The Budget Savvy Travelers

Garden of the Gods IL & Bell Smith Springs | Shawnee National Forest

Visiting the Garden of the Gods in IL is one of the best things to do in Shawnee National Forest. Researching a trip to the Shawnee National Forest may seem a bit overwhelming at first. The area covers the entire southern tip of Illinois which is about 450 square miles.

It’s made up of a vast chunk of land between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, often referred to as “Little Egypt.” Many folks who come out to explore the region are looking for the top sights to explore and photograph.

Garden of the Gods IL | Best Things to Do in Shawnee National Forest

It takes a lot of time to find the most photo-worthy destinations scattered around the expansive Shawnee National Forest. During our time in Southern Illinois, we kept hoping to find a list of the most scenic sights to explore.

We never found a comprehensive list, so we decided to make our own. The following are the best things to do in Shawnee National Forest:

  1. The Devil’s Backbone in Bell Smith Springs
  2. Pyramid of Southern Illinois
  3. Pomona Natural Bridge
  4. Camel Rock | Garden of the Gods IL
  5. Rim Rock Recreation Trail
  6. Indian Kitchen | Lusk Creek Wilderness Area
  7. Stone Face

If you’re looking to thoroughly explore the Shawnee Forest then you may consider purchasing:

1. The Devil’s Backbone in Bell Smith Springs

Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area just might be the best place for a day hike in Illinois. The 8-miles of interconnected trails sit within a lush canyon that uncovers crystal clear, rocky turquoise streams.

The highlights include Devil’s Backbone, natural rock bridge, and Boulder Falls. You’ll be crossing many ankle-high streams so don’t forget to bring waterproof boots.

The Devil’s Backbone | Garden of the Gods IL | Best Things to Do in Shawnee National Forest

Insider Travel Tip: Don’t let the water stop you in your tracks. Bell Smith Springs offers the opportunity for some great day hikes in the Shawnee National Forest.

However, trails will cross over streams and shallow ponds in both the summer and winter seasons. Waterproof footwear is a must if you want to explore the natural landmarks and venture through the woods.

2. Pyramid of Southern Illinois

Along one of the lower hiking trails in Bell Smith Springs, visitors will find a huge boulder that resembles a huge Egyptian pyramid. Considering that Southern Illinois is often referred to as “Little Egypt,” it’s a fitting natural landmark hidden in the Shawnee National Forest.

Giant pyramid boulders are hidden in Shawnee National Forest | Garden of the Gods IL | Best Things to Do in Shawnee National Forest

3. Pomona Natural Bridge

A short five-minute loop trail leads to a 90-foot long natural bridge made of sandstone. The bridge is perched about 12 feet above a tree-covered ravine.

Cross a 90-foot sandstone bridge formed by erosion on the Pomona National Bridge Trail in the Shawnee National Forest. | Garden of the Gods IL | Best Things to Do in Shawnee National Forest
Enjoy the Very Best of Shawnee National Forest In the Video Below

4. Camel Rock | Garden of the Gods IL

Camel Rock is located within the Garden of the Gods IL Recreation Area. The rock formation is so stunning that it is featured in the U.S. Mint America the Beautiful Quarters Program. The short 1/4 mile hike is easy and amazingly picturesque.

Camel Rock is one of the most photographed locations in Southern Illinois. | Garden of the Gods IL | Best Things to Do in Shawnee National Forest

5. Rim Rock Recreation Trail

From the parking area, visitors can easily explore the 0.8-mile circular trail that leads around the rim of the rocky escarpment. However, from the ground level, you can appreciate Rim Rock’s sheer beauty. Instead of continuing back directly from the scenic viewpoint, take the stairs down and around the Ox-lot Cave.

This small cave was a natural landmark along the Underground Railroad. There are informative signs on-site that explain more. After exploring, return up by way of the lower trail. Along the way, make sure to take pictures near the beautiful teal-colored streams.

Find brilliant turquoise hues in the waters of Shawnee National Forest. | Garden of the Gods IL | Best Things to Do in Shawnee National Forest

6. Indian Kitchen | Lusk Creek Wilderness Area

Lusk Creek is the largest of the wilderness areas. It contains some of the most dramatic cliffs and astonishing river views within the entire Shawnee National Forest. Some have even compared it to Colorado. The primary out & back hike is about 3.5 miles each way.

Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area offers dramatic photo opportunities. | Garden of the Gods IL | Best Things to Do in Shawnee National Forest

Insider tip: Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area offers three trails offering dramatic photo opportunities. The Red Trail is called Hill Branch Trail at 1.6 miles. The Blue Trail is called Sentry Bluff Trail at 2.7 miles. The Yellow Trail is called the Natural Bridge Trail at 9 miles.

7. Stone Face

Sometimes referred to as “Old Stone Face,” this natural wonder is the symbol of Saline County. The rock looks strikingly like an old wrinkled face with a nose, chin, forehead and a toothless mouth. The formation is located eight miles southeast of Harrisburg, in the Ozark foothills perched on top of Eagle Mountain, halfway between Cave Hill to the northeast and Womble Mountain to the southwest.

Stone Face is one of the best rock formations in Shawnee National Forest. | Garden of the Gods IL | Best Things to Do in Shawnee National Forest

Best Accommodation in Shawnee National Forest

If you’re staying in Carbondale, the best accommodation options include:

Budget: Super 8 or University Inn of Carbondale (recently renovated)
Mid-Range: Hampton Inn (continental breakfast) or Home2 Suites (modern and many amenities)

A good option for staying within the Shawnee National Forest is below.

The Shawnee National Forest is very vast. Therefore, visitors should choose their accommodation based on the section of the forest that they’re currently visiting. For example, while touring the east section of the forest we stayed at the Shawnee Forest Cabins.

Enjoy the Hot Tub at Shawnee Forest Cabins. | Garden of the Gods IL | Best Things to Do in Shawnee National Forest

Located across from Camel Rock, the Shawnee Forest Cabins offer the perfect location as a base to explore. Avid hikers will love the fact that they can walk to the Garden of the Gods IL Recreation Area, in the heart of the forest. The cabins feature private hot tubs, fast Wi-Fi, fireplaces, satellite TV, outdoor fire pits, and full kitchens.

Have you explored Shawnee National Forest and discovered a dramatic landscape that you believe we missed? Feel free to let us know in the comments section down below. 

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