Hiking with Shawn’s
Guide to the Wilderness Areas
Shawnee National Forest:
Garden of the Gods Wilderness
Garden of the Gods Wilderness is a 3,318-acre designated wilderness area within the Shawnee National Forest. Garden of the Gods Wilderness is located in Hardin, Pope, Saline and Gallatin counties in Illinois. The nearest communities close to Garden of the Gods Wilderness is Equality and Harrisburg, both having points of interests on their own. Garden of the Gods Wilderness is very well known to both hiker and equestrian users alike.
Garden of the Gods Wilderness is a second-growth forest that was once agriculture and early settlement communities. These communities and farmers sold their land to the United States Government in the 1930s to help form what is now know as the Shawnee National Forest. Garden of the Gods Wilderness contains one of the most visited sites in the entire forest. There are many trailheads, trails and points of interest in and around Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area.
HOW TO GET TO THIS WILDERNESS AREA
Check out this map to see the area of Garden of the Gods Wilderness.
You can use this Google map to input the area you will be driving from to take you to where you need to go for Garden of the Gods main trails. From that map, to get to other points in and around the wilderness:
Observation Trail – The marked location on the map is where the Observation Trail is which is also called Camel Point on the Google map.
Anvil Rock Trailhead – You park in the same parking lot for Camel Point but go in to where the horse high line is (rocks blocking vehicle access) and go right. You will see the sign.
*Note: The parking lot for the two trail areas above is for day-use only. Overnight parking is not allowed there. Area is patrolled by county sheriff’s department as well as US Forest Service law enforcement. Vehicles parked overnight will be towed at the owners’ expense. Equestrians can ride from the wilderness into the recreation area to the horse high line only. Horse trailers are not allowed to park at the parking lot as it is a recreational area.
Garden of the Gods Backpackers Parking Lot – On the map, this area is before the Observation Trail. You can park overnight for free (no permit needed at this time) in the backpackers parking lot. The trail at this parking lot is called Indian Point.
Golden Circle Trailhead – This is on the map and offers car and horse trailer parking. There is significant room for horse trailers. Cars must be parked by the sign. Overnight parking is allowed here. See the sign for area trails.
Eagle Creek / Hitching Post Trailhead – This trailhead is also on the Google Map but located west of the main area in the small town of Herod. Cars and horse trailers may park here and use the parking lot for overnight parking. See the sign for a map of the area trails.
TRAILS WITHIN THIS WILDERNESS AREA
The Observation Trail is the most visited site in the Shawnee National Forest. The trail consists of many bluff tops and wide scenic views of the Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area. Of the many rock formations present, Camel Rock is likely the most famous and is even featured on the back of a US Quarter. This trail is less than a quarter of a mile and is a loop. A portion of this trail could be accessible to handicap visitors with some help from others if required. Disposable food and drink containers are not allowed on this trail – violations can result in fines. Please help us keep our forest beautiful by not littering. There are trash cans in the parking lot as well as bike racks, adequate parking and restrooms.
Anvil Rock area provides access to the wilderness from the day-use only parking area. There are hiker-only and hiker/equestrian use trails from this area. The hiker-only bluff trail provides access to extremely interesting rock formations such as Starry Night and Anvil Rock, and also provide access to very scenic overlooks of the wilderness area. The various horse/hiker shared trails will lead to various different points of interest throughout the wilderness.
Indian Point (backpackers parking lot) is a 2-mile loop trail that is popular for dispersed camping as it is the wilderness. On this trail, you will see many different rock outcroppings and cave shelters as well as scenic overlooks. Please try to camp at locations that are already displaying previous camping activities to help us tread lightly in the wilderness area.
Golden Circle Trailhead gives access to many different trails shared by both horseback riders and hikers. Please remember to yield to equestrians and talk to the rider in a calm manner so the horse doesn’t assume you are a threat. Standing still and not saying anything is not the right method – the horse may assume you are a threat. This area is best navigated with maps which you can buy online from Friends of the Shawnee National Forest or by using an application such as Avenza with the R2R Trail Bundle or the Multi-Day Hike Bundle. This area is a wonderful spot for overnight hiking loops.
