Nestled in a canyon, north of I-70 in Central Illinois is wonderful piece of nature, little known even to the locals. Rock Cave Nature Preserve is a Illinois Department of Resources preserve, 6 miles north of Altamont, exit 82 of I-70, along Rt128.
The sandstone cliffs in this canyon, which are found quite regularly in the far southern and northern areas of Illinois, are rarely seen in the central region. The stream which meanders through the bottom of this canyon hardly seems capable of having cut these mammoth rock faces but is a testament to what water, and a few thousand years can do. The history of the area starts around 1850, when it was used as a social gathering place and a popular picnic spot for the locals. In the early 1900’s some pick and shovel coal mining occurred here and evidence of the mining is rumored to still be visible near the confluence of the streams.
In 1968 a group of concerned citizens formed a preservation committee to help maintain the area and eventually the site was gifted to the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources who has jurisdiction over it to this day.
It is a DNR preserve, not a park and as such, there are no amenities of any kind. I would rate the hike as moderate to difficult. There is no marked trail, however it appears the locals keep it ‘tromped down’ enough to see a discernible path. Traveling the length of the canyon requires several stream fordings and a few steep embankments. I did tall shaft rubber hunting boots, but trail shoes and gaiters would do it if you don’t mind wet feet. There is quite a bit of wood nettle and as such I advise calf protection of some sort. I did about a mile up the stream to a large confluence with another stream and was out of time and started my return, I will be going back……especially in the fall/winter.
There’s a small, barely marked parking area at the trail head, next to a small gravel parking area (on the East side of Rt128). To reach the trail head, go south on Rt 128 from Beecher City 5.6 miles, or north from Altamont on Rt128 about 6 miles. The lat lon or GPS coordinates are: 39.1064322, -88.8033924