10 Family Outdoor Itineraries in the Shawnee National Forest

Are you looking for family outdoor itineraries in the Shawnee National Forest?

You’ve come to the right place. I have 10 different outdoor itineraries made for families visiting the region. These plans cater to families with younger children. Check out my other great guides on my blog for other itinerary opportunities.

If you want a more personal and customized itinerary, I do offer a paid itinerary planning service.

The Shawnee National Forest is vast. It’s nearly 300,000 acres. It can be hard to figure out where to go and what to do. Family outdoor itineraries like the ones listed below can help you have the best experience in the National Forest and our local state parks.

The Shawnee National Forest is a great destination for families. There is a lot to do for everyone of all ages. And the best part is that visiting Southern Illinois won’t cost an arm and a leg.

Which of the following family outdoor itineraries will you choose?


Family Outdoor Itineraries for All Types of Adventurers

These outdoor itineraries were created for families with young children in mind. Of course, anyone of any age would enjoy these locations, but ease of use and safety were the main considerations when designing them.

1 – Family Waterfall Chasing Adventure – Ferne Clyffe State Park

Ferne Clyffe State Park is a great spot for chasing waterfalls after we’ve had a few good days of rain.

Ferne Clyffe State Park

Be sure to wear water shoes and clothing that you can get wet in. There are some creek crossings, but nothing too crazy.

Stick to the Big Rocky Hollow, Rebman, and Hawks Cave trails for easier hiking and scenic waterfalls.

Check out my full guide of the Ferne Clyffe State Park area for more information and directions.

There are cabins and campgrounds nearby or you could stay at hotels over in Marion.

Check out Whiffle Boy’s Pizza in Goreville for some of the best pizza around.

2 – Family Educational Hiking Adventure – Giant City State Park

Giant City State Park is one of the best places for hiking for families with young children.

Giant City versus Ferne Clyffe

There is actually a lot to do at this state park.

For easier and more scenic hikes, try the Nature Trail, Post Oak Trail, Indian Creek Trail, and Stonefort Trail. The Trillium Trail is nice but can be a little more rugged.

Check out my Giant City State Park guide for more information and directions.

Giant City State Park offers cabin rentals and camping. Makanda Inn is also a nice place to stay when visiting the area.

When visiting the park, check out the Giant City Lodge for really good breakfast, lunch, and dinner options.

3 – Family Historical Biking Adventure – Tunnel Hill State Trail

Tunnel Hill State Trail is the longest rail trail in Southern Illinois and vehicles are not allowed on it, either.

Tunnel Hill State Trail

There are 55 miles of the trail in total length, but the Vienna to Tunnel Hill section is the best section.

For the easiest ride, start at Tunnel Hill and go towards Vienna. You’ll see the tunnel in a few minutes of riding. If you want a longer ride, start at Vienna and go to the Tunnel and back to get around 20 miles.

Check out my free Tunnel Hill State Trail Guide for more information and directions to the trail.

There is a great campground near the Tunnel Hill State Trail, or you can stay at a local hotel.

Check out the various restaurants in Vienna for some great dining options.

4 – Family Rock Formation Adventure – Garden of the Gods

If you want to see some of the best rock formations the Shawnee has to offer, Garden of the Gods is where it’s at.

Garden of the Gods Illinois

Garden of the Gods is an amazing spot, but you need to put safety first. People have died here from falling. Please watch your step and always put safety first.

The best trails for families are the Observation Trail and Indian Point. Anvil Rock Trailhead offers some wilderness options for those who know the area well.

Check out my full guide for Garden of the Gods Recreation Area for more information and directions.

There are plenty of cabin options and campgrounds around this area.

Check out Garden of the Gods Outpost General Store for snacks, ice cream, and Shawnee Forest merch.

5 – Family Native American Adventure – Millstone Bluff

Learn about the ancient past and the people who once inhabited our lands at Millstone Bluff.