Eagle Creek / Hitching Post trailhead will lead you across the road into the Garden of the Gods Wilderness by using the River to River Trail. This area will allow you to see amazing bluff line as well as some of the best scenic overlooks in the entire wilderness area. This area is shared by hikers and horseback riders – please share the trail and yield to equestrians.
WHAT THIS WILDERNESS HAS TO OFFER
Garden of the Gods Wilderness has a lot to offer. The beautiful rock formations of the Observation Trail depict the aftermath of an ocean that once covered the area you are hiking in. Into the valleys of the wilderness area will bring you to interesting bluff lines, natural arches, amazing outcropping and cave shelters, waterfalls and some very scenic creeks. The topsides of the wilderness area have scenic overlook after scenic overlook, and it seems like each one gets better and better. There are countless miles of trail for backpackers, thru-hikers, day hikers and equestrian riders. The roads around the wilderness offer many sightseeing and natural beauty opportunities for travelers. Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area is one of the best areas that the Shawnee National Forest has to offer.
SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR THIS WILDERNESS AREA
Garden of the Gods Wilderness follows the same guides listed on our Main Wilderness Guide article. Special equestrian guidelines apply to this wilderness area during certain times of the year.
There may not be restrooms or trash services at all trailheads for this wilderness. Please practice Leave No Trace ethics and pack out what you pack in.
Venomous snakes occur within this and nearby areas including the copperhead snake and the timber rattlesnake. Avoid a negative experience with a venomous snake by watching where you step, staying on the trail, giving snakes plenty of room and never attempting to handle or harm a snake.
This area consists of rugged and steep terrain, rolling hills and sometimes very muddy conditions. Accessing this area can be a challenge and is often considered a difficult level of recreation. Please plan accordingly before venturing into this area.
Cell phone signal may not be available in many areas of Garden of the Gods Wilderness.
EMERGENCY INFORMATION FOR THIS WILDERNESS AREA
WARNING – Dangerous conditions exist in this area. Each year, people have fallen here. Many have died as a result. It is extremely important to always watch your step and use extreme caution. First responders may be hours away.
The nearest hospital from Garden of the Gods Wilderness is located in the City of Harrisburg, Harrisburg Medical Center which is about 21-miles from the Observation Trail Trailhead.
For emergencies – dial 911 and follow the instructions of the 911 operator.
The Equality Fire Department is the main responder to this area. This department is made up of dedicated volunteers who risk their lives each time they are called to rescue victims. Please consider donating to this department today to help ensure that equipment and training is provided to help save lives.
WHAT’S CLOSE TO THIS WILDERNESS AREA?
The community of Equality is the closest community to this wilderness area. In Equality, we recommend you check out Glen O Jones Lake for more hiking, fishing, kayak/canoeing, biking and camping needs. The Red Onion is also worth checking out for good food.
Around the Garden of the Gods area, the Outpost is a great stop for supplies, food, survivors and some of the best ice cream around. Are you a Bigfoot believer? Be sure to check out their Bigfoot merch and go say hello to Sassy across the road – you can’t miss her! The nearby Gap is a good bar and grill that many locals and travelers enjoy.
For lodging in the area, we suggest Rim Rock’s Dogwood Cabins, Shawnee Forest Cabins and Timber Ridge Cabins for cabin rental lodging. For camping, see Pharaoh Campground and Pounds Hollow Campground & Beach. For equestrian camping, see Double M Campground and High Knob Campground. Camp Cadiz is also a recognized horse camping area.
Visit the nearby City of Harrisburg for even more retail and grocery shopping needs as well as great food such as Mackie’s Pizza of Harrisburg and good breakfast/lunch/dinner options from the local gas stations Hathaway’s, Mitchellsville and Harbison’s.
VIDEOS OF THIS WILDERNESS AREA
Check out the following video footage of this particular wilderness area.
Thank you for taking the time to read this Wilderness Area Guide. This and the other 6 guides took a while to create and are offered for free of charge. Please consider supporting my efforts of making these guides by sharing them with others, especially on social media. You can also support my efforts by following me on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the Official Website for Hiking with Shawn. Consider becoming a Patreon Member or purchasing some official merch from the Hiking with Shawn Online Shop. Thanks again for checking out this guide and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
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.