How to Start Mountain Biking in the Shawnee National Forest

Have you ever wanted to see more of the Shawnee National Forest without having to quit because it’s getting too late?

Mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest allows you to see more of what the forest offers at a quicker pace than hiking.

Imagine being able to cover more ground on your mountain bike than you would hiking.

Keep reading this article, and I’ll show you how to start mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest today!

Mountain Biking in the Shawnee National Forest for Beginners

Don’t make the mistake of not knowing the facts before you try mountain biking for the first time. There are some basic tips and tactics that you need to know and understand.

For starters, you need to choose the right bike. There are different styles of mountain bikes, including hardtails (shocks up front) and full suspension (shocks on front and back). There are also different frame materials, such as steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber. Some are lighter than others. Some brands are more expensive but often last longer and are made with better components.

Of all the types of mountain bikes and different styles, the most important thing to remember is fit. If you get the wrong size bike, you’ll end up having a bad time mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest or anywhere for that matter.

A local bike shop is the best place to get fitted for your mountain bike. Check out Carbondale Cycle, Phoenix Cycles, or the Bike Surgeon of Southern Illinois for a true fit. Big box retail stores will not know how to fit you properly.

Consider getting appropriate gear and clothing. You can wear baggy cycling clothes or tight spandex bike apparel. That’s totally up to you. You might consider wearing padded shorts for men or women (affiliate links), knee pads, elbow pads, and special shoes and pedals to allow you to clip in. All mountain bikers should always wear a helmet while on the bike.

Get a small saddle bag and some basic gear for it. Add a multi-tool and some tire levers. Add a spare tube and a CO2 air pump kit. Add a patch kit and chain lubricant. Add anything else you feel you need to take with you. Add some lights to your bike just in case you’re out too late.

These basic tips will help get you started mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest correctly.

Mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest

Where to Start Mountain Biking in the Shawnee

The most important thing you want to do is abide by mountain biking rules in and around the Shawnee National Forest.

You can’t bike everywhere. Some riders ride where they’re not supposed to. But so do ATVs, jeeps, and horseback riders. Don’t be a follower. Be a leader. Respect the rules and set an example of using the forest like a good steward should.

The US Forest Service allows mountain biking on designated mountain bike trails and Forest Service Roads open to vehicle traffic. If a vehicle can legally drive on the road, so can a mountain bike. Some forest service roads are not used but are still open to vehicles. These roads are often still in use by mountain bikes, and it’s totally legal for them to use them.

You can visit the US Forest Service in Harrisburg, Vienna, and Jonesboro to get maps on the MVUM (Motor Vehicle Use Maps) for the east and west sides of the Shawnee National Forest.

The only trail system currently designated for designated mountain bike trails is the GlenDixon Trail System. This consists of nearly 20 miles of single-track trail within the Shawnee National Forest around the Lake Glendale Recreation Area and Dixon Springs State Park. These trails are designated for hiking and biking only.

Other designation proposals are being made for other areas, including Cedar Lake and Kinkaid Lake on the west side of the Shawnee National Forest.

Southern Illinois University’s Touch of Nature has around 13 miles of designated mountain bike trails with different difficulty levels. There are trails for young children, beginners, and all the way to advanced technical trails. Touch of Nature also hosts various mountain bike competitions throughout the year worth checking out whether you’re a beginner or an advanced rider.

As always, mountain biking is welcome on the various rail trails and bike trail systems around southern Illinois, including Tunnel Hill State Trail, George Rogers Clark Trail, Equality Bike Trail, and the Rend Lake Bike Trail. Rend Lake also has designated mountain bike trails.

Mountain biking isn’t allowed on closed forest roads, trails that are not designated for mountain bikes, wilderness areas, or nature preserves.


Mountain Biking Techniques and Strategies

There are many great techniques and strategies to practice when mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest.

For starters, as a beginner, you should start slowly and easily. Choose a trail system like Touch of Nature for easier trails and ride with a buddy or a riding group. A group that you can join and ride with meets at Touch of Nature every Wednesday (unless it’s wet). Riding with someone else is safer, and you can help each other get better on the bike.

You’ll ride different positions with a mountain bike on single-track trails with different terrains.

If the trail is leveled out for the most part and not as technical, then you’ll ride in your neutral position with your butt in the saddle, feet on the pedals, and hands on the handlebar as you would on any other bike ride.

If you’re going up and down hills or getting on rougher terrain, you’ll be in and out of your saddle, sitting down and standing up. You’ll position your body back when going downhill and move it forward when going uphill. You might hug the nose of your saddle with your thighs to get better traction and balance as you ride in hillier and more rugged conditions.

You’ll want to start out slow and small to get a better feel of turns and braking. Mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest will require you to use your front and back brakes together to get in right.

