Shawnee National Forest
that are a Must See!
There are Shawnee National Forest best views worth checking out.
Many of these views are so awesome that you want to see them again and again.
And these views should be seen multiple times a year because each season in southern Illinois brings about a different look and beauty.
These views are fantastic in the summer when everything is green.
They’re fantastic in the fall when the colors are changing.
They’re fantastic in the winter when you can see everything the forest usually hides.
And they’re even extraordinary in the spring when the dogwoods bloom.
Be sure to check out these 15 Shawnee National Forest best views when you get a chance!
Shawnee National Forest Best Views
Here are some of the best views in the Shawnee National Forest you will ever witness. Please ensure you’re practicing safe and responsible recreation in these areas. People have fallen and died due to their falls in and around these areas. Don’t become one of those statistics! Leave the Shawnee with good memories, not bad injuries…
#1 Observation Trail – Garden of the Gods Observation Trail is worth checking out if you’ve never been. It is usually busy with visitors, but as I said, you get to see it at least once.
The overlook lets you see various rock formations, including Camel Rock on the back of a US Quarter, the wilderness area, and the southern Illinois countryside. This place is ideal for visiting during fall color changing and even looks beautiful during the winter.
For visiting with fewer people, go during the early morning hours through the week. Pharaoh Campground is nearby and is open all year round. You can also rent cabins at Shawnee Forest Cabins. For snacks, camping supplies, Shawnee Forest merchandise, Sasquatch swag, and the best ice cream around – be sure to stop by the Outpost General Store.
#2 Stoneface Overlook – The Stoneface Trail offers a unique scenic overlook making it one of the Shawnee National Forest best views on the east side of the region.
This overlook is made possible from a power-line right-of-way. I’ve seen this overlook during every season, and my favorite so far has been during the winter when everything was covered in snow. It was pretty cold up there, though!
For camping nearby, check out Glen O Jones Lake. Along with campsites, there are lovely areas to kayak and bike around the lake. There are also hotel options in nearby Harrisburg. And while you’re in Harrisburg, check out Mackie’s Pizza for some of the best pizza around the Shawnee! Mitchellsville Country Store is a good place to get fuel, food, snacks, and more.
#3 Christmas Star Overlook – Christmas Star Overlook is located in the Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area. This overlook is a bit rugged to reach but is often described as the best view around the area.
This overlook gets its name from a Christmas Star ornament hanging off a tree at the overlook put there by horseback riders. At one time, the star had solar lights that lit up. The overlook allows you to see a vast amount of the wilderness surrounding you.
The closest camping would be Pharaoh Campground; check out Shawnee Forest Cabins (all linked above) for cabins. While in this area, have a meal at The Gap Bar in Herod. Check out Harbison’s Country Market for good food, snacks, and the only fuel stop around this area.
#4 Rim Rock Overlook – The Rim Rock Overlook is easy to get to, and you can see a nice, beautiful view overlooking the recreational area.
The stars at this trail are currently closed as of the creation of this article, but you can still walk to the deck and view the overlook. The bluff tops along the trail to take you to the stairs also provide some of the Shawnee National Forest best views of the area.
For camping in this area, check out Pounds Hollow, which has electric and non-electric, and a public swimming beach. Across from Rim Rock is Rim Rock’s Dogwood Cabins, some of the best cabins around that are entirely pet friendly. Head to Garden of the Gods Outpost for snacks, supplies, and more.
#5 High Knob Overlook – The High Knob Overlook is a known but not-so-known scenic view in the Shawnee National Forest. You pass through a horse camp to get to its location. While the road is public, please drive slowly and be considerate to campers.
This scenic overlook gives you great views of the surrounding area. It is an excellent spot for fall color change viewing. There is a nice picnic area and even a hiker-only trail that goes around the bluff’s base. This area used to have a fire lookout tower constructed and used by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
For camping nearby, you could check availability at High Knob Horse Camp or camp at Pharaoh Campground at Garden of the Gods. Timber Ridge Treehouse Cabins is a great nearby cabin option. Head to Garden of the Gods Outpost for snacks, supplies, and more.
#6 Pounds Hollow Arch – The Pounds Hollow Arch is a unique overlook that is best visited during winter when leaves are off the trees.
When there are no leaves on the trees, you can see Pounds Hollow Lake through the arch’s opening. It is a unique view of the lake and very photogenic. While it isn’t the best overlook in the area, I still felt it deserved to be listed on the Shawnee National Forest best views list.
For nearby camping and dining option, check out Double M Campground. The Garden of the Gods Outpost store is the closest general store for snacks, supplies, and more.
#7 Murray Bluff Overlook – Murray Bluff is another unique spot that doesn’t get as many visits. It has an incredible overlook for a short trail (under a mile out and back).
The hill up to the bluff is pretty rugged and steep. Even hiking veteran Joe Littleton said so. If the ground is muddy, it will be hard to get up the hill. But once you’re up there, there is one heck of a view of the Shawnee National Forest. And there are some cool rock banding features and even a Native American Stonefort.
Lodging and shopping options can be found in nearby Harrisburg. This area is also close to the Tunnel Hill State Trail for those looking for a nice bike ride. For dining, check out Pa’s Place in Carrier Mills.
#8 Cedar Falls Overlook – Camp Ondessonk has one of the largest free-falling waterfalls around the Shawnee National Forest.
