Description - *This Information provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources*
Few natural formations are as awe-inspiring or intriguing as a cave. The deep, dark recesses immediately conjure up images of adventure, mystery, terror, robbers and pirates.
At Cave-In-Rock in southern Illinois, you can experience this fascination for yourself. Sitting atop the high bluffs overlooking the scenic Ohio River, the heavily wooded park is named for the 55-foot-wide cave that was carved out of the limestone rock by water thousands of years ago. Trails winding along the riverbank offer views of riverboats, barges and other river scenes.
The actual history of this imposing natural phenomenon is colorful and provocative. The first European explorer to encounter it was M. de Lery of France, who in 1729 called it caverne dans Le Roc. It was a conspicuous curiosity frequently mentioned by later travelers in diaries and journals.
Following the Revolutionary War, this immense recess came to serve as the ideal lair for outlaws, bandits and river pirates who preyed on the people traveling along the Ohio River.
One of the most ambitious of these ruthless malefactors was Samuel Mason. Once an officer in George Washington’s Revolutionary Army, in 1797 he converted the cavern into a tavern which he called the Cave-In-Rock.
From this apparently innocent and inviting position, Mason would dispatch his cohorts upriver to befriend unwary and bewildered travelers with offers of help and guidance. As they neared the cave, these henchmen would disable their boats or force them toward the yawning hollow, where the hapless pilgrims would be robbed, or worse. Few victims lived to tell their story.
By the early 1800s, following the demise of the Mason Gang, the cave sheltered the even more notorious Harpe Brothers, a pair of killers fleeing execution in Kentucky. They continued their personal reign of thievery and murder in Illinois, using the cave as hideout and headquarters until they too were killed.
It’s interesting to note that the cave served as a backdrop for a scene in the movie “How The West Was Won.” The scene was a near-accurate portrayal of how, in the 18th and 19th centuries, ruthless bandits used the cave to lure unsuspecting travelers to an untimely end.
Although other desperadoes continued to take advantage of the secrecy and seclusion afforded by Cave-In-Rock, by the mid-1830s the quickening westward expansion of civilization and the steady growth in the local population and commerce had destroyed or driven out the “river rats” and the cave began to serve as temporary shelter for other pioneers on their way west. Throughout the 19th century, this remarkable geological feature was an important landmark, prominently displayed on maps from the period.
In 1929, the State of Illinois acquired 64.5 acres for a park that since has increased to 204 acres. The well-wooded, 60-foot-high hills and the rugged bluffs along the river - commanding expansive views of the famous waterway - became Cave-In-Rock State Park.
In the words of Illinois historian John W. Allen, “Today only the natural beauty of the historic spot remains, clothed in mystery. In the hollow silence of the cave that echoes the peaceful cooing of doves, a visitor can let a vivid imagination run riot. But he can dream little that will be beyond what actually happened.”
Cave-In-Rock Restaurant and Lodging features four duplex guest houses with eight suites, each accommodating up to four people comfortably. The suites contain deluxe baths, a dining area and wetbar, a large bedroom/living room, and a private patio deck overlooking the Ohio River. One suite is handicapped accessible. The Lodge operates on a seasonal basis. You can contact the Lodge directly at (618) 289-4545.
On the scenic north side of the park there are camping accommodations with 34 Class A sites that rent for $15.00 a night. They are equipped with electricity and can accommodate units up to 60-feet long. Twenty-five Class B/S tent sites are also available for $10.00 a night, and showers, restrooms and dumping stations are present in both camping areas. Contact the site superintendent or campground host for camping permits and information. Handicapped sites also are available. Firewood and grills are furnished at each campsite.
For a different view of Cave-In-Rock, consider a boat ride down the Ohio River. Be sure to visit the Golconda Marina located on the river near Golconda at Lusk Creek. A full-service marina, Golconda offers overnight moorage with 100 slips available, both covered and open. Slips have electric and water hookups. There is a marina service and repair, boat lifts, fuel, sanitary pump outs and dry storage. Multiple free launch ramps are available, along with parking for trailers and cars, a snack shop, gift shop, and bait and tackle shop.
Recreation - Dining-
The restaurant is gaining a reputation for fine southern-style cooking and has plenty of homemade specialties on the menu. Sunday dinners feature fried chicken, roast beef with all the trimmings, southern fried catfish, marinated chicken, shrimp, steaks as well as a full short order menu along with homemade desserts. Hours are daily 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the full service restaurant. For more information, call (618) 289-4545 or write Cave-In-Rock Restaurant and Lodging, Cave-In-Rock, IL 62919.
In addition to the natural splendor of the cave itself, the park contains two established hiking trails of moderate difficulty, plus numerous unmarked trails for exploration and appreciation of tranquil forests and inspiring views.
For the day visitor, ample parking is provided by five separate lots. There are three developed playground areas for children; and shaded picnic areas situated throughout the park provide tables, grills, water hydrants and drinking fountains. There are four large picnic shelters for group gatherings and firewood is available on request from the park attendants.
Boating and Fishing-
A pond is available for fishing, and the Ohio River provides excellent fishing, boating and water sport opportunities. The river can be accessed directly from two launching ramps with adjacent parking on the western edge of the park. The site superintendent and park rangers can provide details on fishing licenses and the rules and regulations for fishing and boating on the river.
Climate - Illinois experiences four distinct seasons with varying weather throughout the year. Winter can be very cold. The highest humidity of the year occurs during this season averaging 70 to 75 percent. Average low temperatures in January dip to 20 degrees F with highs near 35 degrees F. Spring temperatures are mild with humidity below 70 percent. Temperatures during this season average between 32 and 50 degrees F. Summer is usually hot and humid in this Midwest state. Low temperatures remain in the low sixties with high temperatures near 90 degrees F. The highest rainfall of the year occurs during the summer months. Fall is an excellent time to visit the state with low humidity and rainfall and moderate temperatures.
Cave-in-Rock State Park is located on the Ohio River in Hardin County, Illinois. To reach the park from the northern parts of Illinois, proceed south on I-57 exiting at Marion, IL, on highway 13 east. Go east through Marion and Harrisburg to the intersection of Illinois 1 and 13. Turn south 22 miles on highway 1 to Cave-in-Rock State Park. From the south, take highway 90 from Marion, KY., and cross the Cave-in-Rock ferry and follow directional signs to the park entrance. From the southeast take I-24 west from the I-24 bridge to exit #16, then go 38 miles east on Illinois highway 146 to the park. From Southern Indiana, proceed through Evansville, IN traveling West on highway 62 and Illinois highway 141 to Illinois Rt. 1, then go south 36 miles to Cave-in-Rock State Park.