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.
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!
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.
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!