What to do
Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods Illinois consists of a recreation area, natural areas, and a designated wilderness area.
Garden of the Gods is located in southern Illinois and part of the Hidden Springs Ranger District of the Shawnee National Forest.
Garden of the Gods is the most visited area of the National Forest.
You can do many things at Garden of the Gods, including hiking, sightseeing, biking, horseback riding, and camping.
There are also many dining, lodging, shopping, and other sightseeing opportunities around this area.
It is easy for you to spend the whole day or even the weekend at Garden of the Gods Illinois.
How to get to Garden of the Gods Illinois
Getting to the Garden of the Gods is relatively easy.
But there are different points of how you can access the area.
Finding these areas used to be harder, but the US Forest Service has been putting up more trailhead signage within the past few years. Kudos to the Forest Service for doing that!
The following locations are for official points of entry within Garden of the Gods Illinois:
Garden of the Gods Observation Trail
This trailhead is for Day-Use only. You can’t park there overnight. See Indian Point Trailhead or Golden Circle Trailhead for overnight parking.
There is a large parking capacity at this trailhead, including handicap and bus parking accessibility.
There are restrooms (vault) and trash cans on site. Please throw away trash and do not litter. Please help us keep our National Forest clean for generations to come.
Please do not park outside of designated parking areas.
In the summer months, especially on weekends, this parking lot fills up over capacity routinely. It is best to get there in the early morning hours, especially throughout the week, not during holiday weekends.
There is additional parking available in the picnic area of the Observation Trail and Recreation Area, which can be found on this Google Maps link.
All roads leading to the Garden of the Gods Observation Trail are paved. All vehicles should be able to make it to this area.
While parking is free, the US Forest Service intends to implement a fee system at this location. The system will require visitors to pay a small daily parking fee. This guide will be updated when the fee system is started.
Indian Point Trailhead (Backpackers Trailhead)
Indian Point Trailhead can be accessed from the location featured on this Google Maps link.
You are allowed to park overnight at this trail. Please practice safe overnight parking by not leaving valuable items in your vehicle and ensuring it is locked. While the Forest Service Law Enforcement units patrol this area, there aren’t enough of them to always be present. Use common sense when leaving your vehicle unattended overnight. But for your peace, there isn’t an influx of theft in this area.
The parking lot can fit about 15 to 20 cars. The parking lot is gravel, and the road to it has a lot of large potholes. There are no designated handicap spots. Buses and horse trailers should not be parked at the Indian Point Trailhead.
Please refrain from parking alongside the road to the parking lot, as this can cause traffic issues.
On warmer days, especially weekends, this parking lot fills up over capacity routinely. It is best to get there early morning, primarily through the week.
See Golden Circle Trail below if the parking lot is full and you require overnight parking.
Parking in this parking lot is free, and there are no plans to implement a fee system.
Pharaoh campground is a fee-based campground open all year round within the Garden of the Gods Illinois Recreation Area.
You can find the campground on this Google Maps link.
Pharaoh Campground features 12 campsites with drinkable water, fire pits, picnic tables, and public restrooms (vault). There are no electric hookup sites. Visit the Pounds Hollow Guide for information on electrical hookup campsites very close to Garden of the Gods.
You may only camp at designated campsites. Parking is only available to those camping or visiting a campsite.
Camping costs $10 a night and uses a pay tube. Forest Service Law Enforcement patrols this area throughout the day and night.
There are some access trails from the campground, and it is a short walk to the Observation Trail.
Anvil Rock Trailhead
The Anvil Rock Trailhead uses the same parking lot as the Garden of the Gods Observation Trail.
To access the beginning of the Anvil Rock Trailhead and information signage, find the northwestern corner of the parking lot after you park. Large boulder rocks will block a gravel road. Take that road and travel to your right (north) to reach the trailhead sign shortly. There is also a horse high line area for horseback riders who want to hike the Observation Trail, which is a hiker-only trail.
Golden Circle Trailhead
Golden Circle Trailhead is a hiker, and the horseback rider shared the used trailhead at this Google Maps link.
This is a huge parking lot, but it was built this way to provide capacity for horse trailers. Vehicle drivers are asked to park near the information signage right off the road into the parking lot. Please make sure you share this parking lot with horseback riders.
You may park overnight in this parking lot. Please v it. There are no reports of an influx of theft here, but you should be safer than sorry.
The parking lot is gravel. There may be potholes present.
There is always room available in the parking lot for cars and horse trailers at any given time during the year.
This is no fee to use this parking lot.
There are no restrooms or trash services at this trailhead. Please pack out what you pack in and leave it better than you found.
Hitching Post Trailhead
Check out this Google Maps link to reach the Hitching Post Trailhead (Eagle Creek Trailhead to some).
This is the way users may access the western side of Garden of the Gods Illinois Wilderness Area.
The parking lot is gravel, more minor, but can provide capacity for vehicles and horse trailers. Please share the parking lot and trails.
Parking here is free. Overnight parking is allowed. Please ensure all valuable items are out of your car and the doors are locked before leaving. There are no significant reports of theft from this area, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
There are no restrooms or trash services located at this trailhead.
