A stunning destination with great swimming holes, beautiful creeks, and spectacular rock formations. We loved this area and will be back soon.


  • Several awesome swimming holes including one with cliff jumps and a rope swing
  • Largest natural arch in the Illinois
  • Outside of the swimming holes, most of the park doesn’t get much traffic so you can have it to yourself.
  • Spectacular rock formations
  • Beautiful hikes along pretty streams
  • Red Bud is a nice, very basic, primitive campground
  • Amazing CCC-built stairway that takes you through some nice bluffs down to the creek.
  • Good wayfinding signage along the trails


  • The trail to the top of the natural arch with overgrown with tons of poison ivy.
  • There were some maintenance issues (fire ring had dangerous jagged metal stick out, a fair amount of trash laying around) that needed addressing at the Red Bud campground
  • No cell phone signal means you should do some good planning before you go (or just ask people when you get there).

Getting There

Bell Smith Springs is a bit of 2.5 hours (165 miles) from central St. Louis down in Southern Illinois. There are two parking lots a bit past the campground. The best place to park is the first/upper parking lot as that will take you right to the big CCC-built staircase. The 2nd parking lot is a quarter-mile down the road and has a loop for turning around.