Millstone Bluff

Millstone Bluff is an interpretive site with plenty of signage and exhibits to see and learn about during the entire hike.

The trail is a loop about a mile long. Some hills are required, but for the most part, it’s great for everyone of all ages.

Check out my free online guide for Millstone Bluff to get more information and find directions to the trail.

There are cabins nearby and campgrounds to stay at.

Check out the Vienna Dinner for great breakfast and lunch options when visiting the area.

6 – Family Fun Kayaking Adventure – Lake Glendale

Lake Glendale Recreation Area is a great place to kayak, camp, hike, mountain bike, and explore.

Kayaking at Lake Glendale

As far as kayaking goes, this no-wake lake is perfect for kayaking, and there is even a swimming beach you could visit after you’ve kayaked.

Cardinal Bay is where you will launch and park.

Check out my Lake Glendale Guide for more information and directions to this recreation area.

There are cabins close by and the lake also offers a great campground experience.

Head into Golconda for a bite to eat.

7 – Family Water Hole Adventure – Bell Smith Springs

If you’re looking for a waterhole to jump into, look no further than Bell Smith Springs.

Family Outdoor Itineraries

While people swim at Bell Smith Springs, there are no lifeguards present, and phone signals can be unavailable most of the time, so please put safety first.

Most families swim at the Hunting Branch Picnic Area, the Jumping Spring, or the creeks in between the two areas. A swimsuit is definitely required in these parts.

Check out my Ultimate Guide for Bell Smith Springs to learn more about the area and for directions.

There are a few options for campgrounds and cabins nearby.

Shotgun Eddy’s is a great place to go for an awesome breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

8 – Family Cave Exploration Adventure – Cave-in-Rock State Park

If you want to explore a cave without going into a dangerous cave system, Cave-in-Rock State Park is where you need to go.

Cave-in-Rock State Park

The cave there is really just a large and deep natural cave shelter next to the Ohio River. If the river is up, the cave will not be accessible, so please keep that in mind.

The cave trail is out and back and is under a mile in length. There are other little trails around the park.

Check out my free guide for the Cave-in-Rock State Park area for more information and directions.

Cave-in-Rock State Park offers cabin rentals and a campground.

The Cave-in-Rock State Park Lodge has a very delicious breakfast and lunch menu to try out.

9 – Family Wildlife Watching Adventure – LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road

Southern Illinois is home to Snake Road, the only road on earth that closes for the annual migration of snakes.

Shawnee National Forest Hiking Trails

Snake Road hosts venomous snakes, including copperhead, cottonmouth, and timber rattlesnakes. Please exercise caution when approaching any snake in this area.

The road is 2.5 miles from gate to gate, making it easy to hike. Snake Migration occurs twice a year.

Check out my online guide for LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road for more information and directions.

There is a great campground nearby, or you can stay at Trail of Tears State Forest.

Check out Bottoms Up Bar and Grill for great food when visiting the area.

10 – Family Scenic Driving Adventure – The Best of Southern Illinois

If you prefer a scenic drive in Southern Illinois, we have plenty of byways to enjoy.

Benham Hill Road

On the west side of the region, Route 3 and Highway 127 within the Southern Illinois counties are the best routes to drive.

On the east side of the region, the Ohio Scenic Byway is going to be your best option.

If you need a place to stay around southern Illinois, check out Southern Illinois Vacation Rentals.

Be sure to check out the many sweet shops and mom-and-pop restaurants along the way.

Final Thoughts About Family Outdoor Itineraries

Southern Illinois and the Shawnee National Forest are awaiting you for adventure. We have plenty of great family outdoor itineraries ready for you to enjoy.

For something more specific and customized, contact me today and I can create the perfect trip for you.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, please share it with other families wanting to visit the Shawnee and Southern Illinois. Feel free to give me a one-time donation as a tip for providing this article for free. You can also support me monthly by becoming a Patreon Supporter.

Subscribe to my free monthly newsletter for more information and hiking tips.

And until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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