The birth of the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, located about two hours south of St. Louis, is the result of three of the first wineries in Southern Illinois. The owners of Alto Vineyards, Pomona Winery and Owl Creek Vineyard—together with the Carbondale Convention & Tourism Bureau and the Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau—created the state’s first wine trail in the summer of 1995.
Today, the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is a 40-mile stretch with 11 wineries that offer nationally and internationally awarded wines. The trail is located within the beautiful Shawnee National Forest, so outdoor enthusiasts have the opportunity to hike, bike, ride horses, zip line and much more.
Christina Royer, owner of Sky High Travel, is a native of the area who has frequented the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.
“Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is about a two-hour drive from St. Louis. I recommend stopping in Chester, Ill., to fill up and grab a bite to eat while stretching your legs,” she says. “Chester is the home of Popeye! There is a cute little statue you can take a picture with. Reid’s Harvest House is a local favorite known for the best chicken.”
Many of the vineyards offer accommodations, but Christina recommends staying at the Skyline View Cabins, Von Jakob Vineyard, Blue Sky Bed & Breakfast or Cave-In-Rock State Park Lodge, which has “views that are impossible to beat.”
“When staying at the wineries, I recommend a trip to Larry’s House of Cakes,” Christina says. “They have the best doughnuts, cookies and, of course, cakes!” For your morning caffeine fix, Christina recommends Cold Blooded Coffee & Roastery in Murphysboro.
“Walker’s Bluff is definitely the mother of all wineries in Southern Illinois,” Christina says. “There is so much to offer, and it is expanding soon! If you’re here, eat at their incredible restaurant, Legends! Take a tour of their wine cave, and stop at their Tasting Room. There is a gorgeous event space, too!"
Walker’s Bluff’s expansion, set to open next year, will include a casino, a steakhouse, a sports lounge, live entertainment, a spa, a hotel and more!
There’s never any shortage of things to do along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. Live music, wine and food pairing weekends, festivals, scavenger hunts, karaoke and comedy nights are just a few of the options. Be sure to check each winery’s event calendar and plan accordingly.
To get the full Southern Illinois experience, step outside! Ride horses at Giant City State Park, play a round of golf at Keller’s Crossing at Stone Creek, go for a hike at the Garden of the Gods, or zip line at the Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour.
While there’s plenty of wine to drink in the area, it also has a variety of other attractions. Sip beer at St. Nicholas Brewing Company in downtown DuQuoin, try a peach smoothie at Rendleman Orchards in Alto Pass, or eat barbecue at Mase’s Place in Pomona.
The combination of natural beauty, world-class wine, small-town charm, plus its proximity to St. Louis is certain to make the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail a new favorite weekend destination. For more information, visit ShawneeWineTrail.com.