10 Shawnee National Forest

Best Hikes

during the

Spring & Summer Seasons

Are you looking for information on Shawnee National best hikes during the spring and summer months?

Look no further; your Shawnee National Forest best hikes list is here. The spring and summer months in Southern Illinois bring us warmth and extended daylights for hiking and outdoor recreation. But it also gives us plenty of ticks, biting flies, mosquitoes, and spider webs all over the forest.

But this shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the forest, and luckily some great trails lack the problems above!


Shawnee National Forest Best Hikes 1: Garden of the Gods Observation Trail

This easy, less than an eighth of a mile loop will show you the most photographed and socially shared rock formations in the Shawnee National Forest.

Garden of the Gods Observation Trail is home to Camel Rock, the exact rock formation that made the back of an “America the Beautiful” US quarter. Aside from Camel Rock, enjoy strange rock banding, other formations, and magnificent views of the wilderness area.

It’s best to visit this place in the morning hours to beat the crowds throughout the week. Find this hike on All Trails and check out my Free Observation Trail Guide.

A few people fall off (some die) at this spot each year. Please watch your step, put safety first, and don’t become a statistic for one of my future hiking safety articles.

Plenty of parking is available, including bus/RV parking and handicap spaces. There is a bicycle rack and a horse Highline area, too. Restrooms and trash cans are available at this site. No disposable containers on the trail, please.

Pets are welcome if on a leash.

Need lodging? Check out Shawnee Forest Cabins nearby. Need Shawnee Forest clothing, camping gear, or some of the best ice cream around (for humans and pets)? Check out Garden of the Gods Outpost. Need a great steak dinner after your hike? Check out The Red Onion in Equality.


Shawnee National Forest Best Hikes 2: Rim Rock National Recreation Trail

A National Recreation Trail, Rim Rock is a moderately challenging loop that is a little more than a mile and a half in length.

Rim Rock National Recreation Trails features a maze-like rock formation area, scenic creeks, easy access to a swimming beach, and a tall natural shelter once used by Native Americans and later settlers. There is even a Native American Rock Wall (Stonefort) structure on this trail.

It is best to visit Rim Rock during the week and morning hours to avoid the crowds. You can find a trail map for this trail on All Trails.

As of the creation date of this guide, a partial trail closure is in effect for the wooden staircase that leads down from the western upper trail. You can take the east trail to avoid the closure and just come back that way. You can easily access Pounds Hollow Beach from this trail. The beach is currently free, but plans are in motion to charge a parking fee to access it.

There is plenty of parking at this trail, including handicap and bus/RV spaces. This trail has picnic tables, grilling areas, and vaults toilet-styled restrooms. There are no trash cans – please pack out what you pack in and help us keep our Shawnee National Forest clean for everyone to enjoy. Pets are welcome if they’re on a leash.

Need nearby lodging? Try Rim Rock’s Dogwood Cabins right across the road (very pet friendly). Check out the Cave-in-Rock State Park Lodge down the road for good food.


Shawnee National Forest Best Hikes 3: Indian Kitchen Trail

This 3.5-mile moderate, challenging out and back hike is for those who are looking for a wilder adventure in the Shawnee National Forest.

A large portion of this hike goes through Lusk Creek Wilderness, the largest designated wilderness in the Shawnee. Hikers can enjoy fantastic rock formations, signs from the Native American past, cave shelters, old homesites and farmsteads, massive bluffs, and even a waterhole that many unofficially use as a swimming hole (use at your own risk).

It is a shared hiker and horseback rider use trail. Please follow Equestrian Safety Guidelines and be sure to share the trail. It is best to visit this trail anytime but as a secret, let horse riders go first to get all of the spider webs off the trail. Ancient hiker secret! Check out my Free Trail Guide for this area for more information and find this hike on All Trails.

A trailhead features shaded parking, a vault-styled restroom, and an information kiosk about the area. Pets are welcome, but please keep them on a leash. Horse riders sometimes bring unleashed dogs with them – keep this in mind. This trail can be very muddy when wet.

Looking for lodging near this area? Check out Willowbrook Cabins. Check out Shotgun Eddy’s Bar and Grill in Eddyville for great food and entertainment.


