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The River Pirates of Cave-In-Rock



Interior of Cave-In-Rock. Photo by Jimmy Emerson.

Interior of Cave-In-Rock. Photo by Jimmy Emerson.

When you think of Southern Illinois, the word “pirate” doesn’t usu­ally come to mind. Pirates? In Illinois? That’s right! The name­sake attrac­tion of Cave-In-Rock State Park, located on the Ohio River shore in Southern Illinois, has a noto­ri­ous his­tory of river piracy!

In the late 1700s and early 1800s the Mason Gang used Cave-In-Rock, a large cave on the bank of the Ohio River, as a place to lure unsus­pect­ing river trav­el­ers so that they could rob and kill them. The cave also har­bored a pair of noto­ri­ous killers, the Harpe Brothers, who fled exe­cu­tion in Kentucky and used the cave as their hide­out and head­quar­ters while they went on a thiev­ing and mur­der­ing ram­page in Illinois.

What to Do

The first thing you’ll want to do is to explore Cave-In-Rock itself. This 55 foot wide nat­ural cave is located right on the shore­line of the Ohio River. You’ll also want to explore the rest of the nat­ural beauty of the park, includ­ing the high bluffs above the Cave that over­look the river, as well as some of the hik­ing trails that run along the river.

At the mouth of Cave-In-Rock. Photo by Jimmy Emerson.

At the mouth of Cave-In-Rock. Photo by Jimmy Emerson.

Once you’re done explor­ing by land, its time to explore by water! Hop on board the Shawnee Queen Tour boat out of Golconda Marina and take a three hour cruise on the Ohio River from Golconda to Cave-In-Rock. This is a great way to get a new per­spec­tive on the nat­ural beauty of the area and get off your feet for a bit. Reservations can be made by call­ing (618) 683‑5875.

If you’ve got more time on your hands, hop in your car and take the Cave-In-Rock Ferry over to Kentucky at no cost and visit Amish Country about 2 miles south on Kentucky Highway 91. While you’re there, plan to stop in the quaint town of Marion, where you can do some antique shop­ping and grab a bite to eat. After you’re done shop­ping for antiques, visit the Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum, home to an out­stand­ing col­lec­tion of min­er­als, gem­stones, carv­ings, period jour­nals, pho­tographs, min­ing tools and more.

If you didn’t get enough adven­ture with the river pirates of Cave-In-Rock, you should also check out The Outlaw Trail while in Marion. It was once the treach­er­ous road between Marion and Ford’s Ferry. Ford’s Ferry Road is now a scenic back road, but back in the day, Jesse and Frank James and the Cole Younger Gang were reg­u­lar vis­i­tors to the area.

Frank and Jesse James in  Carrolton, Illinois

Frank and Jesse James in Carrolton, Illinois

If you don’t want to wan­der over to Kentucky, or the Mineral Museum whet­ted your appetite, you can visit the Hardin County Flourspar Museum in Rosiclare, Illinois. Hardin County is known as the “Flourspar Capital of Illinois”. Flourspar is a min­eral known for its beau­ti­ful col­ors, and as a cat­a­lyst in the pro­duc­tion of steel.

Of course, you’re also right on the cusp of the east­ern por­tion of the Shawnee National Forest. Other scenic spots in the area include Garden of the Gods, Pounds Hollow Recreational Area, Rim Rock Trails, and Tower Rock Recreational Area. Be sure to check out our guide to the Shawnee National Forest for a photo gallery and more things to do.

Where to Stay

Visitors can camp on the scenic north side of the park, which has 34 Class A sites with elec­tric­ity. There are also 25 Class B/S tent sites. Showers, restrooms and dump­ing sta­tions are present at both camps. Firewood and grills are fur­nished at each camp site.

The Cave In & Rock State Park Lodge is a hunt­ing lodge sit­u­ated 80 feet above the Ohio River. They offer four duplex cab­ins for rent and guests and vis­i­tors can also eat at the afore­men­tioned lodge, which is open seven days a week for break­fast, lunch and din­ner. They’re located on the south­ern end of Illinois State Route One. (618) 289‑4545.

Historic Rose Hotel Bed & Breakfast. Photo by J. Stephen Conn.

Historic Rose Hotel Bed & Breakfast. Photo by J. Stephen Conn.

The his­toric Rose Hotel, in the Village of Elizabethtown, about 12 miles west of Cave-In-Rock, is a pop­u­lar Bed & Breakfast. The “Rose” was opened in 1812 by the founter of Elizabethtown, James McFarland, and is the old­est hotel in Illinois.

Be sure to check out Fort Massac and the Superhero of Metropolis, the next arti­cle in our Fall Outings in Southern Illinois series!


Related posts:

  1. Fall Outings in Southern Illinois
  2. Garden of the Gods: Visiting Southern Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest
  3. Fort Massac and the Superhero of Metropolis
  4. Southeastern Illinois’ White Squirrels of Olney
  5. Superman’s Hometown: Arkansas Diamond Mining Day Five and Six

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