your listening and wine tasting pleasure. Starview is the next winery you’ll encounter on this side of the trail. As a lover of dry, red wines, I can highly recommend their SuperNova … and if you have an hour or so to enjoy it as you overlook their beautiful koi pond, all the better. Owl Creek, like Alto, is one of the oldest wineries on the wine trail. They offer a full selection of wines as well as some yummy recipes which feature their wines. Most often our guests rave about Owl Creek’s selection of white wines. Blue Sky is, by far, the most beautiful location on the wine trail. Their Tuscan-style villa rises out of the Southern Illinois hills with imported Italian tiles adorning the walls, a hand painted mural of the Tuscan hillside graceing the domed ceiling, and a beautiful waterfall overflowing into a picturesque pond. Blue Sky is often a busy place so if you are not inclined to fight the crowds, I always recommend making this one of your first stops. Lastly, pay a visit to Orlandini Winery. Situated just down the road from Blue Sky, Orlandini offers a selection of seven wines and some down home hospitality.
Feeling overwhlemed? Well, it’s great to see at least a few on your way into town assuming that you have the time. Coming from the northeast, just off I-57, it’s an easy stop to Blue Sky and Orlandini Vineyards. If you’re heading in from St. Louis area, take I-64 to Rt. 127 and come south enjoying a stop at Kite Hill and Von Jakob.
Music in the Vineyards
Rustle Hill Winery and Von Jakob Vineyard are now routinely featuring live music on the weekends. If you enjoy a little evening entertainment, Rustle Hill, open until 9 pm on Friday and Saturdays, kicks off their music at 6 pm on those days and at 3 pm on Sundays. Von Jakob, on the other hand, features an afternoon of music on Saturdays and Sundays from 2-5 pm.
Picture yourself relaxing over a glass of wine and enjoying a little music as you veg-out at the winery of your choice. Better yet, grab a group of friends … is there anyone who wouldn’t appreciate a beautiful setting, a great wine and good music?
Interested in getting in some serious golfing practice on a variety of golf settings? Southernmost Illinois is the place to visit! Within 1 hour of Hidden Lake, and several within 30 minutes, are nine 18-hole golf courses offering a variety of challenges to golfers of all skill levels. All offer winter golf so extend your golf season – come enjoy our warmer temperatures and terrific golfing opportunities! After golfing, head out to visit some of the area wineries. Stone Creek Golf Course is within minutes of Owl Creek, Winghill and at bit further out, Blue Sky Winery.
- Union County Country Club (Anna) – Within 5 minutes of Hidden Lake, Union County Country Club offers an 18-hole, Par 71, 6000 yard golf course with a full Pro Shop and cart rentals.
- Stone Creek Golf Club (Makanda) – One of our newest area golf courses, Stone Creek is receiving high praise for its golfing challenge. Its 18-hole, Par 72, 6900 yard golf course is accompanied by a full Pro Shop and cart rentals. Greens fees run $20-$23. Stone Creek also offers a terrific restaurant on-site.
- Kokopelli Golf Course (Marion) – Also receiving rave reviews from previous golfing guests of Hidden Lake B Kokopelli offers an 18-hole, Par 72, 7150-yard golf course with a course/slope rating of 75.2/139. Facilities include a full Pro Shop, cart rentals and restaurant. Kokopelliís also offers a terrific restaurant on-site. Enjoy a relaxing lunch after a successful 18 holes!
- Crab Orchard Golf Course (Carterville) – Crab Orchard offers an 18-hole, Par 70, 6420-yard golf course with a course/slop rating of 71.0/129. Facilities include a full Pro Shop, cart rentals and restaurant.
- Hickory Ridge Golf Course (Carbondale) – Hickory Ridge offers an 18-hole, Par 72, 6865-yard golf course with a course/slop rating of 71.6/134. Facilities include a full Pro Shop, cart rentals and snack shop.
- Jackson Country Club (Carbondale) – Jackson offers an 18-hole, Par 71 course with a course/slop rating of 69/68. Facilities include a full Pro Shop, cart rentals and Club House.
- Red Hawk Country Club (Du Quoin) – Red Hawk offers an 18-hole, Par 71, 6100yard golf course with a course/slop rating of 71.0/129. Facilities include a full Pro Shop, cart rentals and restaurant.
- Metropolis Country Club (Metropolis) – A unique opportunity to combine a day of golf with an evening of Riverboat Gambling! Metropolis Country Club offers an 18-hole, Par 71, 6179-yard golf course with a course/slop rating of 68.5/121. Facilities include a full Pro Shop, cart rentals and snack shop.
- Gambit Golf Course (Vienna) – Gambit offers an 18-hole, Par 71, 6546-yard golf course with a course/slop rating of 72.4/137. Facilities include a full Pro Shop, cart rentals and snack shop.
