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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Set Your Sights on Carbondale, Illinois

Carbondale at a Glance

Location: Southern Illinois in Jackson County

Access: Located at the junction of Illinois Route 13 and US Route 51

Major Meeting Spaces: Carbondale Civic Center, Grove Event Center, Holiday Inn Carbondale-Conference Center, Hampton Inn Carbondale

Hotel Rooms: 713

Off-Site Venues: Varsity Center for the Arts, Touch of Nature Environmental Center

Contact Info:

Carbondale Tourism


Carbondale, Illinois, is both a university town and an outdoor lover’s dream. It’s home to Southern Illinois University and is surrounded by state parks, the Shawnee National Forest, lakes and orchards that are within an hour’s drive of downtown.

Easy to access from Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville and Memphis via train or automobile, the city has 713 guest rooms and more than 60,000 square feet of meeting space in addition to the Southern Illinois University Arena and Shryrock Auditorium. The Williamson County Airport in Marion, Illinois, is just 15 minutes east of Carbondale and offers daily shuttle flights to and from St. Louis Lambert Airport. Amtrak also offers service from the St. Louis Airport, about a two-hour trip.

The city has an extensive and wide-ranging culinary scene that includes locally owned farm-to-table restaurants that use fresh produce grown in the region as well as cuisine with international flair. Many of these restaurants and bars line the downtown strip along South Illinois Avenue. Carbondale is also home to many breweries and wineries, and the area plays host to festivals and events throughout the year, including the Big Muddy Film Festival, the Outside the Box Music Festival and the CarbondALE Brew Fest.

The Carbondale Civic Center is the city’s main convention center. The facility can host up to 500 guests in its 8,200 square feet of conference space. Food and drink are available at the center through approved caterers, and the building has the audiovisual equipment groups require, from projectors to a speaker system with portable sound.

The Garden Grove Event Center is just as large as the Civic Center but offers some outdoor meeting spaces for conferences and special events. It has 8,000 square feet of space across three venues: the Loft and Terrace, the Courtyard and the Wedding Garden. The venue offers full-service catering, from full meals and light lunches to appetizers and dessert bars.

Top Meeting Hotels

The Holiday Inn Carbondale-Conference Center is the largest meeting hotel in Carbondale, with 100 guest rooms and 2,800 square feet of meeting space. It can easily accommodate groups of up to 200 people for theater-style meetings or 160 for a banquet. It has five meeting rooms. The largest space is a 2,500-square-foot ballroom, and the smallest is 625 square feet. The Hampton Inn has 80 guest rooms and 784 square feet of meeting space. The Days Inn and Suites has 73 guest rooms and 800 square feet of meeting space.

Unique Venues

The Varsity Center for the Arts is a performance art venue and event center in downtown Carbondale that was originally built as a single-screen movie house in 1940. The meeting and event venue is now undergoing rebranding and renovation. Two of Varsity’s three performing arts spaces are available to rent, including the beautifully restored lobby and the Balcony Stage, a 137-seat listening room and small performance area.

The Touch of Nature Environmental Center, part of Southern Illinois University, gives meeting groups a taste of the outdoors. Visitors can explore more than 3,000 acres of nature by traversing its many trails on foot or by mountain bike. The center’s educational programs include watersports such as canoeing and kayaking, as well as rock climbing, a ropes course and a zip line for teambuilding.

Southern Illinois University

Southern Illinois University was founded in Carbondale in 1869 as a teachers’ college. Students who come to SIU love the campus because of its strategic location near two state parks, the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and four large lakes. It also is only 60 miles from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The campus has plenty of meeting spaces from which to choose. The SIU Student Center has more than 21,000 square feet of meeting space. The SIU Arena can seat 8,339 people, and the Shryrock Auditorium can seat 1,212 guests. Three other buildings on campus offer meeting spaces as well: the Morris Library, the Touch of Nature Environmental Center and the Dunn Richmond Center.

Outdoor Adventures

Giant City State Park is 11 miles south of Carbondale and is one of the largest outdoor attractions in the area. Within the Shawnee Forest of Makanda, the park is home to sandstone bluffs that were carved some 12,000 years ago. The park is known for its beautiful hiking trails, camping, horseback riding, fishing and rappelling. The Shawnee National Forest spans 273,000 acres and is the largest wooded area in Illinois. It has many wilderness trails, archaeological sites, lakes and streams to explore. The Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to walk in the woods, kayak, fish or view wildlife from wild turkeys and bald eagles to white-tailed deer. The refuge also gets an influx of migratory birds in the winter and songbirds in the summer.

Shawnee Hills Wine Trail

Surrounded by the rolling hills of the Shawnee National Forest, southern Illinois is home to 11 wineries, each with its own winemaking style. The 40-mile trail offers visitors the chance to try wines that have won national and international awards paired with an array of local food options. Illinois’ wineries do offer samples, for a small fee. Alto Vineyards offers a taste of six wines with a souvenir wine glass; Pomona Winery offers a sampling of nine wines. Along the wine trail, guests can stop and browse at specialty shops, eat at unique restaurants, have a beer at one of the local breweries or visit art galleries.

History and Museums

The African American Museum of Southern Illinois was founded in 1997 in Carbondale’s University Mall. It identifies, preserves and presents the outstanding achievements of African American citizens in the United States. Tour the Buckminster Fuller Dome, a geodesic dome home that was designed and built by Fuller in 1960. He and his wife lived in the dome until 1971. It was the prototype for all other geodesic dome homes in the country. Meeting attendees who bring their families along should visit the Science Center, a hands-on children’s museum with more than 50 interactive exhibits on everything from paleontology to weather and aircraft.