Top 3 Gottados – The Natural Bridges of the Shawnee Hills

Pomona Natural Bridge

This is the third in a series called Top 3 Gottados (Got to do). This series will spotlight interesting and unique areas that everyone enjoying the Shawnee Hills should take time to explore.

The last entry into the Top 3 series we looked at the Top 3 Gottados- Easy to Get to Wildflower Hikes.  This week we focus on three awe-inspiring spans of solid rock, the Top 3 Gottados- The Natural Bridges of the Shawnee Hills.

All three bridges are varied and unique, but all there lives begin with a rock joint and water.  A rock joint is a single continuous slab of sandstone with no cross-joint fractures.  Water and erosion are the main sculptors in this event.  Usually a stream percolates in threw a fracture parallel to the joint block and with time erodes  the rock away leaving a span called a natural bridge.  So here we go the Top 3 Gottados- The Natural Bridges of the Shawnee Hills.

1.  Pomona Natural Bridge

Arguably, the most famous bridge in the Shawnee Hills is this massive slab near Pomona.  Stream erosion is clearly seen  here.  A creek cascades down a bluff, and runs underneath this 120 foot span.

One can easily imagine that the bridge was a part of the bluff nearby.  Off all three of the bridges this one seems most like an actual bridge, because of its length and narrowness. Some may wish for guard rails before they walk completely across.

2.  Bell Smith Springs Natural Bridge

-This is the granddaddy, spanning 92 feet on the top, 135 feet at the bottom, and rising to a height of 40 feet, this rock is massive by any standards.

This bridge has two routes to the top, the saner and safer route is to take the trail to the left after the creek crossing and continuing paralleling the bluff that then leads to the top.  The other route involves steel bars wedged into the side of the sandstone encouraging daredevils to try their luck getting to the top.

By either route when you get to the top you can see the creator of this bridge.  A small stream comes in from the left slowly creating this wonder.

3.  Ferne Clyffe Natural Bridge

This bridge is the most elusive out of the three.  This span is located on the Happy Hollow Trail several miles into the hike.  ‘

No park brochure tells of this of this hidden gem, so if your lucky you can have it all to yourself. This bridge is the only one that does not have a prominent stream below, but nonetheless the waters action are clearly seen.

    UPDATE:  Make sure to read the comments on this entry, because Taylor Reed gives an awesome suggestion on a fourth gottado natural bridge worth visiting.

    On Top of Bell Smith Springs Natural Bridge

    Caution:  These natural bridges are very dangerous areas.  There are no guardrails and can be very slippery after rains.  The top of these natural bridges are no place for kids to roam around on.  Please have ahold of them at all times.  The natural bridges at Bell Smith Springs and Ferne Clyffe requires major creek crossings,  even several days after a rain event these creeks may be dangerous to cross.  It only takes several inches of water to by swept away be running water. Check all hunting seasons before attempting to hike any trails mentioned.

    Disclaimer:  The author and Shawnee Hills Outdoors disclaim any liability or loss incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application on any information contained in this blog.  Please check ranger stations and park superintendents for latest information regarding these areas.


    1. says

      Great post. I’ve yet to make it to the one at Ferne Clyffe. One more easily accessible, though less impressive natural bridge is the one along Garden of the Gods road, just across from the the pull off with the wooden rail.

    2. Matthew Sledge says

      Just wanted to add : If your in the region of the Pamona natural bridge, then you should check out the Little Grand Canyon. Beautiful place to hike, but be prepared for a long one because the trail winds on and on! The wineries along that area are terrific to stop and relax at before hitting up the next scenic area. Just wanted to throw in my two cents. Great site by the way! Love seeing someone with a passion for our beautiful area.

    3. says

      Thanks for the comment Matthew! Your right Little Grand Canyon is a true treasure of Southern Illinois and the Shawnee Hills. This is beautiful country and the vineyards make the trip even more enjoyable. Thanks for recognizing the passion I share for the Shawnee Hills.

    4. says

      Great website! Me and my family have visited several of these sites. They are great and really are must sees! SI is a great place to hike. There are several very cool hikes at Ferne Clyffe too. I am hoping we can get over to Bell Smith Springs before too long! Keep up the good work!

    5. says

      Thanks, Doug for your comment and encouragement. Ferne Clyffe is, also, one of my favorites. I love the backcountry around the Happy Hollow Trail. Southern Illinois is a special place and I hope that we can continue and with the help of others to shine a well-deserved spotlight on special place in America.

    6. says

      Nice web site I just went to 3 weeks ago Bells Smith Spring natural arch it is real cool. I learned some new info today about the natural arch at garden of the Gods I have lived with in 20 miles of Garden of the Gods for most of my life and didn’t know there was a arch there I will visit that arch very soon. Thanks for The info