Exploring Area Antique & Novelty Shops
If you love to explore antique and novelty shops, you’ll love Southern Illinois. We usually recommend at least two days to visit them all and fortunately there is now a Shopping Trail map to help you find them! And the great news about the shopping along the wine trail is that you are never far from a cute restaurant if you’d like to grab a bite to eat or a winery if you’d like to relax over a glass of wine.
Begin your day in the Jonesboro Square at From the Heart Flowers & Gifts. Dianna always has great selection of candles and unique gift and/or holiday decorating items. And, just a hint, if you would like to surprise your significant other, From the Heart will deliver to Hidden Lake.
Then head east into Anna where you will find eight stores of interest: Enchanted Gardens Flowers & Gifts, This N That Flea Market & Antiques, Isom’s Antiques, Jim & Dot’s Western Wear, Country Cupboard Cafe & Gift Shop, and Memory Lane Antiques. While you’re at Isom’s ask about their collection of Kirkpatrick Pottery. In the early 1900s, the manufacturing of Kirkpatrick Pottery was a big industry in Anna. Almost 2 million clay pipes were shipped to Europe in their heyday. The clay for Kirkpatrick pottery was mined at Kaolin Pond in Anna where a community of nearly 1700 once lived. Find a piece of Kirkpatrick pottery today and you will have discovered a true treasure. Most unusual are the Kirkpatrick pottery pigs – you’ll never guess what they were used for! – and their infamous serpent vases, at least one of which is displayed in the Smithsonian. And if you’re in the mood for a bite to eat while you’re in Anna, the Brick House Grill, open Tuesday-Saturday, 4-9 and later, serves up a tasty dinner.
Makanda Boardwalk Assuming that you still have some energy left, head up to the Makanda Boardwalk, a small collection of eclectic and very rustic shops just outside Giant City State Park whose owners pride themselves on their hippy origins. You’ll find the Rainmakers Art Studio home to Dave Dardis, a talented coppersmith; Vision Art Studio which features the pottery work, paintings and more from numerous artists in the area; The Smelly Hippy featuring tye-die; and the Makanda Trading Company offering an international collection of items as well as Native Indian items.
Now take old Rt. 51 into Cobden and first stop at Flamm’s Orchard (open May-November). In season, they will have lush, wonderful strawberries, golden ripe peaches, and crunchy apples. Better yet, they will also be serving up those fruits in the form of strawberry shortcakes, peach cobblers, and apple dumplings … to name just a few. Once in Cobden, there are two antique stores to visit … Ant Hill Antiques & Gifts and Wine Trail Antiques. And as long as you are there, stop in at visit the Cobden Museum. Okay, so not an antique shop but housing a lot of antiques none-the-less. The Cobden Museum is worth the stop. Pay particular attention to the Kirkpatrick Pottery on display. Also be sure to stop in at the Yellow Moon Café on Cobden’s main street for a coffee or fountain creation.
Now move onto Alto Pass. There you will find the Root Beer Saloon. While serving root beer on draft and eclectic lunch menu, they also sell innumerable coffee, teas and spices. Oh, and did I mention that they also sell fudge? Or check out Hedman’s Winery, Cafe & Scandinavian Gift Shop. Here you can browse items from Scandinavia while you sip a glass of wine and perhaps sit down for a bite as well. I hear that their Swedish meatballs melt in your mouth. Or wander up to Rendleman’s Orchard & Farm Market (open July-November). In addition to having truly wonder peaches, Rendleman’s Farm Market offers a tempting array of jams, jellies, salsas, mixes, and so much more. I never leave empty-handed!
Come visit Southern Illinois and enjoy Shopping Along the Wine Trail!
Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail
Tunnel Hill State Trail offers bicyclists 45 of the most beautiful and peaceful miles in Illinois. The Trail stretches south from Harrisburg, through Vienna to Karnak, and includes a 2.5-milespur through the Cache River State Nature Area. Developed on a portion of the Norfolk Southern Railroad rail bed, the crushed gravel Tunnel Hill State Trail passes through flat farm country then into the hills of the Shawnee National Forest. After that it passes through wetlands, including cypress-tupelo swamps, and continues along meandering creeks and bluffs. The tunnel at Tunnel Hill, which has given the Trail its name, is one of the most fascinating features of the trail. Originally 800 feet long, the tunnel was shortened to 543 feet after a portion of the tunnel collapsed in 1929. There is an otherworldly sensation when entering such a long tunnel. One enters in full daylight, and there is always light at the end of the tunnel, but somewhere in the middle darkness and perspective merge. Bring your own bikes!
Exploring the Cache River Wetlands
With an ecological status equal to that of the Florida Everglades and totaling 12,956 acres, exploration of the Cache River Wetlands is something not to be missed! And for those of you old enough to remember Harrison Ford fleeing US Marshall Sam Gerard through the swamps of Southern Illinois as Dr. Richard Kimble in the movie The Fugitive, you might even recognize some of the sights!
