Monday, November 23

Bell Smith Springs

Continuing with our series, "Adventures with Uncle Bob - Guide to Self-Adventure in Southern Illinois," we feature the trails in Bell Smith Springs this month. Directions: Go east from Marion on Rt 13, take Rt 166 thru Creal Springs to US 45, turn right and travel to Ozark, turn at the sign for Bell Smith Springs, and go about 12 miles (turns to gravel the last 4 miles).

At the parking lot, let's turn left on the blue-signed Sentry trail. This has level grade most of the time except for a couple swithbacks. This affords continual rim views into the canyon, which are optimal during leafoff. Initially, there is a Jay's Gap sign to descend to the bottom and access the yellow Natural Bridge trail or to walk along the base of the cliff line west to another staircase to the top. Continuing on the Sentry trail, we cross Chute Gap, which is a cascade flowing between rock walls. 1.5 miles later, Sentry trail descends to the creek. Note the cave on your right-about 20 ft deep, 5' high. At this date the creek was 2 ft deep and I didn't feel like going barefoot at 60 degrees; However, blue markers are noted across the creek as one ascends to the other side to continue the loop. I returned to the parking area junction and proceeded on the white signed trail on the right-going west.
This trail will split: the white continues as a rim trail for a half mile and descends to the trailhead for Mill Branch trail (scroll this blog index for Mill Branch). At the split, I descended the staircase to another white sign base trail which follows a pretty cliff line, turned left at a split and continued under frequent rock overhangs. The trail ends at a sign which says "not maintained beyond this point."

Retuning to the area near the staircase, I find the yellow trail for Natural Bridge. This will involve a creek-crossing without stepping stones. After crossing, look to the right for rock stairs. At the cliff line one can either go right to the base of the bridge or climb the metal rungs for a loop traversing the top of the bridge. This has a span of 120 ft and 22' height. The closest GPS coordinates are 37 31' 0"N and 88 39' 0"W. Another picture of the bridge is at (replace Illinois with any state to view other arches). Beyond this site, we are on the blue Sentry trail again (south side). The rim top trail has constant views of cliff walls, opposite the creek. Note the caves and rock shelters. At some point after the trail changed direction, the markers vanished and no obvious path. I returned to the parking lot. Even with the difficulty of making a loop out of the loop trail or avoiding creek crossings, this place is worth your effort. More info from Bob Tyson at 684-5643 or During a Sierra hike November,2010,after a summer drought,we were able to make both creek crossings on stepping stones. The first crossing as noted above,is correct for the loop.After doing so,climb up the rocks and the rest of the loop trail will be visible upon turning to the right.