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St. Louis, MO: Bell Smith Springs Loop

Whet your feet–and your appetite for nature–on this moderate 3.6-mile loop in Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest with two creek fords, year-round wildflowers and soaring fern-covered cliffs.

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You’ll find dramatic vistas and thousands of plant species, including the rare French’s shooting star, along this 3.6-mile loop that follows sandstone cliffs around Bay Creek. The first half-mile descends 200 feet into the hollow where four creeks converge and natural springs ensure rich displays of wildflowers such as cream violets and violet wood sorrels. Shed your shoes (twice) for easy fords of Bay Creek, exploring sandstone overhangs beneath the 125-foot span of the Shawnee’s largest natural bridge and a trickling falls 2 miles later. The last 2.5 miles of the hike skirts the cliff’s upper edge, 100-150 feet above the rocky creek and shoulder-to-shoulder with moss and fern-covered canyon walls before climbing back to the trailhead.

Mapped by: Ted Villaire

To Trailhead

From St. Louis, take I-64 E to I-57 S. After 47 miles, merge S onto I-24 and take exit 7 toward Tunnel Hill/Goreville. Turn L onto Tunnel Hill Rd. and L again at US 45. In 3.9 miles, turn R onto Ozark Rd. and follow directional signs to Bell Smith Recreation area and the Redbud Campground.

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