Shawnee National Forest Best Hikes 4: Old Stoneface

Old Stoneface is an easy and short (1.5-mile) out and back trail that feature a rock formation that looks like an old stone face.

This trail will take you up to impressive bluffs, where you can see a neat rock formation, an old mining cave, and even a rock that looks like an aging face. Some say it looks like a male; others say, female. What do you think? Continue past the Old Stoneface formation until you hit the power line right-of-way to enjoy one of the best scenic overlooks in the Shawnee National Forest.

Make sure you go to the left of the sign right past the parking area. The right trail does not loop and will eventually fade away, especially during the summer months. A big thanks to the Saline County Tourism Board for getting the covert fixed for this area.

There is some parking at the trailhead but no amenities. This trail is open for hikers only, and pets should be kept on a leash. Please use caution around the edges of cliffs and the rocks. Find this trail on All Trails.

Looking for a place to stay around this area? Check out Timber Ridge Treehouse Cabins. Head over to Harrisburg and try Mackie’s Pizza for some incredible pizza.


Shawnee National Forest Best Hikes 5: Millstone Bluff

See an actual village once used by ancient Native Americans on this easy, less than a mile loop trail in the Shawnee National Forest.

Millstone Bluff has so many things to look at. Hikers can enjoy a hike with interpretive signage showing you various areas of Native American history. There is a Stonefort structure, a cemetery, a village with a community “center” location, and plenty of Native American rock art. There are even signs of when early settlers used it to mine for rocks for creating millstones.

This is an excellent hike for kids and welcome to hikers only. There is plenty of parking but drive slowly to avoid the potholes on the gravel road to the parking area. A vault-styled restroom is present at this site, and signage tells you about the area. Pets are welcome if on a leash. See my Free Trail Guide for more information, and this trail is also listed on All Trails. The best time to visit is any time!

Looking for lodging close to this area? Check out Shawnee Forest Campground in Vienna. For great food, check out Ned’s Shed also in Vienna.


Shawnee National Forest Best Hikes 6: Jackson Falls

Jackson Falls is the climbing capital of Southern Illinois, visited by thousands worldwide – a 4-mile lollipop loop that is moderately rugged.

Jackson Falls has a little bit of everything for all sorts of people. Whether you’re a hiker, rock climber, or horseback rider – there is something for you in this area. Jackson Falls features impressive rock formations, multiple large waterfalls, and exciting boulders within its canyon. This is also an area where you can camp for free as long as you’re off the main trails. Climbers from all over the world visit these places all year round.

This isn’t the most accessible hike, but most spider webs are clear from the trail with the traffic. Please use caution here as people have fallen around the rocks. There is plenty of parking, but the road to this area is narrow and full of potholes. During wet conditions, the road does tend to wash out in places. Check out my Free Jackson Falls Trail Guide, so you don’t get lost in this area. This trail is also on All Trails.

There is a vault-styled restroom and many campsites around the area. Camping is free but considered primitive. There are no trash services at this location. Pets are welcome if on a leash. Horse riders also use this area and may have unleashed dogs with them.

Looking for a fun place to stay near here? Check out Shawnee Paradise Airbnb. If you’re looking for good food in this area, head to Murphy’s Pit BBQ in Ozark.


Shawnee National Forest Best Hikes 7: Bell Smith White Trail

This easy loop is a little bit over a mile and features a lot to see and a nice area to take a dip when the temperatures are through the roof.

Head over to the Bell Smith Springs white trail to see hand-carved stairs by the Civilian Conservation Corps (it can be a workout going back up them!), Devil’s Backbone rock formation, beautiful Bay Creek, and the Spring where everyone swims at. You can even get up on the rocks and dive if you want to. Just be safe about it and know that there are no lifeguards on duty here.

The best time to hit this spot during the warm months is in the mornings through the week. On warmer weekends, you can expect a lot of people to be present. Glass bottles have been banned from the area, just for your information. People do drink alcohol in the swimming area, and sometimes they litter. If you can safely do it, report those who litter because they’re trashing your land. If you find yourself there alone, it’ll be a great experience, but please put safety first as people have died from falls and drowning.

There is quite a bit of parking, and the Forest Service has stated it will develop more parking in the future. It is free to access Bell Smith Springs at the time of the creation of this article, but the Forest Service is planning to put a parking fee in place eventually. There is a vault-styled toilet and trash cans on site. This is a hiker-only area, and pets are OK if on a leash. Check out my Ultimate Trail Guide for information about this area.

