10 Great Things About the Shawnee National Forest

In appreciation of National Forest Week, I’d love to share 10 great things about the Shawnee National Forest that I think will make you love it even more.

The Shawnee National Forest is tiny compared to other National Forests in the United States—it’s under 300,000 acres. However, there are so many great things about it that make it one of the best National Forests around.

If you’re like me and you live here, then you know how great the Shawnee National Forest is. If you’ve never been to the Shawnee National Forest, then these 10 great things should be enough to make you want to come visit again and again.

 

Great Things About the Shawnee National Forest

Now let’s jump right into the best and great things about the Shawnee National Forest and why you should visit every chance you get.

1 – Camping is Affordable in the Shawnee National Forest

Trail of Tears State Forest Campground

If you visit some of the big and popular National Parks, camping is usually very expensive.

One of the great things about the Shawnee National Forest is that camping is either cheap or free.

We have a few private campgrounds, like Shawnee Forest Campground and Bear Branch Campground, that are very affordable.

You can also stay at the many inexpensive Forest Service Campgrounds, such as Pine Hills, Lake Glendale, Pine Ridge, and Camp Cadiz.

There are also many free camping opportunities in the Shawnee National Forest, such as in any of the wilderness areas, Tower Rock, Teal Pond, and Turkey Bayou.

When camping in the Shawnee National Forest, you can rest assured that you won’t break the bank just to enjoy everything we have to offer.

2 – There are No Predator Animals in the Shawnee National Forest

Shawnee Forest Bigfoot

Predator animals are not in the Shawnee National Forest.

While a bear or mountain lion could possibly pass through the area, Southern Illinois does not have populations of these animals.

While hiking the Shawnee National Forest, you can be reassured that a surprise from a Momma bear and her cubs is unlikely.

I’ve been EVERYWHERE in the National Forest and have never seen even a sign of such animals.

While some of us wish they were here (me included), you can safely leave your bear spray at home when visiting our area.

3 – Crime is Rare in the Shawnee National Forest

Shawnee National Forest Law Enforcement Ride-Along

One of the greatest things about the Shawnee National Forest is that crime is little to none.

Aside from litterbugs, the occasional underage drinking, and ATVs illegally riding on the trails, we don’t see much crime in the National Forest.

Forest Service Law Enforcement patrol areas where suspicious activities are likely to occur. Trust me; I rode along with them and experienced it first-hand.

You should definitely lock your vehicle and hide valuable objects just to be safe, but you can enjoy the area knowing that crime isn’t common around here.

4 – You Can Hike in the Shawnee National Forest at No Cost

There are no trails that cost money to hike at this time.

A few might in the future, but the cost will be very low.

For now, all trails in the Shawnee National Forest are free to hike. There are no permit requirements or lotteries like you see in National Parks.

The only time they close for capacity is when big events happen, like the Total Solar Eclipse, because 200,000 people were in the Shawnee National Forest for that event.

There are over 400 miles of trail in the Shawnee that are free for you to enjoy

5 – You Can Bike in the Shawnee National Forest at No Cost

Shawnee National Forest Bike Trails

Cycling is one of the great things about the Shawnee National Forest because there are many opportunities for it.

Any Forest Service Road that allows motor vehicles also allows bicycles. Some of these roads are no longer used by motor vehicles and have now turned into nice singletrack trails that bikes can legally ride on.

There are many great paved roads in and around Shawnee for road biking. There are also many gravel roads for gravel cyclists (like me).

The Shawnee National Forest has three areas designated for mountain biking, including the nearly two-mile trail at Lake Glendale, Kinkaid Lake, and Cedar Lake.

Touch of Nature offers an amazing mountain bike trail as well as Tunnel Hill State Trail is the longest rail trail in the region and passes right through the Shawnee National Forest.

If you’re into biking, the Shawnee National Forest is where you need to be.

6 – You Can Kayak in the Shawnee National Forest at No Cost

Kayaking at Lake Glendale

There are many places to launch a kayak in the Shawnee National Forest, and none of them require payment first.

If you like calm waters with no wake, go to Lake Glendale, Dutchman Lake, Glen O Jones Lake, or Mermet Lake.

If you don’t mind wake, check out Cedar Lake and Kinkaid Lake.

