General Disclaimer

This page is not an official page of the US Forest Service or Illinois Department of Natural Resources. This page was created by Hiking with Shawn, LLC to act as an additional resource for providing updated information about the COVID-19 Resource Center  in relations to outdoor recreational activities on federal and state managed public lands located in southern Illinois.

Welcome to the COVID-19 Resource Center for Shawnee National Forest and Southern Illinois State Recreational Area user inventories. This information is gathered online and by communicative means through public domain and partnerships. The information in this article is to provide the public with the latest details and updated information about COVID-19 and the Shawnee National Forest and state recreational areas located in Southern Illinois. Please check back often as this article will be updated as information comes in.


Covid-19 Resource Center: Shawnee National Forest Closures and Information

There are currently some areas in the Shawnee National Forest that are closed due to COVID-19. Area closures are based on hygienic capabilities and public safety of users in the area such as the ability to social distance or not. The following within the Shawnee National Forest has been closed by its managing agency, the US Forest Service:

  • All restroomsRestrooms cannot be cleaned after multiple uses due to lack of manpower and safety of personnel and visitors. Therefore all restrooms in the Shawnee National Forest are locked and closed from public use. Restrooms are now open.
  • All campgrounds managed by US Forest Service – All campgrounds that are primarily managed by the US Forest Service have been closed. For example, Pine Hills Campground is completely managed by US Forest Service and therefore has been closed. Red Bud Campground near Bell Smith Springs is managed by a third-party in cooperation with the US Forest Service and therefore remains open at the discretion of the third party managing the site. Private campgrounds are not included in these closures. Even though Illinois has entered Phase 3 of Restore Illinois, Forest Service Campgrounds not managed by a third-party remain closed until the agency can determine if their staff is safe to perform their duties. This is a federal managed site and has no association with state management. Update: US Forest Service – Shawnee National Forest has announced that some campgrounds will open up for camping on Thursday, June 11, 2020. On Saturday, June 13, 2020 – it is Fee Free Day for the National Get Outdoors Day so you can camp for free (one night) at any of the open fee-based campgrounds. please ensure that you Recreate Responsibly to keep to campgrounds open and all visitors safe from harm.
    • Mississippi Bluffs Ranger District Closed Campgrounds
      • Johnson Creek Campground, Jackson County – OPEN June 11, 2020
      • Pine Hills Campground, Union County – OPEN June 11, 2020
    • Hidden Springs Ranger District Close Campgrounds
      • Camp Cadiz Campground, Hardin County – OPEN June 11, 2020
      • Pharaoh Campground at Garden of the Gods, Saline County – OPEN June 11, 2020
      • Pine Ridge Campground at Pounds Hollow, Gallatin County – This campground will remain closed while construction updates continue to be ongoing.
      • Tower Rock Campground, Hardin County – OPEN June 11, 2020
  • Garden of the Gods Recreational AreaThis includes Garden of the Gods Observation Trail, Indian Point (Backpacker Parking Lot), Anvil Rock Trailhead and Pharaoh Campground. Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area is not closed to the public. UPDATE: The US Forest Service has announced that this area will reopen Friday, May 8, 2020! Due to overcrowding, you can expect temporary access closures in this area. Please attempt at all costs to avoid crowded areas and Recreate Responsibly!
  • Bell Smith Springs Parking AreaThis includes the white, blue and yellow trail systems of Bell Smith Springs. Hunting Branch is currently open to the public. Red Bud Campground is open as it is managed by a third-party in cooperation with the US Forest Service. UPDATE: The US Forest Service has announced that this area will reopen Friday, May 8, 2020! Due to overcrowding, you can expect temporary access closures in this area. Please attempt at all costs to avoid crowded areas and Recreate Responsibly!

Alternatively, wilderness areas throughout the Shawnee National Forest remain open to public use. Camping in these areas is allowed as long as users follow standard Wilderness Area regulations. This camping is dispersed and no amenities are provided. It is strongly advised that you practice Leave No Trace when disperse camping in our wilderness areas. Please help us keep our National Forest clean and healthy by Packing Out what you Pack In. You are encouraged to clean up trash if you see it as it gives you a very rewarding feeling to make a forest cleaner than it was once you started hiking in it. However, due to safety concerns, it is recommended that you wear gloves and use a grabber stick to pick up the trash as we never know where it has been.

Covid-19 Resource Center: Southern Illinois State Area Closures and Information

There are various state parks and state-managed public land throughout Illinois that has been temporary closed due to the virus. However, some state parks in the area have recently been reopened with conditions to help gradually reopen Illinois. The following state parks and state areas in southern Illinois have been reopened managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources:

  • All State Parks and state-managed outdoor open recreational areas are now open
  • Some areas experiencing capacity limits may be temporarily closed at times. Please monitor site-specific social media and news sources for updated information
  • Some restrooms, playgrounds and other features of sites remain closed for public health concerns. Please see the Illinois DNR website linked above and check on each site’s page for updated information

The above state parks and recreational-use areas have been opened for hiking, biking,  and now camping. Please check before camping to understand special guidelines and requirements now in place to protect the public health of campers. Please be patient and continue following CDC recommended guidelines to help kill the virus so we can all return to normalcy.