This trailhead can become pretty congested when many horse trailers use the parking area.
Things to do at Garden of the Gods Illinois
There are many things to do at Garden of the Gods. No matter what type of outdoor activity you’re into, in most cases, you can find these activities available in this area.
Hiking and Backpacking
There are multiple hiking trails in the Garden of the Gods Illinois area. This includes the World-Famous Observation Trail that features Camel Rock and the Devil’s Smokestack. Camel Rock has been featured on the back of a US Quarter. This trail is mainly flagstone, and handicapped persons can access a large portion of it.
Anvil Rock Trailhead leads you to various wilderness sections, Anvil Rock, and a banding formation dubbed Starry Night.
Backpacking opportunities also exist within Garden of the Gods. Camping is allowed in the wilderness area for up to 14 consecutive days. You can find good backpacking routes on All Trails or the Multi-Day Hiking Maps for the Avenza App. Do note that cell phone signal availability in this area is little to none most of the time.
Backpacking is also allowed along the Indian Point Trail.
Hikers should Share the Trail with Horseback Riders when hiking and backpacking in the Wilderness Area.
Road Biking and Mountain Biking
Officially, there are no designated mountain bike trails within Garden of the Gods Illinois. However, any roadway a motor vehicle can legally drive is also a legal road for bicycles. Non-wilderness-based forest roads that are designated (even if no longer used) for vehicle use can be lawfully used by bikes.
The paved roads in the area would be great for road biking for cyclists looking for a hill challenge.
Mountain biking is prohibited in designated wilderness areas.
Hiking with Shawn officially supports increasing the development of cycling opportunities in the Shawnee National Forest.
Horseback Riding and Camping
There are numerous trails for riding mules and horses at Garden of the Gods.
These trails are located in the wilderness area. Only equestrian and hiker traffic is allowed in the wilderness area.
Hikers should always yield to equestrians and calmly talk to the rider so that horses and mules know the hiker is a human, not a threat. Being quiet or sudden movements could cause the animal to buck the rider off, and serious injuries could occur.
Horse riders are encouraged to wear protective helmets during their rides.
Picnicking and Camping
There are picnicking opportunities around Garden of the Gods Illinois.
Ultimately, any trailhead could be used for picnics.
However, you’re encouraged to use the Designated Picnic Area near the Observation Trail for the best results. Picnic tables, parking areas, restrooms (vault), and sightseeing are available in this area.
Pharaoh Campground, located near the picnic area, is the only designated campground in the recreation area. It costs $10 a night, and about a dozen sites exist. Drinking water and vault restrooms are available, but there is no electricity.
There are also several privately owned cabin rental opportunities in the area. Shawnee Forest Cabins are the closest to the Garden of the Gods. Timber Ridge Cabins provide treehouse-styled cabins, which many people love to experience. Rim Rock’s Dogwood Cabins are extremely pet-friendly and have a variety of gated livestock to enjoy seeing, such as miniature horses and cows, a llama, an alpaca, and goats.
Sightseeing, Dining, and Shopping
There is a lot to see at Garden of the Gods Illinois.
Along the Observation Trail, multiple rock formations and scenic views are interpreted by signage.
Check out the nearby Garden of the Gods Outpost for ice cream, Shawnee Forest clothing, hiking, and camping supplies, local products, food, and Bigfoot stuff.
You can also take a picture with Sassy, the Sasquatch cattycorner from the Outpost Store.
Popular hiking points include Whiskey Cave, Arch of the Gods, Twin Towers, Christmas Star Overlook, and H-Rock. The Multi-Day Hiking Maps for Avenza are great for finding most of these and other hiking points of interest.
The nearby city of Equality has The Red Onion, famous for its steaks. You can also Visit Harrisburg, Illinois, nearby for more dining, lodging, and shopping needs. Harrisburg also puts on an annual event called the Sasquatch Festival.
Safety Tips and Rules for Garden of the Gods Illinois
Please put your safety first when accessing the Garden of the Gods area.
Dangerous conditions exist within this area. Every year people fall to the Garden of the Gods. There are usually a few fatal falls each year. Don’t become a statistic for my next safety article. Put safety before all else, and watch your children and pets.
Poison ivy and stinging nettle occur in this area, especially during the warmer months. You can avoid these irritable plants by staying on the trail.
Always tell someone exactly where you are going.
Venomous snakes occur in this area, including copperheads and timber rattlesnakes. If you encounter a snake, give it plenty of room and move around it while watching where you step.
For emergencies – dial 911.
Plan for lack of water – ensure you bring plenty of drinking water.
During hunting season in Illinois, you should avoid the Wilderness, and remote areas as firearm hunting are allowed within them. Hunters may not hunt within the Recreation Area or Pharaoh Campground. Getting a campsite or cabin during hunting season will be next to impossible.
Garden of the Gods Illinois is one of the best locations in the Shawnee National Forest and the entire southern Illinois region. You should visit this area if you’ve never been. Thank you for checking out my guide to the area. If interested, I also provide low-cost Itinerary Planning Services and Guided Hiking and Biking Services. If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, share it with someone who might also enjoy it.
Watch the videos for this trail!
Below is a recent video that we filmed while enjoying this area.
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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