Hiking with Shawn’s Trail Guide Series:
Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods Observation Trail is said to be the most Instagram’d area of the Shawnee National Forest. Chances are, if you’ve been to southern Illinois for hiking, you’ve hiked on the Garden of the Gods Observation Trail. I probably don’t really need to make this guide but I felt like I should point a few serious issues out concerning this trail.
- SAFETY – Usually, once a year or once every other year, one or more fatalities occur on this trail from people falling off the bluffs. The falls and fatalities can be completely prevented by simply putting safety first. Living is more important than a selfie. I should also point out that a dedicated volunteer team of first responders usually run to the rescue of fallen and stranded hikers out here. They don’t get paid to risk their lives to save your lives. They are known as Equality Fire Department and they have a Go Fund Me account set up to help fund their rescue efforts. I strongly suggest considering a donation as it might be YOU they save one day.
- TRASH – This year alone, we (River to River Trail Society) cleaned up about 200 pounds of trash along this trail, mainly located on the base of the overlook bluffs. This means that people brought drinks and food with them and then discarded them by throwing them off the bluff. Litter destroys the forest and the ecosystem that lives in it. A friend of the forest would never litter in the forest. Trash services are provided on this trail – please use them and never throw litter into our forest. We host trash blasts there each year and welcome you to volunteer at one when it is held again. Pay attention to the River to River Trail Society, Friends of the Shawnee National Forest and Hiking with Shawn for future trash blast events.
Directions and Stuff!
The Garden of the Gods Observation Trail is very easy to find. It is on Google and other map services and your GPS should take you right to it. If traveling from Harrisburg, Illinois – Take Highway 145 south 5 miles, to Highway 34, then take 34 south for 10 miles. Then turn east onto Karbers Ridge Road 2.5 miles to Forest Road. Turn north. Drive 1.5 miles to the recreation area entrance road.
Observation Trail has two large parking lots. Overnight parking is allowed at Backpacker’s Parking Lot in the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area and at Hitching Post Trailhead along Gape Hollow Road on the west side of Garden of the Gods Wilderness. No overnight parking is allowed in the picnic area or Observation Trail parking lots.
The trail is about ¼ of a mile in length and is very easy to hike. Handicap patrons should be able to use most of the trail with support. This trail is a loop and has trash services, vault toilet restrooms and benches. Signage along the trail is available to explain features.
What You’ll See!
You will see many interesting sights along this trail. The most known sight is Camel Rock which is on the back of a US Quarter. There are also other rock formations with official designations such as Devil’s Smokestack and unofficial designations such as Monkey Rock.There are many opportunities to find rock formations on your own, giving them names of your own. You will also see very scenic overlooks showing you a large portion of the Shawnee and the wilderness in front of you. This area is probably one of the best places to visit for the fall colors.
Tips for the Trail!
- This trail is day-use only. It opens at dawn and closes at dusk. Forest Service and county law enforcement agencies heavily patrol this area.
- Disposable food and drink containers are prohibited on this trail.
- Pack out what you pack in, please.
- During wet and wintry conditions, this trail is extremely dangerous.
- Fatalities have occurred along this trail from falls.
- Venomous snakes are present.
- This area often becomes crowded and may be closed when capacity is full or for public health reasons (COVID)
Watch the videos for this trail!
Below is a recent video that we filmed while enjoying this area.
One last thing!
Filming the videos, taking the photos, editing everything and writing this article takes time and it’s all provided for free. Consider making a small monthly contribution to Hiking with Shawn by becoming an official Patreon supporter on Hiking with Shawn! You can also support us by purchasing official merch from the Hiking with Shawn online store. Lastly, please share this article and our videos and follow us on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumbler for more free guides, videos, photos, contests and more!
Thanks for checking out this guide and please share it with others if you’d like to see more of them made!
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.