Common Sense Practices to Avoid Further Closures

It is frustrating for many of us that some federal and state areas remain closed to the public. We pay taxes on these places and are told that the land belongs to all of us and it does. However, we also pay taxes on Public Health services across the state and country and we demand that these agencies and their personnel protect our public health assets. So Public Health may recommend the closure of some of these public areas in order to protect the interests of public health. The SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus is a real threat that, if not controlled, will likely take the lives of millions upon millions of Americans, especially those who are older and most vulnerable. We cannot allow that to happen as a moral country and a people who care about our friends and family. With that being said, as citizens of this great nation, we must act responsible when we recreate in the Shawnee National Forest and state-managed lands by practicing the following guidelines and common sense tactics:

  1. Physical Distancing – Remain at least 6’ from others that are not part of your immediate group. An immediate group is a group like parents and children which obviously will be closer together. When out in public, it is best to assume that everyone you come into contact with has COVID-19 and it is best to keep a safe distance while continuing to respect one and another and remain friendly and polite.
  2. Group Activity Avoidance – I know getting together with friends is a fun summer activity but right now it should be avoided. Large groups will likely result in area closures because social distancing fails with groups. It also scares people who are concerned and public health officials will have no other choice but to close areas so that the scared vulnerable populations continue to be protected. Avoiding large groups is simple common sense.
  3. Closed Features – Some areas of the forest and state lands may be closed such as campgrounds, restrooms, visitor centers, parking areas and trails. It is important that we continue to follow closure orders. Parking in unauthorized areas not only risk getting fined and towed but it also puts local traffic in danger and it is completely reckless and irresponsible to do it.
  4. Leave No Trace – It is important that we continue to pack out what we pack in and Leave No Trace in areas we visit. If areas are damaged or trashed, it will likely be longer to open such areas even after public health closures are lifted. As a volunteer garbage collector for the forest, I ask you to please not litter because it is us, who don’t get paid, that usually cleans it up through our partnerships with recreational agencies. Help us keep the forest healthy by not littering.
  5. Site Personnel – Visitor centers and visitor information is currently closed in the Shawnee National Forest and state-managed land in southern Illinois. However, some personnel may be on site to perform clerical and maintenance functions. These folks are NOT there to answer questions and the public is asked not to approach them for such reasons but if you must, make sure you are distancing and wearing a face covering. Don’t put the lives of our forest and state staff in danger because you are being irresponsible. They deserve to be safe just as much as you do. Try to get your information online or even by sending me a message so that site staff can continue to do their jobs without fear on contracting the virus. The initial reasoning that parks and state areas were closed to begin with was to protect on-site staff and Illinois will continue to protect its staff even if that means areas need to be closed again.
  6. Face Coverings – While not required, it is a good idea to bring and wear a face covering or mask while visiting the National Forest or state area where many people may be present. These coverings reduce the transmission of droplets from the nose and mouth that could be infected with COVID-19. By wearing a mask or face covering, you are protecting another person. And other people wearing them are helping to protect you. Face coverings can be a lot of fun too as there are now many that offer all sorts of interesting designs on them.
  7. Avoid Dangerous Acts – First responder agencies and site staff has been reduced and has decrease their policies on coming into contact with the public in order to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This means that response times from responders and site-staff is significantly reduced. Please refrain from performing dangerous activities while recreating in the National Forest and state-managed land. If you get injured or become lost, it is going to increase the risk of exposure of the virus as it will require people to come into close contact with one and other. Please think of others before doing something stupid. Always put your safety first, never recreate alone and always watch your step before doing anything else.
  8. Wash your hands, stay at home if you are sick – And finally, make sure you are keeping your hands washed and sanitized. Some state areas have restrooms or facilities available with water enabling you to be able to wash your hands. However, to avoid contacting others, it is recommended to bring your own hand sanitizer and use it instead. Try to avoid close contact with other people as much as you can. If you are sick, stay home! Getting around other when sick can be fatal to those who are vulnerable. You can spread your sickness and it could end with people dying. Do you want that on your conscious? Common sense, folks.

Thank you for reading this article. As someone who loves to hike and bike the Shawnee National Forest and our state-managed lands, I also care about the public health of my fellow Illinoisans no matter if you are from southern Illinois or northern Illinois – we are all in this together. My education and experience is in public health and emergency management so I really understand a lot about what is happening with this worldwide crisis. I feel that outdoor recreation is healthy and can easily continue as long as we remain responsible about it and use common sense. Please share this article with others and visit again as I will continue to update it as more information becomes available. Follow me on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for more Shawnee National Forest and Southern Illinois hiking resources, photos, videos and tips. Consider becoming a Supporting Member of Hiking with Shawn and buying some Official Merch. Until next time, I’ll see you on the trail – just make sure you social distance!

Shawn J. Gossman

Shawn J. Gossman


Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.

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