Need lodging near here? Check out the Potel located in Ozark. For good food, head over to Family Diner in Vienna.


Shawnee National Forest Best Hikes 8: Mill Branch Trail

Mill Branch Trail is a 1.5-mile loop trail that is Bell Smith Spring’s best-kept secret, but it’s heavily advertised and still a place of solitude and unique conditions.

On this hike, you’ll see a lot of tall bluffs and shelter caves; a one-of-a-kind waterfall cascade carved out in a large rock, an old mill site, and much more. This is a popular trail in the Bell Smith Springs area, but hardly anyone uses it as much as the other trails. The mornings are the best time to visit this trail throughout the week. Please use caution as the rocks can be slick, especially when wet.

There is plenty of parking at the trailhead but no amenities. You will have to cross a creek to get to the trail. If we’ve had a lot of rain, the creek may be high. I suggest making the trail (Red Trail) counterclockwise for the best result. Pets are OK on leashes – hiker-only trail. This trail is on All Trails, and I have created a Free Trail Guide for it.

If you need lodging in this area, check out Hangout Campground in Eddyville. For dining, head over to Whiffle Boy’s Pizza in Goreville.


Shawnee National Forest Best Hikes 9: Little Grand Canyon

You’ve heard of the Grand Canyon. Southern Illinois has its own Little Grand Canyon with over 3-miles of breathtaking sights every corner your turn.

At Little Grand Canyon, you will see a lot of different things. You’ll start by traversing rolling hills through a diverse forest of hardwood and pines. You’ll get to beautiful scenic overlook areas showing the western portion of the Shawnee National Forest. You’ll hike down an actual waterfall cascade and notice all the naturally created holes and caves in the rocks. The canyon has scenic creeks, waterfalls, and interesting rock formations.

It is best to visit during the morning hours throughout the week if you want to beat the crowds. However, even with many people there, the trail is long enough that you’re usually far apart from one another. The bugs can be overwhelming during the summer months, so bring plenty of bug spray. Snakes are present here, including rattlesnakes, so watch your step. People have fallen on the slick wet rocks you take to get down. Be very careful and always put safety first.

There is adequate parking space and a vault-style toilet present. There are picnic tables and grills as well. This trail is hilly and would be considered rugged. Find this trail on All Trails and check out my Free Little Grand Canyon Guide.

For nearby lodging, check out Cornerstone Cabins. For great food nearby, Mase’s Place is down the road. Be sure to check out Pomona Winery as well.


Shawnee National Forest Best Hikes 10: Hutchins Creek South

Hutchins Creek is a wild and scenic river candidate of the Shawnee National Forest, and it’s the closest thing to an Ozarks-like creek here in southern Illinois.

Hutchins Creek is a great creek to hike at, but it’s also great for finding pockets of water to wade and swim in away from the crowds. It is also an excellent creek for rockhounding. If you want a more rugged experience, you can always go through Godwin Trailhead (east or west), but you can also drive right to the creek. The creek looks like a creek that should be in the Missouri Ozarks and not in southern Illinois. It is truly unique.

Driving to the creek from its southernmost side is the best way to access it easily. You park on the side of the road where it is apparent people park. Please watch for any signage indicating private property and respect private property. The creek is spring-fed, but usually, there isn’t flowing water. There are occasional pockets of water that could be pretty deep in some areas, making them great wading pools.

There are no restrooms or any amenities available at this location. Check out my Trail Guide to access the more rugged wilderness area trails to get to the remote areas of Hutchins, or follow the directions on this link to access the accessible portion of the creek.

For area lodging, check out Rustic Hideaway Cabins. Head over to Peachbarn Café & Wine in Alto Pass for dining and drinks.


And there you have it – 10 Shawnee National Forest best hikes to do in the spring and summer months. I wanted to choose semi-easy hikes and had fewer spider webs to deal with. But you’ll always run into a few. Take a hiking stick with you and clear them as you walk. The trail is worth it in the end. If you enjoyed this article and want to see more like it, please share it with others who would appreciate it.


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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. I hope you enjoy my website and I encourage you to interact with me!

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