These areas offer access to boat ramps, reasonable parking, and beautiful kayaking views that are worth checking out.

7 – You Can Drive Jeeps in the Shawnee National Forest at No Cost

8 Rules of Hiking Etiquette

Free jeep driving is one of the great things about the Shawnee National Forest.

We have tons of gravel and dirt roads that have seasonal openings for vehicle traffic.

If you have a legal vehicle or a jeep, then you’ll love our jeep roads. Even the regular roads and levee roads around the Shawnee National Forest make for a great day of riding.

You don’t have to pay anything to enjoy driving around the Shawnee either, except maybe your gas.

8 – You Can Ride Horses in the Shawnee National Forest at No Cost

One Horse Gap

The Shawnee National Forest is one of the capitals of horseback riding in the Midwest.

There are hundreds of miles of trail for equestrians. You don’t pay to ride them, either. It’s free. There are even places to rent horses or get guided rides.

The Shawnee National Forest is home to many different equestrian campgrounds, too.

Some of the good ones include High Knob, Double M, Cedar Lake, and Bear Branch. You’ll find exactly what you’re looking for when equestrian camping in the Shawnee National Forest.

9 – Shawnee National Forest Communities are Not Tourist Traps

Sweet Shops in Southern Illinois

Have you ever visited a National Park town? It’s always full of shops, restaurants, and lodging that charge outrageous fees.

The Shawnee National Forest communities are far from that.

You’ll find amazing restaurants, sweet shops, and unique shopping experiences that set their prices for regional economies because locals help keep them in business.

We also have tons of cabins, Airbnb’s, and other lodging that you can get for a very fair price when visiting the area.

The communities are what make some of the great things about the Shawnee National Forest, and you’ll love the area even more after visiting them.

10 – The Shawnee National Forest is Loved and Supported

The best thing about the Shawnee National Forest is how much it’s loved and supported.

We have many organizations and groups that were created to help support the National Forest financially and through conservation.

The Friends of the Shawnee National Forest support the Forest as a whole. You can become a member, buy Shawnee merchandise, and even volunteer.

The River to River Trail Society supports the nearly 160-mile River to River Trail that stretches from the Ohio to Mississippi Rivers and goes through the Shawnee National Forest. You can join their free group hikes, buy maps from them, and donate.

The Shawnee Mountain Bike Association supports the designated mountain bike system throughout the Shawnee National Forest. You can donate to them and even volunteer your time.

The Shawnee Trail Conservancy and Backcountry Horseman of Illinois support the 400+ miles of equestrian and hiking trails throughout the Shawnee National Forest. If it wasn’t for the horseback community, most of the trails wouldn’t exist in the Shawnee National Forest. You can donate and volunteer to assist these organizations.

Hike-for-Trash is an upcoming organization led by me, Hiking with Shawn, where I do free group hikes for the purpose of cleaning up litter and removing graffiti from areas of the Shawnee National Forest. You can join the hikes and volunteer your time.

Most of the state parks have a Friends group that is worth looking up as well.

The US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife, and Illinois Department of Natural Resources do a lot for the area and have dedicated personnel who make it even better for everyone.

The Nature Conservancy, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, and Heartland Conservancy also help purchase natural areas and prepare them to become nature preserves and natural lands to be given back to public lands.

As you can see, there is a lot of love and support for the Shawnee National Forest.

Final Thoughts

Thanks for checking out my article about the great things about the Shawnee National Forest. You’ll find even more great things about the Shawnee after you visit and enjoy the area. When you do, come back and comment on this blog telling me what other great things you’ve discovered while visiting the Shawnee National Forest.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, please help support me by sharing it with others who might enjoy it. You can also consider supporting me monthly by becoming a Patreon Member or even giving me a one-time donation for writing this article.

Subscribe to my free monthly newsletter for more Shawnee National Forest information, hiking tips, and local event listings.

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

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Alrighty folks, I hope you have enjoyed this content. I provide it for free and it takes a while to create. If you would be so kind enough to support my efforts, you can do so by sharing this post with others, especially on social media. Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel to see my latest videos, shorts and live streams. Follow me on FacebookInstagramTwitter and TikTok for unique content that you will only find on those pages. You might also join my Southern Illinois Hiking & Outdoor Resources Group on Facebook, too!

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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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