Why You Should Visit Union County This Fall
Nestled in southwestern Illinois in the heart of Shawnee National Forest country, Union County draws tourists from far and near, thanks to its natural beauty and outdoor opportunities. Accessible via Interstate 57 and U.S. Highway 51, Union County’s communities include the cities of Jonesboro and Anna as well as the villages of Alto Pass, Cobden, Dongola and Mill Creek.
In addition to two forests of national significance, Union County has farms, orchards and wineries that open to the public, inviting visitors to spend a day in the peaceful countryside. Union County history dates back to 1818, and it attracted national attention on Sept. 15, 1858, when the county seat of Jonesboro hosted the third Lincoln-Douglas debate.
Outdoor Opportunities Abound
Outdoor enthusiasts flock to Union County for its location in the Shawnee National Forest, one of 155 national forests. The fall season captivates tourists with colorful leaves and cooler temperatures, making it an ideal time to explore Shawnee National Forest’s 280,000 acres of rolling hills, lakes, creeks and rocky bluffs.
Go fishing, hiking or horseback riding through the Shawnee’s serene woodlands, or enjoy boating or swimming at one of two beach areas. Use your smartphone to embark on the Shawnee National Forest Mobile Tour, which guides you to 26 stops across 13 sites such as Garden of the Gods, Lake Glendale and historic landmarks, including Rim Rock.
Book a private log cabin for a peaceful overnight getaway. Rustic Hideaway Cabins of Jonesboro offers two rental cabins in the woods adjacent to the Shawnee National Forest that feature hot tubs, kitchenettes, fire pits and grills.
Five miles northwest of Jonesboro, you’ll discover another outdoor paradise at the Trail of Tears State Forest, one of the most rugged landscapes in Illinois. Originally inhabited by Native Americans, the forest is named for the tragic journey the Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw nations were forced to take as they relocated to reservations in the Oklahoma Territory in 1838 and 1839.
Today, the 5,000-acre Trail of Tears State Forest attracts visitors with hiking trails, picnic areas, camping sites and hunting opportunities. Many species of wildlife live in the forest, including songbirds, timber rattlesnakes, northern copperheads, deer, foxes, coyotes and bobcats.
Agritourism Destinations in Union County
Celebrate Illinois’ fall apple harvest at Rendleman Orchards, a working commercial farm in Alto Pass that sells hand-picked apples, peaches and nectarines at its onsite Farm Market. Open July through December, the market offers jams, jellies, baking mixes, fudge and specialty foods in addition to tree-ripened fruit. Fall items for sale include pumpkins, mums, cider, gourds and autumn decor.
Flamm Orchards in Cobden also beckons travelers with its fresh peaches and apples, and many come back year after year for their homemade peach cobbler topped with ice cream.
The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail runs through Union County, making it easy to find Illinois-made wines. Spend a day at Hedman Vineyards & Winery in Alto Pass, where Swedish immigrants Anders and Gerd Hedman have turned a peach farm into a thriving winery and the Peach Barn Café. Guests can enjoy fresh peaches, peach wine and savory Swedish cuisine in a renovated 1940s barn. Other local wineries that produce award-winning wines include Alto Vineyards in Alto Pass and Blue Sky Vineyard in nearby Makanda.
Unique Union County Treasures
Stop for a photo and quiet moment of reflection at the Bald Knob Cross of Peace, a Union County landmark near Alto Pass. Completed in 1963, the Bald Knob Cross became a reality after individuals from 34 communities in five states raised funds to build it to provide a place where all people could “unite to experience the presence of God.” The 111-foot cross can be seen for more than 7,500 square miles.
Plan Your Stay
Delve into history at the free Union County Museum in Cobden where you can explore displays on Native American artifacts, farming and railroad history, barrel making, vintage tools, the Civil War and Kirkpatrick Pottery of Anna. Open Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m., the Union County Museum hosts revolving exhibits focused on items such as vintage hats and handkerchiefs, sheet music, school history and hair art popular in the Victorian era.
Discover a new home away from home at one of Union County’s bed and breakfast inns. The Davie School Inn in Anna always gets rave reviews for its hometown hospitality and hearty breakfast in a century-old, refurbished schoolhouse. In Cobden, Shawnee Hill Bed and Breakfast pampers guests with chocolates, fluffy towels and Jacuzzi tubs in a lovely setting along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. In Alto Pass, owners of the Old Mill Inn Cafe and B&B have transformed a historic 1888 flour mill into an overnight retreat with a home-cooked breakfast served in a Victorian dining room.