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:
- The Devil’s Backbone in Bell Smith Springs
- Pyramid of Southern Illinois
- Pomona Natural Bridge
- Camel Rock | Garden of the Gods IL
- Rim Rock Recreation Trail
- Indian Kitchen | Lusk Creek Wilderness Area
- Stone Face
If you’re looking to thoroughly explore the Shawnee Forest then you may consider purchasing:
Things To Do in Southern Illinois
- ⛰️ Hike to the Garden of the Gods and enjoy panoramic vistas and large rock formations
- 🔭 If you are traveling as a family, visit The Science Center – a museum with an array of exhibits to explore
- 🏞️ Explore scenic roads, valleys, canyons, and waterfalls of Shawnee National Forest
- 🍷 If you are looking for a quiet place to relax, enjoy the beautiful view and drink wine – go to the Monte Alegre Vineyard and Cellars
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Best Accommodations in Southern Illinois
If you’re planning on staying near Carbondale, the best accommodation options include:
- Budget: Best Western Saluki Inn
- Mid-Range: Holiday Inn Express & Suites or Home2 Suites (modern, with many amenities)
Looking for a vacation rental to enjoy the area? Below are the three best vacation rentals near Carbondale sorted from least to most expensive.
- $ > Cabin Located in the Heart of the Shawnee National Forest – 1 BR, 1 BA
- $ > Cozy Cabin in Shawnee National Forest Area – 2 BR, 2 BA
- $$ > Upscale Designer Studio Across from SIUC Campus – 1 BR, 1 BA
- $$ > Cabin on Indian Creek Near Everything – 2 BR, 2 BA
- $$$ > Couple’s Retreat Cabin With Hot Tub – 1 BR, 1 BA
- $$$ > The Mediterranean is Calling! Grab Your Summer Dates Now! – 4 BR, 4 BA
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