Backroad Exploring at Piney Creek Ravine | Jackson County, Illinois

Lindsay + Tim Stockhecke

On the far west side of Southern Illinois Piney Creek Ravine Nature Reserve, a 198 acre nature preserve, is nestled amongst rolling hills of Jackson County, boasting the largest display of Native American rock art in Illinois. Being somewhat unfamiliar with the Ava and Campbell Hill area we headed out with minimal plans.

Starting the day with much-needed caffeine, we visited the Wicked Bean in downtown Ava. Offering breakfast, lunch, and a variety of specialty beverages, they had great customer service and moved through the steady line quickly. We made a note to visit Hillbilly’s Pizza, located next door, the next time we are in the area.

Next, we made the short twelve-minute drive to the Piney Creek Ravine trailhead which was well-marked and provided an obvious gravel parking area. Having read a bit about the trail ahead of time we knew to expect a moderate to rugged trail. During our visit, it wasn’t very muddy but can imagine this trail would be much more difficult under wet conditions. Sticking to the clear trail we were able to follow the path along creeks and waterfalls, down and around to the rock shelters where markers and signs let us know what we were looking at.

With quite a bit of rock art added to the wall over the years it was admittedly difficult to differentiate what were the original carvings but nonetheless, we found this area to be quite impressive. The lush foliage, wildlife, and rock formations provide for lots of enjoyable exploring and we found ourselves in awe much of the time.

After an approximate forty-five minute hike (that could easily be extended much longer) we drove fifteen minutes for lunch at the Shawnee Country Store deli. Amish-run, this country marketplace has a variety of craftsman furniture and hanging flower baskets outside with dried goods, canned items, fresh produce, freshly baked bread, and a deli with quality meats and cheeses as well as made-to-order sandwiches inside. While we skipped ice cream it’s on the top of our list for next time!

We took our sandwiches and stumbled across the perfectly (marked) picnic spot at Johnson Creek at Lake Kinkaid. With 360-degree lake views, it was the perfect spot to dive into our sandwiches and artisan soda. Further along this area, there is a campground and ample recreational opportunities as you access the Lake Kinkaid trail system.

This outing, from start to finish, was approximately three hours on a weekday with cell phone service the vast majority of our time.