There is a nice big rock to climb up to where you can see a beautiful view of Cedar Falls and the bluffs around it. I added this to the best views list because I find it to be one of the prettier waterfall views. Cedar Falls is on private property, and you’ll need permission to reach it.
Camp Ondessonk may offer camping and cabin rental during the off-season. Check their website for more information on off-season lodging. Head down the road to Murphy’s Pit BBQ for great food.
#9 Williams Hill Overlook – Williams Hill is the highest point in the Shawnee National Forest and southern Illinois.
While the trailhead for the hill doesn’t offer significant views, there is the option of hiking to a lookout point that does offer some views. This is best for people who like backcountry hiking and want to escape crowds. I personally enjoy seeing this overlook when there is ice and snow in the trees. It was absolutely beautiful to witness.
You can freely disperse camp at One Horse Gap Lake for camping in this area. Check out The Gap Bar in Herod for food and drinks. Take a drive to nearby Eddyville and eat at Shotgun Eddy’s.
#10 Giant City Water Tower – The water tower at Giant City State Park is an excellent choice to access an easier (but many winding stairs) overlook.
Giant City State Park has to be my favorite state park in the Shawnee Forest Country. The CCC pretty much created the whole park, and there is a lot to do. The water tower is a perfect overlook of the surrounding Shawnee and southern Illinois backcountry. And it’s pretty easy to get to as well.
Giant City State Park offers electric and non-electric campground use. There are also cabins you can rent. Check out Makanda Inn for a luxury lodging option. Be sure to visit the Giant City Lodge for some of the best-fried chicken in the region.
#11 Blackjack Oak Overlook – This amazing overlook is located at Ferne Clyffe State Park and is an excellent spot for viewing fall color changes.
Blackjack Oak is one of my favorite trails at this state park. It offers a little bit of everything. There are a few different overlook points along the trail. It gives you a view of the lake and the surrounding park. This is one of my favorite Shawnee National Forest best views in the region. This is a must-see when the fall colors are changing!
Ferne Clyffe State Park offers electric and non-electric campground use. For cabins in the area, check out Cedar Rock Cabins, which is very close to the park. There is also a very nice Airbnb located nearby called Shawnee Paradise. For dining options, head into nearby Goreville and get you some Whiffle Boy’s Pizza, and there are some excellent gas stations and other stores around as well.
#12 Cliff View Park Overlook – This amazing overlook will give you views of the Bald Knob Cross of Peace.
Cliff View Park is located in Alto Pass. It is a roadside attraction worth stopping at. You can also picnic here if you’d like. Head into Alto Pass after you’re done and hike the bottom side along the Quetil Trail. You can also rock climb there as well.
There aren’t many campground options in this area, but there are many Airbnb and Cabin options, including Havisham House, Alto Wine Trail Loft, Skyline View Cabins, and Cave Creek Cabins. For awesome fun, smoothies, fruits, and local produce-type products, you got to check out Rendleman Orchards. Check out the Union County Business Page for more places to stay, eat, drink, and enjoy.
#13 Inspiration Point – Inspiration Point is located near Snake Road in the LaRue Pine Hills area and provides one of the best scenic overlooks in the region.
The overlook is on a very short trail. But getting to the actual overlook portion can be challenging, so please take it slow and put safety first. You don’t want to fall from these heights! This overlook will let you see Snake Road, Winters Pond, and the Big Muddy River Bottoms of the region. It is exceptionally beautiful at all times of the year.
Camp for free at the nearby Turkey Bayou as long as the river isn’t flooded. For good food, head into Jacob and eat at Bottoms Up Family Bar and Grill. The nearby town of Murphysboro also has Bun Makers, an excellent place to get breakfast with its outdoor eating option for those who don’t want to dine inside.
#14 Pine Hills Scenic Drive – Pine Hills Road is located at LaRue Pine Hills and might be one of the most scenic Forest Service Roads in the entire Shawnee National Forest.
Drive nearly 8 miles of gravel Forest Service Road above Snake Road. Pine Hills Road is truly a gem of the Shawnee National Forest best views out there. There are numerous spots to pull over and check out a scenic overlook. It is best to visit them during the fall colors and winter when all the leaves are off the trees. There are also picnic areas and trails to hike along this road.
A campground is located towards the southern end of the road called Pine Hills Campground. There is no electricity or water so that you know. Check out Rustic Hideaway Cabins nearby for a great cabin option that I personally enjoyed staying at. Head into nearby Anna and check out Dinner Bell Too for good breakfast, lunch, and dinner options.
#15 Little Grand Canyon – Little Grand Canyon is a great trail to hike, but it also has a beautiful scenic overlook that is worth checking out.
Little Grand Canyon is a moderately difficult three-mile true loop. I say true loop because you start and finish where you park. It can be difficult during wet or wintry conditions as you hike down a waterfall. However, if you go in from where the restroom is, you’ll make it to a scenic overlook without having to hike down the waterfall. It is a beautiful scene of bluffs and the Big Muddy River bottoms.
For camping options in this area, check out Lake Murphysboro State Park. For cabins, there are many options, including Little Red Shed, Tomcat Hill Cabins, and Cornerstone Cabins. For unique dining, head over to Mase’s Place right down the road from the trailhead.
And there you have – some of the most beautiful and scenic Shawnee National Forest best views out there. I offer Guided Hiking & Biking Service and Itinerary Planning Services if you need more assistance visiting and enjoying the Shawnee National Forest. Thanks again for checking out this article, and please feel free to share 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!