Indian Point Trail Guide

Indian Point Trail, or the Backpackers Trailhead, is a short trail within Garden of the Gods Wilderness in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois.

This is a popular hiking and overnight backpacking trail used throughout the year.

This Indian Point Trail guide will tell you everything you need to know about getting to, hiking, and enjoying the area.

Directions to Indian Point Trail

Getting to the Indian Point Trail is relatively easy. Check out this Google Map Directions Page from Intertstae-57 in Marion to the parking lot for this trail.

The roads to this trail are all paved until you reach the trail.

The short roadway to the trailhead is gravel with several potholes. Drive carefully to avoid hitting them too hard. The parking lot is gravel.

It’s best to arrive at the trailhead early in the morning. This trailhead will fill up fast, especially during warmer seasons and on the weekends.

Harbison’s Country Store is the last gas station before getting to the Indian Point Trail. Garden of the Gods Outpost sells water, sports drinks, snacks, hiking and camping supplies, Shawnee Forest merchandise, and ice cream.

WINTER TRAVEL: The roads in this area do not typically take priority during wintry conditions. Traveling to the Indian Point Trail during ice, sleet, or snow may be hazardous. You may need a 4×4 truck to get to the trailhead during wintry conditions. The road can be steep, with drop-offs on the sides and dangerous hills and curves. Please use caution when visiting during hazardous winter weather.

PUBLIC HEALTH: Notices, alerts, and closure information for public health emergencies can be found on the Shawnee National Forest website.


Trail Information for Indian Point Trail

There are two trails within the Indian Point Trail system. There is a 1.7-mile main loop trail. There is a 0.5-mile Indian Point Trail Cut-Off trail. Altogether, there are 2.2 miles of hiking trail. Elevation gain is small, but the trail can be steep and rocky in some areas.

The trail is blazed in some areas but is so well used that you won’t need to follow blazes. The trail is available on Avenza and All Trails.

This trail is for hikers only. It is located in a wilderness area, meaning no motorized vehicles, equipment, or bicycles are allowed. Equestrian traffic is prohibited on this hiker-only trail.

Camping is allowed along this trail if you follow wilderness camping regulations. You can park overnight in the Indian Point Trail parking lot. Please lock your vehicle and don’t leave any valuables in it. Camping and parking can be for up to 14 consecutive days.

The parking lot has potholes and is gravel. The parking lot could be difficult for some vehicles during rain or wintry conditions.

This trailhead is also referred to as the Backpackers Trailhead.

There are enough parking spaces for a few dozen vehicles. There is a sign with trail information present. There are no water or electricity sources at this trailhead.

Pets are fine as long as they are on a leash.

TRAIL HAZARDS: You should be aware of some hazards associated with this trail.

  • Cell phone reception isn’t always available in this area
  • People have fallen (and died) in this area. Please exercise caution around the cliffs and bluff tops.
  • During rain and wintry conditions, many areas are very slick.
  • Venomous copperhead and timber rattlesnakes occur in this area.
  • Ticks, mosquitoes, and biting flies occur in this area.
  • Poison ivy occurs in this area.
  • This area is remote, and emergency services may take more than an hour to reach you.
  • Hunters may be in this area during firearms hunting season. Hunting is allowed in wilderness areas.


What You Will See along the Indian Point Hike

At the start of the trail, you’ll enjoy a nice walk through a pine forest. These pine trees are not native. They were planted to help control erosion from significant damage due to early pioneers extracting most of the virgin-growth forest that was once present. Imagine this area without any trees.

You notice a pond to your left. It’s now merely a wildlife pond full of frogs and snakes during the summer months. It could be a pond from a previous settlement. However, the CCC and Forest Service also dug ponds throughout the Shawnee National Forest for non-fish wildlife ponds. As you continue for your start of the loop, you’ll notice some great campsites to your left. Since Indian Point Trail is in the wilderness, you could camp for free if you wanted to.

Once you’re at the start of the loop, I recommend going counterclockwise. As you hike, you’ll enjoy a nice walk in the woods as you approach the good stuff. You’ll notice it when you see it. Amazing overlooks and little trails to get right to them. Be careful about the edges. Enjoy scenic views of the wilderness area and the southern Illinois countryside. Continue along the trail to see more of these great scenic overlooks.

As you continue your hike, you’ll go down toward the base of the bluffs. Enjoy these bluffs. There are little cave shelters, nooks, and crannies to explore. Be careful during the warmer months, as timber rattlesnakes and copperhead snakes occur in this area. I’ve seen quite a few rattlesnakes in Garden of the Gods Wilderness. Do note that it is unlawful to harm a snake on federal National Forest land. There are many rock formations and amazing bluffs to take pictures of at the base.

You’ll come to an intersection as you continue your hike back up the bluff. You can go left to make your hike a little longer or go right to finish the look. Altogether, the hike will be around two miles in length. The hike back will mainly take you through hardwood and pine forests.

For such a short trail, there is a lot to see along the Indian Point Trail in Garden of the Gods Wilderness.


History of the Indian Point Trail

The bluffs and amazing rock formations of the Garden of the Gods area were created by an ancient ice age, ocean, and years of massive erosion. This was all before humans, and even dinosaurs existed. These rocks are the most ancient things in the forest today.

Native Americans used this area throughout many generations. It is often said that areas don’t get “Indian” in their names unless something in the area was found to have Native American history. Native Americans likely used the Indian Point Trail at some point.

There are signs around the beginning of the trailhead showing where structures were once at. You can see old foundations along the area. Do be careful if looking around these old home sites of early settlers. There are often open wells in the area.

During the Depression, the federal government purchased the Garden of the Gods area to help establish the Shawnee National Forest. The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Forest Service created the trails, roads, drainage system, and other important features to enable outdoor recreation. Groups like the AmeriCorps and others help to maintain the trails with the Forest Service in modern times.

Today, the area is the most visited in the Shawnee National Forest.


Other Stuff To Do Around the Indian Point Hike

There are many other outdoor recreation activities around this area. You can enjoy hiking along the Observation Trail and the Garden of the Gods Wilderness. Seasonal equestrian use is also allowed in the wilderness area. There is a horse Highline area at the Observation Post for riders to be able to hitch up and hike the short loop. Kayaking, hiking, and bicycling are available nearby Glen O Jones Lake. Other great trails in the area include High Knob and Rim Rock. Pounds Hollow Beach is a great place to cool off during the summer months.

There are multiple lodging options throughout the area. You can enjoy cabin experiences at Shawnee Forest Cabins, Rim Rock’s Dogwood Cabins (pet-friendly), and Timber Ridge Cabins. There are vacation rentals and Airbnb in the area, too. Camping is available at Pharaoh Campground and Pine Ridge. Equestrian campgrounds in the area include High Knob Campground, Double M Campground, and Camp Cadiz. Camping is also available in the Garden of the Gods Wilderness area.

There are some dining options around the area. The Gap Bar in Herod has good food and drinks. Please drink responsibly. The Red Onion in nearby Equality is known for having the best steak. The gas stations in the area also have kitchens and serve very good food. There are more dining and shopping options in the nearby City of Harrisburg.

Great nearby sightseeing opportunities include Sassy the Sasquatch, the Illinois Iron Furnace, and Cave-in-Rock State Park.

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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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