Skip to main content

U.S. Forest Service

Eastern Region Viewing Area


Red Columbines. Red columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) are a treat to come across in mid spring. They are commonly found growing on moss festooned boulders and the north-facing, sandstone cliffs. Photo by Wayne Owen.

Dwarf larkspur. Dwarf larkspur (Delphinium tricorne) is almost always encountered in the rich mesic upland forest in Bell Smith Springs and throughout the Shawnee National Forest. Photo by Wayne Owen.

bottle gentian. One of the last wildflowers to bloom in autumn at Bell Smith Springs, bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), may be found just off the trail that follows the sandstone glade escarpment particularly along the cliff edges in moist pockets of soil. Photo by T.G. Barnes, University of Tennessee Herbarium.

arrowleaf violet. The arrowleaf violet (Viola sagittata) is one of lesser encountered springs violets at Bell Smith Springs. It is generally found in dry upland forest habitat. Photo by T.G. Barnes, University of Tennessee Herbarium.

massive blocks of sandstone carved from the adjoining cliff into the waters of Bay Creek. A magnificent view of massive blocks of sandstone carved from the adjoining cliff into the waters of Bay Creek. Photo Penny Stritch.

tree-lined tributary that enters Bay Creek. A picturesque view of a tree-lined tributary that enters Bay Creek in the Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area. Photo Larry Stritch.

Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area

Forest: Shawnee National Forest

District: Hidden Springs Ranger District

Description: Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area is a popular destination for wildflower enthusiasts, hikers, and picnickers. There are a couple of interesting trails that traverse the area allowing visitors to experience a wide variety of natural communities and marvelous geological settings, such as sandstone cliffs, a sandstone canyon, a natural bridge and a gentle stream flowing across a sandstone escarpment. Natural communities include sandstone glades; sandstone cliffs; sandstone boulders, xeric, dry, dry-mesic and mesic upland forests.

Viewing Information: Throughout the year numerous wildflowers can be seen throughout this beautiful area. Spring ephemerals in the sandstone glades and xeric forests include arrow-leaved violet (Viola sagittata), dwarf dandelion (Krigia virginica), pussy-toes (Antennaria plantaginifolia), violet wood-sorrel (Oxalis violacea), false garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve), nits and lice (Hypericum drummondii) prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa), yellow star grass (Hypoxis hirsuta), widow’s cross (Sedum pulchellum), goat’s rue (Tephrosia virginiana), pinweed (Lechea tenuifolia)and blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium albidum).

The oak forest’s of the dry and dry mesic upland forests have a large diversity of spring ephemerals including Indian physic (Porteranthus trifoliatus), dittany (Cunila origanoides), St. Andrew’s cross (Hypericum hypericoides), Beebalm (Monarda bradburiana), low tick trefoil (Desmodium rotundifolium), whorled milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Virginia spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana), and hog peanut (Amphicarpa bracteata).

The mesic forests of Bell Smith Springs are dominated by beech (Fagus grandifolia), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red oak (Quercus rubra), white oak(Quercus alba)and yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). Spring ephemerals commonly encountered include Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), dwarf larkspur (Delphinium tricorne), Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans), wake robin (Trillium recurvatum), downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens), false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa), and large bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora). Many ferns are also encountered including rattlesnake fern (Botrychium virginianum), Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), and marginal shield fern (Dryopteris marginalis, common polypody (Polypodium virginianum). Spring flowering shrubs and small trees encountered across Bell Smith Springs include blue beech (Carpinus caroliniana), ironwood (Ostrya virginiana), winged elm (Ulmus alatus), black haw (Viburnum prunifolium), low-bush blueberry (Vacinium vacillans), serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), farkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum), redbud (Cercis canadensis) and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).

In autumn the forest communities are characterized by members of the aster family such as elm-leaved goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia), gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), blue-stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia), bristly sunflower (Helianthus hirsutus), woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus), blue aster (Aster patens), smooth aster (Aster laevis), small-headed sunflower (Helianthus microcephalus), white snakeroot (Eupatorium serotinum), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), stiff aster (Aster linariifolius), black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirsuta), and various other woodland asters (Aster spp.) will delight visitors into late October.

Safety First: Be prepared in spring, summer and autumn for rapid changes in weather as thunderstorms may develop rapidly. Timber rattlesnakes and copperheads may occasionally be present so please stay alert. None of these snakes tend to be aggressive but they will defend themselves if stepped on or threatened at close range. Just watch the ground as you walk and you should not have any problems. The gravel roads approaching Bell Smith Springs should be driven with caution and please be alert to other traffic. Be aware of pedestrians in the parking areas. Summer temperatures can be high, 90 to 100 F but are generally less in the mesic forests and canyon floor along the creeks. Bring plenty of bottled water as creek water is not suitable for drinking. Wear appropriate clothing for the outdoors. Be sure to bring sunscreen and insect repellant. Wood ticks are always present, except for winter months. Be sure to check yourself out for ticks after you visit. Poison ivy is common; remember leaves of three let it be.

Directions: From Harrisburg, take IL 145 south to the small community of Delwood. In Delwood turn right on to County 8. Continue on County 8 for several miles until you come upon the welcome sign to Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area. Turn left on to the entrance road and proceed to the parking lots. See Map.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Shawnee National Forest, Hidden Springs Ranger District.

Closest Town: Delwood, Illinois.