Bell Smith Springs
The Shawnee National Forest yet again provides us with another wonder of Mother Nature's beauty and power. Nestled in the Hidden Springs Ranger District this area is a National Natural Land Mark, as it should be. The topography of Southern Illinois and its trademark sandstone bluffs, hoodoos, gluches, and canyons afforded us another awe inspiring spot.
Located just East of Eddyville, IL off Highway 145 and down winding back roads sits Bell Smith Springs. Hidden away from the hustle and bustle of, well..pretty much everything. Eddyville is a tiny town that only had a poplutaion of 98 citizens in 2013, so even the closest populace isn't much for hustle and bustle.
Main stairs to trails
Bell Smith Springs has 8 Miles of trails over rugged, and sometimes strenuous terrian. Several creeks meander through, over, and around the sandstone rocks. This does cause them to be very slippery and washes out some of the trails on occasion, as was on my visit last Spring. I suggest keeping a trail map handy to stay on course. General area trails total 1.5 miles, the Natural Bridge Trail and Sentry Bluff trail are the most rugged of those I've hiked, which only excludes the Mill Branch Trail.
View a long General Area Trail
Sentry Bluff Trail earns its name from the bluff the trail skirts along. Rocks, roots, and other obstacles make for unsure footing and a rough hike but is well worth the 3.2 miles around the bluff.
General Area & Natural Bridge Trail
The Natural Bridge Trail requires a stream crossing that can be tricky during higher water levels. After crossing the stream, some ways up the trail, you must climb a type iron ladder secured into the sandstone, to access the Natural Bridge and remaining trail.
The last time I attempted this hike I was 17 years old with my slightly older cousin and her boyfriend, now husband. We were led by my father who always seemed to be on an Army Mission, leading his troops at a blistering pace. Keep up or be left behind, and we were on several occasions, including this one. The creek was swollen making the crossing tricky and after nearly falling a few times I made it across. Now thoughly wet from mid thigh down, we trek onward till we come to the "ladder". No sign of good ol dad, guess he climbed the ladder, and so wet feet and all we climbed up.
We found ourselves at the Natural Arch, so we messed around for a bit exploring and drying out. No idea where "dad" is, either way ahead on the trail or eaten by a wild animal. Not wasting any more time we hiked the remainder of the trail, which I don't remember much of. I figure either stress or trauma erased it from my mind. Dad was found resting and hydrating at the trailhead.
Sandstone bluff and view from Sentry Bluff trail, looking toward Natural Bridge Trail.
The Spring of 2014 I finally returned to Bell Smith Springs after nearly 20 years absence. The wonder and beauty of the place hadn't changed. The trails felt a not as long as I remembered and the stairs less daunting than before. The terrain was as rugged as ever though, but I guess that's what gives it it's beauty. Time may have gotten away from me, enjoying my youth and starting my own life as an adult, but it hasn't gotten away from in my middle age. Now more than ever appreciate nature and seek it's refuge often.
No, the experience I had as a teen didn't leave my in fear of nature or with any distaste for it. Nature was and is my second home. You just have to accept nature, and people, as they are and just deal with it. The thing is, I've learned to still have fun along the way and this story is a fond memory for me.