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Located in southern Illinois, the Shawnee National Forest is ideal for all types of outdoor recreation. Nestled between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, the stunning landscape features rolling hills, forests, open lands, lakes, creeks, and rugged bluffs. You can camp, paddle, hike, horseback ride, photograph, swim, run, hunt, fish and picnic in the 280,000 acres of natural beauty found here.
Shawnee is famed for its awesome Garden of the Gods, which consists of spectacular overlooks and unusual rock formations. USA Today called Garden of the Gods one of the Ten Great Places to Get Nature on Film. There are two main trail systems here. Observation Trail, a .25 mile stone path featuring the most well-known formations. The view here is breathtaking, especially at sunset. At over 320 million years old, the other trail system is known as the Wilderness area. The sediment rock here is over 4 miles deep and the fractured bedrock makes it fun to look for visual representations of various things in the formations.
Another highlight of Shawnee National Forest is the Rim Rock Recreational Trail, a system of 403 miles of equestrian/hiking trails. While not as well known as Garden of the Gods, Rim Rock is just as awe-inspiring in its own way. To early settlers this unique formation was known as “the Pounds,” an old English term meaning enclosure. The trail leads past remnants of a stone wall built by prehistoric Native Americans, an observation platform and steps descending through huge rock formations, and narrow rock passageways. Ox Lot Cave, at the bottom, is a massive rock overhang where 19th century loggers kept their oxen and horses. At the back of the overhang is a natural spring which never goes dry. Pretty cool, huh?
At Shawnee National Forest, hikers are greeted by magnificent jutting walls of rock covered with emerald-green moss, and paths that meander through canyons under the forest canopy. If you’re into climbing than a must-see is Jackson Falls, 60 feet of sandstone cliffs and boulders that include numerous freestanding towers. More into soaring above it all instead of climbing up? Take a three-hour ziplining adventure crossing 35 acres of dense trees and sandstone bluffs.
After all that excitement, a drink might be in order. Our recommendation: sample some of the twelve family-owned vineyards located on the hilly, wooded Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. Do a tasting and you just might find yourself purchasing a few bottles to remind you of your incredible trip to Shawnee.
Cover photo credit: enjoyillinois.com