Located in Southern Illinois, right on the mighty Ohio River, and just outside the tiny village of the same name, lives Cave-in-Rock State Park. It’s a free state park, open daily from 8am to 9pm. In fact, ✨it’s Illinois’ first state park✨. Officially established in 1929, it’s been recognized as a Southern Illinoisan tourist landmark since the 1810’s, when steamboats started traversing the Ohio River. It sits across the river from the state of Kentucky, where the only way across is via ferry. If you do choose to cross the river into Kentucky, the ferry is also free and runs from 6am to 9:50pm.
While not a massively large cave, it’s still decent-size, stretching 55-feet across. I’m unsure how deep it goes (I can’t find anything online), but it’s not super deep – you can see still see the light from the entrance at the back. While the cave is the main attraction to the state park, there are also picnic tables and play areas for children located above the cave, near the parking lot. It makes for a great day trip with friends or family. Sadly, vandals have dampened the beauty of the cave with all their terrible graffiti (please see below👇🏼).
Side history note: This cave has a long and sordid history with “gentlemen of less than great moral stature”. Many well-known outlaws in the area used this cave as a hide-out beginning in the late-1700’s and well into the mid-1800’s because of its extremely close proximity to the river. Some of these outlaws include: counterfeiters Philip Alston and John Duff, James Wilson (who dubbed the cave “Wilson’s Liquor Vault and House for Entertainment” with a sign above the entrance), the Sturdivant Gang, the Ford’s Ferry Gang, and the Harpe Brothers. After the cave had seen its days of debauchery and outlandishness, it became a place of worship (talk about one extreme to another), when churches began using it in the mid-1800’s. Once settlers officially started living in the tiny village of Cave-in-Rock nearby in the mid-1900s, the use of the cave by others for personal, sometimes nefarious, purposes was diminished. As mentioned above, the cave was officially made into a state park in 1929.
While the nearest place of human civilization is Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, as mentioned, it’s extremely tiny, boasting a population of about 230. The next two closest towns are Elizabethtown, Illinois (population: 218) and Marion, Kentucky (population: 2,800) across the river. Driving from the river to Marion will bring you straight through “Amish Country”, where you can stop at the Yoders Variety Store. Located approximately 20 minutes from Cave-In-Rock State Park, at KY-387, Marion, Kentucky 42064, it sits right off Highway 387. Here you can find home-made Amish goods, such as food, candy, toys, and furniture. It’s open Monday – Saturday, from 8am to 5pm (closed on Sundays).
Overall, Cave-In-Rock State Park is a wonderful day outing and a great place to spend an afternoon. It’s fun to explore the cave and area around it, then hopping on the ferry to go shop well-made Amish goods and have a nice lunch in Marion, Kentucky. I haven’t had the chance to re-visit the cave since leaving Illinois, so I can only hope that the State of Illinois has cleaned up the awful graffiti. If anyone visits, please let me know!