Carbondale, population 20,681, is home to Southern Illinois University, and along with nearby towns like Murphysboro and Alto Pass serves as a gateway to a wide variety of cultural, historical and recreational opportunities in the southwestern sections of the state.
The university provides cultural attractions, theater productions, performance arts and museums. In Carbondale, visitors can view a variety of historic sites including the town square, the homes of the West Walnut Street Historic District, and two National Register of Historic Places sites, Woodlawn Cemetery, where early Memorial Day services were held and the Old Illinois Central Railroad Passenger Depot. The African American Museum of Southern Illinois honors local African Americans.
The area's main attraction, Shawnee National Forest, protects more than 270,000 acres of rock formations, forests, lakes, and rivers stretching from the Mississippi River in the east to the Ohio River in the west. Hiking, backpacking and horseback riding trails and scenic driving routes transverse the forest and there are campsites at recreational areas along the way.
South of Carbondale, Cedar Lake provides 1,750 acres for fishing and swimming. In Alto Pass, Bald Knob Cross, a 111-foot cross on top of Bald Knob Mountain and the 90-foot Pomona Natural Bridge, are top stops. In Murphysboro, fishing at spring-fed Kinkaid Lake, a 2,650-acre muskie paradise is popular. Also near Murphysboro are Lake Murphysboro State Park and two areas with interesting rock formations, waterfalls and trails, Little Grand Canyon and Shawnee Saltpetre Cave.
The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail and Shawnee Hills Treasure Trail follow State Highways 3 and 127 and U.S. Highway 51 and provide access to the wineries, orchards and antique shops in Carbondale, Alto Pass and Murphysboro and other towns. There are three public golf courses in the area. Scenic drives along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, provide additional views of the Shawnee National Forest and the Mississippi River valley.
Carbondale is located 132 miles southeast of St. Louis, Missouri and 17 miles west of Marion. It is accessible via U.S. Highway 51 and State Highway 13. Lodging options include national hotel/motel chains, bed and breakfasts, camping and cabins.