As you increase the length and ruggedness of your riding, you’ll want to take note of overcoming obstacles you find on the trail. Common ones will include rocky areas, creek crossings, roots, technical paths, ramps, and more.

Sometimes, you’ll even need to get over downed trees along the trail. Some will be too big and need to be removed from the trail, while others will be used as obstacles, and you’ll have to jump them to overcome them.

And most importantly, you’ll need to focus on your own strategy as a rider. You need to learn how to breathe better when biking. You need to hydrate and fuel properly. You need to know when it’s time to quit or to take a break.

The more you ride and practice, the better you will get at mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest.


Mountain Biking Etiquette in the Shawnee National Forest

It’s important to ensure that you follow good etiquette while mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest.

You might encounter horseback riders if you ride on MVUM trails and roads. You should always yield to horseback riders. Horses are unpredictable and can harm their rider if they get spooked. Try to stop, talk to the rider, and let them pass unless they ask you to pass first. You should also yield to hikers.

If you’re going down a hill, you should yield to other bike riders going up the hill. It’s harder for them to stop and start again than it is for you. If you are coming up on a bike rider or hiker and can safely pass, announce your presence so that they know you’re behind them.

If you’re on a busy trail like the loop around Lake Glendale campground, you might want to control your speed slightly. Other riders, many inexperienced, will be using the trail. The trail is also used by hikers, kids, and people going to fish off the lakeshore. You don’t want to turn a corner too fast and hit someone.

Try to leave no trace when mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest. Don’t litter. Leave a trail better than you found it.

Help out on trail work days if you can. It’ll help you develop skills to build trails and help create a bigger volunteer pool to keep mountain bike trails healthy and maintained. Touch of Nature has many work days that you can get involved in.

Don’t mountain bike on trails when they’re wet. It’s a golden rule of mountain biking that we don’t ride on wet trails because it tears them up and causes more work. It’s about being a good steward, remember?

Don’t ride on roads or trails that are gated or signed that mountain biking isn’t allowed. For example, biking on Snake Road during migration is against the rules and harmful to migrating wildlife.

Don’t create new trails. Bike on designated trails only.

If riding in a group, don’t hog up the whole trail. Share the trail with others.

And always be willing to educate other riders about how to use the trail the right way. And consider joining the Shawnee Mountain Bike Association (SMBA) to help advocate for mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest.


Mountain Biking Checklist

Need a checklist for mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest? I’ve got you covered!

Bike Gear:

  • Mountain Bike – Properly fitted
  • Helmet – Free of cracks or wear
  • Cycling Gloves – For hand protection
  • Cycling Shoes – For better balance and stability
  • Spare Tube
  • Patch Kit
  • Tire Levers
  • Portable Air Pump or CO2 Inflator
  • Multi-Tool
  • Chain Lube
  • Spare Derailleur Hanger (Many mountain bikers swear by these!)

Bike Appeal:

  • Cycling shorts or bibs – Tight or loose but include a chamois (padding) for comfort
  • Cycling jersey – Breathable and made for the weather conditions
  • Tights or Warmers – Great for when it’s cold outside
  • Cycling Socks – Breathable
  • Rain Gear – You shouldn’t ride when it’s wet, but just in case
  • Eye Protection – Protect your eyes from debris, twigs, branches, and stuff like that
  • Other Protection – Optional elbow and knee pads

Hydration and Fuel:

  • Hydration – Water or a hydration drink with a few water bottles and a hydration bladder
  • Energy Bars/Gels/Gummies – For fuel during your ride
  • Electrolyte Mix – To add to your water to put electrolytes back into your body


  • Trail App or GPS System: Trail Forks and Avenza are great for the Shawnee
  • Fully Charged Phone – A cord and power brick might also be good to take
  • Paper Maps – You can get them from Friends of the Shawnee National Forest
  • Whistle – In case you need to call for help
  • Emergency Contact Information – In case you’re found unresponsive
  • PLB – Personal Locator Beacon


  • Small First Aid Kit – Basic supplies and pocket-sized
  • Sunscreen – Protect yourself from the sun
  • Bug Spray – Protect you from the bloodsuckers
  • Chapstick – Don’t forget lip protection
  • Lights – Back and front, just in case you need them
  • Toilet Paper – Because leaves cause rashes
  • Sandwich Bag – Pack Out What You Pack In
  • Pepper Spray – Just in case you need it

You’ll need something to carry your gear in. But you don’t want a bunch of bags all over your bike when grinding down single-track trails. Consider a few smaller bags to carry everything in. A small saddle bag can hold your tube, tools, and fuel/electrolytes. You can use a small frame bag to carry most everything else in and wear a small hydration backpack with storage to carry more stuff in.


Mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest is a lot of fun. Once you start doing it, you’ll become addicted to it. I live 10 minutes away from the GlenDixon trail system. You can find me there quite a bit when the weather is nice. Mountain biking is a blast. You should try it out!

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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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