Best time to travel to Illinois

Shawnee National Forest in Illinois

Let the unforgettable solo and family adventures happen in several jaw-dropping regions of the forest!

Shawnee National Forest
Shawnee National Forest
Shawnee National Forest
Garden of the Gods
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Covering 289,000 ac (116,954 ha) of land, Shawnee National Forest is located in the Ozark and Shawnee Hills of Southern Illinois, just between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. A rare intersection of six natural ecological regions makes up a diversity of plant and animal species here. The forest comprises of remarkable oak-hickory forests, lush canyons, thriving wetlands, razorback ridges, and other exceptional geological features.

Although the Shawnee Forest is fantastic all year round, spring and fall are considered the best time to explore. During spring, you will witness all the spectacular wildflowers in bloom, and the beauty of fall will hypnotize you with unbelievable hues of yellow, orange, and red across the area.

Garden of the Gods

More than 320 million years ago, the rain and wind patiently carved away at the large deposits of sedimentary rock in Shawnee National Forest. Gradually, the elements have sculpted some of the most stunning and extraordinary rock formations known to humankind. Being one of the most popular hikes in the Shawnee National Forest, Garden of the Gods gives tourists unique awareness about the geologic structure of Southern Illinois. This place offers a spectacular view that stretches for miles over the pristine hills along with a short hike among some of the most extraordinary rock formations in the United States. Here you can also find plenty of trails for horseback riding and backpacking.

Heron Pond

Heron Pond is a beautiful piece of wetlands landscape, a fantastic semi-water world filled with uniquely inspiring natural phenomena that you can only discover in Southern Illinois. The pond is nestled in Little Black Slough Nature Preserve near the section of the Cache River State Natural Area and Belnap, Illinois, just south of Shawnee National Forest. Heron Pond is known as home to over 100 threatened and endangered plants and animals on the flood plain of the Ohio River. An essential resource for unique plants, animals, and migrating birds, Heron Pond makes a prime location to observe nature at it’s best.

You can enjoy numerous trails that cross the wetlands or unbelievable pristine views from a canoe. Hunting and fishing are common activities in the Cache River State Natural Area as well.

Cave-in-Rock State Park

Obtained by the State of Illinois in the late 20s, the famous historic cavern is situated in the village of Cave-in-Rock. Just walk the trail that boasts rich flora and fauna, down to the Ohio’s edge to stand in awe of the enormous stone opening leading into the jaws of the limestone cathedral. When entering the magnificent 55 ft (17 m) wide mouth of the cavern, you will stand in shock of the 100 ft (30 m) vertical fissure guiding you to the top entrance. In the 1700s and 1800s, this cave was used as a shelter for visitors because of its natural chimney.

Pomona Natural Bridge

Located in Pomona, Illinois, The Pomona Natural Bridge is a great quick hike for the whole family. Some 30-minutes drive from such towns as Alto Pass, Anna, Cobden, Murphysboro, and Carbondale, the hiking trail to this hidden treasure can be easily identified with a small blue sign. Pomona Bridge is entirely made of sandstone. It is right at 90 ft (27 m) long and a little over 8 ft (2.5 m) wide. The bridge starts about 30 ft (9 m) in the air and slopes downward to 20-25 ft (6-7 m) at the other end.

Generally, Shawnee National Forest is visited by a million people annually and serves as a retreat to those Americans who live in urban areas in a 6 hour radius. Its uniqueness will take your breath away!

Practical info

When should people plan their visit to Shawnee National Forest?

Although Shawnee National Forest is open all year round, people should consider visiting during spring and fall, particularly in March-May and September-November, due to the milder temperatures and the stunning foliage. During spring, wildflowers bloom, and the forest comes to life, while the leaves of fall give way to a gorgeous landscape of oranges, yellows, and reds, making for an unforgettable experience. Show more

What distinguishes Garden of the Gods from other hiking trails?

If you're looking for a unique hiking trail that offers an educational experience, Garden of the Gods is your best bet. This trail showcases some of the most fascinating geological features in Southern Illinois to visitors, with impressive rock formations aplenty. The hiking trail also provides backpacking opportunities and horseback riding in addition to its hiking offerings, coupled with breathtaking views of the surrounding forests and hills. A must-visit hiking destination for anyone with an interest in geology and natural history. Show more

What is the best location to observe wild animals in Shawnee National Forest?

Heron Pond, located south of the Shawnee National Forest and situated nicely within the Little Black Slough Nature Preserve, is a great spot to observe wildlife and soak in the splendor of nature. With over a hundred threatened and endangered species of plants and animals, the wetlands offer a unique opportunity to witness rare animal phenomena not seen anywhere else in Southern Illinois. Knowing this, visitors can hike around the area or embark on a canoe ride and experience nature at its finest. Show more

Where can one find Cave-in-Rock State Park?

Cave-in-Rock State Park is located within the village of Cave-in-Rock, which the State of Illinois obtained in the late 1920s. The park has a classic limestone cavern that is approximately 55 feet wide and 30 feet deep, providing natural shelter for visitors between the 1700s and 1800s. A hiking trail leads down to the Ohio River, offering visitors a peek at the spectacular biodiversity in the park. The park is an ideal place for outdoor enthusiasts who wish to explore natural wonders with rich historical significance. Show more

What is the unique thing about the Pomona Natural Bridge?

Pomona Natural Bridge in Illinois provides visitors with an exceptional family hiking experience owing to its unique features. The bridge is about 90 feet long and a little over 8 feet wide, made entirely of sandstone. It hangs about 30 feet over the ground and slopes downhill to approximately 20-25 feet at its opposite end. A quick and accessible hiking trail leads you and your family to the bridge, with small blue signs guiding your way. It's the perfect spot for a serene hike with your loved ones. Show more

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Last updated: by Dari Vasiljeva