First stop? I would recommend the new Barkhausen Wetlands Center. This 6,500-square-foot wetlands center completed in 2004 provides a wealth of information on the importance of wetlands with new exhibits completed just this year as well as audio-visual presentations and viewing decks. Open Friday and Saturday, 8:30 to 4:30, the building itself is worth the stop!
Begin your morning by canoeing the Cache River Wetlands. Surrounded by Cypress trees, bugs keep their distance making this a truly enjoyable canoe trip. For those seeking a white-water rafting experience, this is not it! The wetlands offer a very scenic, non-arduous experience for the novice. Most of our guests take 2 1/2 to 3 hours for this wonderful excursion. Of course, always exercise caution while in a canoe – tipping over into the wetlands would not be a highlight. As you make your way through, keep your eyes open for a view of the oldest Cypress tree east of the Mississippi. Nearby you’ll find an overlook and a short hiking trail on which to stretch your legs. As you canoe the waterway, you’re most likely to see a number of great blue heron as well as a multitude of other birds.
Done canoeing or don’t have a canoe? Explore on foot! There are 10 hiking trails from as little as 250 feet to the see a cypress tree over 1000 years old with a circumference of 40 feet to as long as 5.5 miles on the difficult Little Black Slough Trail. My favorite? The Heron Pond Boardwalk! This floating boardwalk takes you into a magical world unlike anything else in the Midwest, offering breathtaking views of cypress tress towering hundreds of feet into the skies. It’s a short 1/2 mile walk from the parking lot to the boardwalk and well worth the effort. While you there be sure to check out the championship cherry bark oak tree. Over 25 feet in circumference, it’s impressive enough to make the little extra walk worthwhile. But try several of the trails – you won’t be disappointed in the unique beauty of the Cache River Wetlands.
While you’re in the area, visit the Cache River Basin Vineyard and Winery. Located in Belknap nearby to the Heron Pond Boardwalk, Cache River Basin Winery can also provide a bite to eat in their new restaurant, Wineaux’s, open Friday-Sunday. And before you head back, check out the Shawnee Winery Cooperative. Located just east of ‘downtown’ Vienna and north on Red Bud, the Shawnee Winery Cooperative was formed to create a market for small grape growers in the southern Illinois area. They offer a nice selection of wines and their Tiffany’s Gold was a recent award winner!
Hiking the Bluffs of Giant City State Park
Giant City State Park is one of the most visited state parks in the U.S. drawing over 1 million visitors per year, more than many federal parks. The area was named for the unique rock formations that have developed over eons of geological faulting and folding. On an 80 foot sandstone cliff near the entrance to the park, you can see the remains of a Native American stone wall erected between A.D. 600-800. Giant City boasts eight hiking trails ranging from an easy 1/3 mile to a 12 mile trail ranging from easy to rugged. These trails carry such interesting names as Stonefort Trail, Arrowwood Trail and Devil’s Standtable Trail to name just three. How did these name originate? You’ll have to visit to find out! And while you are there, be sure to stop in at the new Visitor’s Center. A ten minute movie and interpretive displays provide you with a sense of granduer that makes up Giant City. And if you’re hungry after hiking, stop in at the Lodge. They offer a full service restaurant which serves until 8 pm. Their specialty? All-you-can-eat fried chicken! And it really is terrific fried chicken!
Horseback Riding the Shawnee National Forest
Do you love to horseback ride but hate the thought of plodding along a designated trail for 50 minutes behind a long line of other riders who were hoping for more than horses who would rather be back at the barn (and who can blame them!)? Well you’re in luck! Here in Southern Illinois we are fortunate enough to have a wonderful stable where you can rent horses – real horses – the kind that like to trot, and gallop, and look forward to a ride as much as you!
Picture yourself riding through the orchards and forests of Southern Illinois selectively choosing an apple or a peach off a nearby tree as you mosey on by! Then stretch your legs by the side of a clear running creek as you stop to water the horses. Rides can range from 2 hours to a whole day and rates are very reasonable. Reservations are limited so you have to plan ahead but it’s well worth it!
Learning to Rock Climb!
Looking for a little adventure? Looking for something to really talk about when asked about your last vacation? Learn to rock climb!
The hilly terrain and breathtaking bluffs of Southernmost Illinois offer perfect rock climbing conditions for the beginner as well as the experienced rock climber. For the beginner, sign-up for a 1/2 day or full day class designed to get you climbing within the first hour. Not to worry! You’ll progress at your own pace starting with the smallest of hills and only moving on when you feel comfortable. You’ll learn some of the climbing jargon to impress your friends, a bit about safety, and a lot about the technique of rock climbing.
Already have some experience? Kathy & Eric will help you pick up where you left off. Everything you need is supplied by Vertical Heartland. You just need to wear comfortable clothing, sneakers for the short walk to the bluffs, light weight socks to wear with your climbing shoes, lots of water, snacks, and plenty of film in your camera!