The Best Hikes in Southern Illinois – Camping in Shawnee National Forest
Southern Illinois is a great getaway for anyone who loves hiking, lakes, waterfalls and caves. There are so many state parks with amazing rock formations and waterfalls to check out. We decided to stop in Southern Illinois on our way out west during our road trip.
On our way out west from Pennsylvania, we decided that we didn’t want to skip past every single state. We wanted to stop in two or three states to explore and check out parts of the country we would otherwise never visit. Southern Illinois and the Shawnee National Forest area specifically peaked our interest. The amount of hiking trails, lakes, wilderness and lack of information on the area is what made us come to Shawnee.
If you decide to camp inside of Shawnee National Forest consider camping eco friendly to reduce your footprint!
Shawnee National Forest is located only two hours from St. Louis and three hours Nashville Tennessee.
The Best Hikes in Shawnee National Forest
No matter what type of hiker you are, Shawnee has so many different hikes to fit your taste. Places like Giant City State Park and Panthers Den Wilderness offer some amazing hikes in under 4 miles. This region of Southern Illinois has amazing rock formations that come out of nowhere in the woods. Other great hiking areas include Simpson and Herod Illinois which includes beautiful overlooks and waterfalls.
Giant City State Park – Hiking in Southern Illinois
Giant City State Park is located only 20 minutes from Carbondale and 15 minutes from Little Grassy Lake Campground which is where we stayed. Little Grassy Lake is a beautiful campground that has its own marina where you can rent kayaks or pontoon boats. Maddie and I ended up renting a tandem kayak one day and a pontoon boat another. The Lake is amazing and if you plan on camping in the area Little Grassy Lake is the way to go.
Giant City State Park is home to some of the best family friendly trails in the Shawnee area. The most popular of all of these is Giant City Nature trail which is only 1.2 miles long. The small, and fairly easy hike takes weaves through huge rock formations and caves. The hike is truly remarkable as the amazing formations are hidden in the woods and seem to appear from nowhere. If you want to enjoy a nice hike, with wide open trails and not sweat your butt off, Giant City Nature Trail is the way to go.
Another great easy 1.3-mile trail is the Trillium trail which also has some amazing rock formations. If you are looking for a more difficult trail or a long day hike the Red Cedar Trail is roughly 12 miles long. The hike changes from woodlands, to grasslands and eventually leads to a beautiful waterfall and small creek bed.
Hiking in Southern Illinois has become one of the favorite unknown destination’s that we have come across. We both never looked into Illinois that much, but after visiting we found some amazing places.
Panthers Den Wilderness Area- Hikes in Southern Illinois
Panthers Den Wilderness has a lot less trails than Giant City state park, but it has similar views and landscape. It is located around 30 minutes from Giant City state park and is also home to some amazing rock formations and caves. The main hike, which is the wilderness loop trail is around 4.5 miles long. The trail isn’t that interesting for the first mile or so, until you reach the rock formations which seem to come from nowhere.
Garden of the Gods – Hikes in Shawnee National Forest
Arguably the most beautiful and popular hike in Shawnee national forest area is Garden of the Gods. Garden of the Gods lies in the heart of the Shawnee National Forest and is nestled in over 3,300 acres. There are a ton of hikes in the area, but the most popular trail is the Garden of the Gods observation trail. The trail is a 0.5-mile loop and leads right to the main overlook, which showcases the entire valley below and some incredible rock formations.
Indian Point Trail – Shawnee National Forest Hikes
Indian Point Trail is a part of the Garden of the Gods recreation area. It is another easy trail that is only 2 miles long and can be done in under an hour.
Bell Smith Springs – Southern Illinois Hiking
The Bell Smith Springs Scenic Area is inside Shawnee National Forest. It is located only 20 minutes from Garden of the Gods and has some amazing waterfalls, rock formations and streams to offer. Some of the most popular and beautiful destinations in the area include Jackson Falls, Dixon Springs State Park and Burden Falls.
Jackson Falls is probably the most popular destinations and for good reason. Jackson Falls is a small waterfall nestled in the woods that has an awesome swimming hole at the bottom. You yourself could go for a swim or take your pup. The area of Jackson Falls and Bell Smith Springs has multiple camping options for either tent campers or RV’s.
Hiking in Shawnee National Forest – Hikes in Southern Illinois
Southern Illinois truly has a lot to offer for outdoor lovers. There are endless lakes, state parks and hiking areas to check out during your stay. We stayed at Little Grassy Lake campground and Marina which was a beautiful place and amazing for sunset.
When visiting Shawnee National Forest, the most recommend hikes are generally Garden of the Gods, Giant City State Park and Bell Smith Springs Scenic Area These three areas will keep you busy during your stay and you won’t be left bored. Depending on where you decide to camp or stay, a lot of the lakes in the area offer kayak and pontoon boat rentals. Little Grassy Lake was around $240 for a full-day boat rental that would allow up to 8 people.
If you have any questions or recommendations for places we should add to this list send us email!
Our Favorite Hiking Backpack – Atlas Athlete Pack
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