Top 5 Most Popular Hiking Destinations in the Shawnee National Forest

Are you looking for the most popular hiking destinations in southern Illinois?

Well, it just so happens the Shawnee National Forest is down here, and we have quite a few popular spots.

I’d have to write a book to tell you about all the popular spots. So instead, I’m giving you the top 5 most popular hiking destinations in the entire forest.

And as I say, these destinations are popular, so you should expect to see people at them, especially when the weather is nice, and it’s a weekend.

But once you visit these spots, and you should at least once (or twice), you’ll understand why they’re so popular.


Most Popular Hiking Destinations of Southern Illinois

It’s important to plan for visiting these destinations before you visit. Make sure you keep outdoor safety in mind, have a Plan B just in case the area is over capacity, and always make sure you Leave No Trace and help us keep the area clean by packing out what you pack in.

1 – Rim Rock National Recreation Trail

Rim Rock Trail

Rim Rock National Recreation Trail has it all!

Enjoy the upper loop with scenic overlooks, a Native American Stonefort, a beautiful forest, and easy hiking. Take the bottom trail to see amazing bluffs, a large cave shelter with a natural spring, a rock maze, and even a quick hike to a swimming beach.

This place, especially the beach, gets popular during the warmer months.

For camping, check out Pounds Hollow. For a cabin, check out Rim Rock’s Dogwood Cabins. For dining, go to Mackie’s Pizza in Harrisburg.

Need an extra hike in the area? Check out Cave-in-Rock State Park to see a real pirate cave.

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2 – LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road

LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road

LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road isn’t for everyone!

This 2.5-mile stretch of gravel forest road is home to many things. There are amazing wildflowers to watch in bloom. There are all sorts of birding opportunities, too. But you must watch your step when visiting, especially in the spring and fall. That’s because it’s home to the twice-annual massive snake migration. That’s right; snakes migrate across the road.

During snake migration, foot traffic is allowed, and the road can become popular on the weekends.

For camping, go to Pine Hills Campground. For cabin rentals, check out Rustic Hideaway Cabins. For dining, head over to Bottom’s Up Family Grill.

Need an extra place to hike nearby? Go to Iron Mountain and see where the clay from Anna Pottery originated.

3 – Little Grand Canyon

Little Grand Canyon

Little Grand Canyon is a true micro version of the Grand Canyon!

Little Grand Canyon is a true loop trail. You hike down a waterfall cascade and have to hike back up a different one, too. There are amazing rock formations, tall bluffs, scenic river bottomlands, and waterfalls, of course. It’s pretty hilly, and you can expect a workout after you’ve hiked the trail.

Little Grand Canyon gets very busy during the weekends on dry and warmer days.

For camping opportunities, check out Johnson Creek Recreational Area. For a cabin, go to Tomcat Hill Cabins. For great food, check out Mase’s Place right down the road.

Need to throw in an extra hike for the day or weekend? Visit Pomona Natural Bridge to see and walk on a large Natural Bridge.

Need a Local Hiking Guide?

Hiking with Shawn offers guided hiking and biking adventures. If you’re too worried about going yourself and getting lost, hire the guy that’s in the Shawnee every week!

4 – Bell Smith Springs

Bell Smith Springs

Bell Smith Springs has everything you’d want for an outdoor trip!

Bell Smith is home to many different rock formations, including the largest natural bridge in Illinois. There is a natural spring that people love to swim in. There are hand-made stairs created by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which was responsible for creating most of the National Forests in the country. There are many different trails for everyone.

Bell Smith can get extremely busy during hotter weekends when everyone wants to swim.

You can camp right next to Bell Smith at Red Bud Campground. If you want a cabin experience, try the Potel. Murphy’s Pitt BBQ has great food for everyone.

Need another hike nearby? Check out one of the tallest waterfalls in Illinois at Burden Falls.

5 – Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods is said to be the most Instagram’d spot in the Shawnee!

And that makes sense for a place with a rock formation featured on the back of a US Quarter. You’ll see amazing formations like Devil’s Smokestack and Camel Rock. You can see the whole wilderness from the trail and even hike it on the Indian Point loop. There is a lot to see and do at Garden of the Gods.

Hundreds of people could be present during the warmer months, especially on the weekends, and parking may be difficult.

For camping, visit Pharaoh Campground, which is attached to the recreational area. The closest cabins are Shawnee Forest Cabins, right down the road. For Shawnee Forest merch and awesome ice cream, visit Garden of the Gods Outpost.

If you need another nearby hike, check out Old Stoneface and see a rock formation that looks like a face.

The top 5 most popular hiking destinations above are so popular because of the awesome things and experiences you witness, when you visit them. As you read, many of those places are so unique that you can’t find them anywhere else. Remember to consider safety and conservation when visiting these and any other natural area. If you enjoyed this article and you want to see more, subscribe to my free monthly newsletter.

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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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