Best Hikes in Shawnee National Forest (IL)


Shawnee National Forest is nestled in Southern Illinois between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. It features strikingly beautiful oak-hickory forests, flourishing wetlands, lush canyons, razorback ridges and unique geological features. A rare convergence of six natural ecological regions results in a diversity of plant and animal species. With nearly 1 million people visiting annually, the forest serves as a retreat to Americans living in urban areas; more than 30 U.S. cities are within a six hour drive. Many of the best hikes in Shawnee National Forest are described in detail below. Official Website.

Nearest Metro AreaSt. Louis, MO
Area Size286,000 acres
EstablishedAugust 1933
Hiking Trails403 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in Shawnee National Forest

(*** = Best hikes in Shawnee National Forest)

Garden of the Gods Loop*** – 5.2 mile loop

One of the most photographed locations in the state, Garden of the Gods’ scenic beauty is extraordinary. The Observation Trail features unique sandstone rock formations and panoramic views of the surrounding Garden of the God Wilderness. Interpretive signs explain the geological history. The 1/4-mile trail is made of natural sandstone and takes about an hour to walk. To see almost everything that the area has to offer, take a longer loop throughout the trail system.

Inspiration Point – 0.7 miles out and back

Majestic views await you at Inspiration Point, a National Recreation Trail, located at LaRue Pine Hills. LaRue-Pine Hills is one of the most unique areas in the world. It took millions of years to form its bedrock before nature’s erosive forces took over and created the 150-foot limestone bluffs that now rise out of the Mississippi floodplain.

Jackson Falls Trail #49 – 3.25 mile loop

A short trail leads through the forest, which opens as you approach Jackson Falls from above. Waterfalls in this region are seasonal, meaning flow is dependent upon the amount of recent rainfall. Known for its scenic sandstone bluffs, this area’s trail system accesses both the top and bottom of the bluffs. The bottom of the falls can be reached via a 3.25-mile hike (roundtrip) on Trail #049, beginning where this trail intersects Glen Street Falls Road.

Little Grand Canyon*** – 3.2 mile loop

Little Grand Canyon is especially beautiful during April and October when spring wildflowers and fall colors are at their peak. The entire trail is 3 miles trail but shorter segments can be taken that lead to scenic overlooks. The upper trail has interpretive signs. In the canyon the trail winds along the base of 300-foot bluffs and through a bottomland forest before leading out of the canyon through a rocky creekbed.

Rim Rock Recreational Trail*** – 1.5 mile loop

A wonderfully scenic trail, Rim Rock National Recreation Trail leads around the rim of a rock escarpment, hence its name. Mid-way along the trail is an opportunity to descend wooden stairs, and pass between rock slabs to reach the hollow below. Read the sign about how settlers used Ox-lot Cave before returning the way you came or take the lower trail back to the parking lot. Rim Rock Trail is part of Pounds Hollow Ecological Area, a designated natural area with specific regulations outlined below. Interpretive signs along the trail explain the areas unique natural and historical features.

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