Shawnee National Forest
The Ozark and Shawnee Hills extend over 270,000 acres of rough mountaintops and rugged rock formations between the natural borders of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. This terrain, which is much different than the flat Midwest directly to the north, claims five different ecological divisions and hence creates vast diversity in topography, wildlife and recreation.
Famous trails, wilderness, Midwestern wildlife and famed foliage are only some of the Shawnee's attractions. Maple, dogwood, oak and pine are interspersed among the unique sandstone configurations that decorate the eastern hills and offer a bouldering destination for rock hounds. Lakes encompassing more than 2,700 acres and access to 135 miles of hiking trails, including the American Discovery Trail, can be found in the Shawnee.
Backpack the River-to-River Trail
The River-to-River Trail runs along the area within the Shawnee between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. This particularly scenic and flora-rich path covers about 160 miles of moderate to difficult terrain and usually takes about 14 days to complete. It connects with the American Discovery Trail at the western end of the trail.
Climb Garden of the Gods
Wandering through the hills of the eastern Shawnee will bring you to peculiar sandstone bluffs and layered stone cliffs. The steep and rocky nature of the Garden of the Gods Recreations Area is very appealing to those in search of rappelling and rock climbing. For more rock climbing, try Jackson Falls and Draper's Bluff, two favorites among locals.
Ride High Knob
The High Knob Trail is a horse route that weaves throughout Shawnee's eastern hardwood forest, over moderately rugged ground and towards the Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area. Along the way are points of interest including scenic High Knob Lookout and Pounds Hollow Recreation Area. The trail has easy access to the River-to-River Trail.
Paddle Lusk Creek
This pristine stream is also one of the Shawnee's most picturesque canoe routes. It meanders gently through the eastern portion of the forest, which is strewn with cliffs, canyons and wildflowers. Its particularly scenic shores offer birdwatching, mushroom hunting, and hiking.
Fish "The Murph"
The Shawnee is filled with ponds and lakes that provide excellent fishing. Murphysboro Ranger District has fishing destinations where you can find sunfish, largemouth bass, channel catfish, trout, walleye pike, and muskie. Popular sites include Horseshoe Pond, Lake Kincaid, and Cedar Lake. Both the Vienna and Elizabethtown Ranger Districts offer excellent fishing, as does the Ohio River, which is frequently referred to as one of Illinois' "best-kept fishing secrets."
Bike Williams Hill
Located in the Western part of the Shawnee, this moderate to steep trail weaves its way along the highest point in southern Illinois—Williams Hills. Elevation varies greatly, and the trail can become downright difficult in stretches. It includes both well-packed fire trails and dirt singletrack paths. A point of interest along the way is the paddling destination Little Lusk Creek.
Explore the Wild Shawnee
Some incredibly rare species, such as the Indiana bat, eastern woodrat, pygmy sunfish or blind cavefish make the Shawnee their home, but are not likely to show themselves to any human visitor. You'll have to content yourself with the Shawnee's ancient bald cypress forests, hovering oak, and its 49 species of mammals and 253 species of birds. Reptiles, amphibians and fish abound in the wetland portions of the forest.
Camp the Pharaoh
Oddly-shaped rocks and curious sandstone cliffs decorate this campground located in the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area. These sites are nestled in the Shawnee Hills and provide a great look at the unique topography that the nearby Garden of the Gods Wilderness has to offer. The campground also provides easy access to the Garden of Gods Observation Trail and attractions including Camel Rock and Devil's Smokestack.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication