Bell Smith Springs – Illinois

Bell Smith Springs is an extraordinary area located deep in the Shawnee National Forest. I recommend parking at the main trailhead where you will find the below signs.

Some wooden/rock stairs lead down to the observation platform which provides an obscured view into the canyon below.

The trail behind the overlook will lead to one of the most iconic features of Bell Smith Springs. The stone stairway descends into the canyon and from here, the trail split off into various directions.

We first hiked the white connector trail to Devil’s Backbone. Two large rocks fell from the bluff above into a shallow pool of water and they look like two vertebrae jutting up. This is one feature not to be missed!

Hill Branch Trail (Red)

I also wanted to hike the Hill Branch Trail (red) so we stayed on the white connector trails until we met up with the red trail. At the wide and shallow stream crossing, head south and you will see a trail marker. The south trail will begin to switchback and climb the bluff. From here, it is a nice hike through the forest. The leaves were changing and the colors were beautiful!

About half way through the south part of the trail, the trail opens up to a large, flat glade. The Hill Branch stream cuts deep into the rock forming small waterfalls and chutes.

We visited in October and had not had much rain so everything was very dry, but I can imagine this area is beautiful after a good rain. This trail is about 2 miles long, but if you want to shorten it, at the low spot of the creek, you can cross to the other side and the north side of the trail will be just inside the trees.

We continued on and hiked the full trail. Towards the back, there will be a seasonal waterfall and cross a creek again. Keep an eye out for the trail markers and the trail will now be on the north side of the stream.

I actually loved this trail as it felt different than anything else I had really ever seen before. From here, we hiked back to the stone stairs and hiked the Natural Bridge Trail.

Natural Bridge Trail (Yellow)

We also hiked the Natural Bridge Trail which is one mile long. The trail starts out from the staircase and then crosses Bay Creek.

From here, the Natural Bridge is up the hill and to the left. It is an impressive sight!

From here, we hiked the trail clockwise. The trail will “T” and the blue Sentry Bluff Trail will split off. I hope to come back one day and hike that trail. We stayed on the Natural Bridge Trail and the trail now leads across the top of the natural bridge! It is pretty neat that you can see the natural bridge from both the top and bottom.

As you continue along the trail, you will notice some rungs that are in the side of the bluff. If you want to shorten the hike, you can use the rungs! How cool is that! If you are looking for the rungs from the bottom, once you cross the creek, hike up the rock stairs and then head to the bluff wall and navigate between the rocks to find the rungs!

We decided not to use the rugs so we continued on and the trail opens up to a glade. We had a bit of trouble finding the trail because we kept walking along the glade, but actually the trail is right at the beginning of the glade and hidden in the tree line to the right. Keep an eye out for it!

This is a great trail and not to be missed if in the area!

Be sure to check out Bell Smith Springs! Dogs are also allowed!

Categories: Bell Smith SpringsTags: , , , , , ,


  1. Great Pics! This is one of my favorite trails.


  2. I would not do those rungs! Very pretty views!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: