Welcome to Southern Illinois
Southern Illinois looks wildly different from the rest of the state, with rivers and rugged green hills dominating the landscape. The Mississippi River forms the western boundary, and alongside it the Great River Road unfolds. The water-hugging byway (actually a series of roads) curls by bluff-strewn scenery and forgotten towns with real-deal Main Streets. One of the most knockout stretches is Hwy 100 between Grafton and Alton (near St Louis). As you slip under wind-beaten cliffs, keep an eye out for the turnoff to Elsah, a hidden hamlet of 19th-century stone cottages, wood buggy shops and farmhouses. To the south, Lewis and Clark's launch site, a prehistoric World Heritage Site and a lonely hilltop fort appear.
Inland and south, the population thins and the forested Shawnee Hills rise up, looking a lot like mini mountains. Some surprises hide around here, including an eerie swamp and a trail of vineyards.