There are quite a few Shawnee National Forest hiking trails scattered across southern Illinois. One of the most difficult things about Shawnee National Forest hiking trails is finding them and knowing which ones are best for your level of fitness and hiking. As someone who is always on Shawnee National Forest hiking trails every chance I get, I feel like I need to make more of these guides so that you can find the right Shawnee National Forest hiking trails that meet your needs. The Shawnee is awesome and you’re going to really love it especially after checking out the following Shawnee National Forest hiking trails.
Shawnee National Forest Hiking Trails #1:
Garden of the Gods Observation Trail
The Garden of the Gods Observation Trail is the trail I always recommend to folks who have never visited the Shawnee National Forest. This trail is among the best of the Shawnee National Forest hiking trails because of its awesome rock formations and extremely scenic overlooks into the wilderness area. This trail feature the famous Camel Rock formation that is on the back one of the America the Beautiful US Quarter. This short trail is popular and often packed during warmer months, but it will make you fall in love with the Shawnee National Forest after your first visit. Every time I hike this trail, I feel like I see something new and I hike this particular trail many times each year.
Check out my free guide for Garden of the Gods Observation Trail for directions, points of interest that you will see and itinerary suggestions for the area.
Trail Information: Loop, less than a mile, easy and could be accessible for handicap persons for a portion of it (clockwise). Hikers only.
Shawnee National Forest Hiking Trails #2:
High Knob Trail
The High Knob Trail is a relatively newly maintained trail in the Shawnee National Forest hiking trails inventory. This trail features a beautiful scenic overlooks and picnic area. You can even find what’s left of where a fire tower used to stand. If only that tower was still there and accessible. But without the tower, the view is still remarkable and worth seeing. The trail provided is also worth seeing with awesome views of the bluff, interest crevices and shelters and even scenes from the past. This is a favorite of the Shawnee National Forest hiking trails for me and Michelle and we love getting the chance to hike it again and again.
Check out my free guide for the High Knob Trail for directions to the trail, information of what you will see and other things to do in this area.
Trail Information: Loop, less than a mile, moderate due to some climbing, hills, and rocky terrains. This is not an appropriate trail for the handicap, but disabled folks can still see the awesome overlook at the top.
Shawnee National Forest Hiking Trails #3:
Rim Rock National Recreation Trail
The Rim Rock National Recreation Trail is defiantly a trail worth hiking. As a National Recreation Trail, its importance to overall recreation across the country is worth mentioning. It is a very well kept and clean trail thanks to Rim Rock’s Dogwood Cabins across the road from the trailhead for their volunteerism to keep the trail awesome. You’ll see amazing maze-like bluff features, signs of the past including a spring that was once used to hydrate oxen, and even an ancient Native American stone wall structure exists on this trail. This trail also leads to a public beach if others want to make the hike a little longer. There is a lot to see along this beautiful trail.
Check out my free guide on the Rim Rock Trail for information on how to get to the trailhead, things to see during your hike and other stuff to do in that particular area.
Trail Information: Multiple loop options, nearly 2-miles of trail, easy to moderate. Some areas could be handicap accessible on the upper portion of the trail.
Shawnee National Forest Hiking Trails #4:
Jackson Falls Trail
Jackson Falls has some very unique Shawnee National Forest hiking trails that all sorts of people enjoy. This area is used by hikers, horseback riders and rock climbers. In fact, Jackson Falls is an official area where designated rock climbing is allowed. The trail features high bluffs with climbing attachments, big boulders used for bouldering, several of best waterfalls in the area, and a whole lot more to see. This is another one of those areas in the Shawnee that will make you fall in love with the forest if you have never been to Jackson Falls.
Check out my free guide on the Jackson Falls area for information on how to get there, trail directions, things to see and do and places to visit in the area.
Trail Information: Out and back on the upper portion and loop on the lower portion. The trail is rugged and requires some climbing down, hills, slippery surfaces, and difficult terrain. The trail is a little over 4-miles in length. This is not a trail for those who are handicap.
Shawnee National Forest Hiking Trails #5:
Mill Branch Trail
The Mill Branch Trail is located within Bell Smith Springs and is by far one of the best trails out in that area. It isn’t as popular as some of the other trails but then it also offers a lot to see. You’ll see amazing creeks, bluffs, waterfalls, and the grand feature is a waterfall cascade that runs through the top of the bluff. It is one of the most unique features of the Shawnee National Forest hiking trails that I’ve been to. This is defiantly a trail that will make you want to visit the Shawnee again and again after you hike it.
Check out my free guide for the Mill Branch area for directions, trail information, sights, and other stuff to do around that area.
Trail Information: Loop. This trail is moderate with a creek crossing required. The trail is nearly 2-miles in length. The picnic area is handicap friendly with plenty to see but the trail itself is not handicap friendly.
Shawnee National Forest Hiking Trails #6:
Millstone Bluff Archeological Trail
The Millstone Bluff Archeological Trail is worth checking out. This is a trail that the whole family will love and learn a lot of stuff at the time. This trail features interpretive signage for its features. The trail is basically a Native American Ghost Town. It has an ancient Stonefort, a cemetery, former dwellings, and petroglyphs created by Native Americans more than 4,000 years ago. The Native Americans who once inhabited this area were from the Mississippian and Late Woodland periods. There is also signs of pioneer settlement showing how the area was once used as a quarry to create millstones.
Check out my free guide on the Millstone Bluff Trail for information on how get to the trailhead, interesting things you will see on your hike, and other stuff to do around this area.
Trail Information: Loop. The trail is considered easy and appropriate for adults and young children. The trail is less that a mile in length. The trail is not handicap accessible.
Shawnee National Forest Hiking Trails #7:
Panther Den Wilderness Trail
The Panther Den Wilderness Trail offers a more wild and rugged hiking experience but with an easier hike than other wilderness area trails in the Shawnee National Forest. On this hiking experience, you’ll see a system of bluffs with all sorts of maze-like walkways, den-like voids (that give the area its name) and even waterfalls. This is the smallest wilderness are in the Shawnee but yet it offers so many interesting natural features to see.
Check out my free guide for Panther Den Wilderness Area for details instruction on reaching and hiking the trail, things to see, and things to do in that area.
Trail Information: Out and back with a loop. This is a wilderness area so expect moderately difficult hiking conditions. This loop is nearly 3-miles in length. This is not a handicap friendly trail.
Shawnee National Forest Hiking Trails #8:
Pomona Natural Bridge
This is one of the easier of the Shawnee National Forest hiking trails that I’ll be mentioning in this article. After a pretty quick hike, you’ll reach a very impressive natural bridge that you can walk across and even reach the bottom of. The bluff line in this area is really impressive and if you go when wet (please use caution), you’ll even get a chance to see an amazing waterfall for the area. This is a favored place among many, and I have even seen black and white photos of people visiting from way back when. It’s an easy to get to spot and an easy to hike trail.
Check out my free guide for Pomona Natural Bridge for directions, what you will see there, and other stuff in that area to do.
Trail Information: Out and back with a loop. This trail is less than a half of a mile. It is easy. It is not exactly handicap accessible.
Shawnee National Forest Hiking Trails #9:
Little Grand Canyon
Little Grand Canyon is probably one of the most scenic Shawnee National Forest hiking trails on the western side of the state. There is so much to see on this trail. You’ll be hiking down a waterfall cascade. You’ll see high bluffs, amazing shelters, the Big Muddy River bottoms, and even remarkable scenic overlooks. If you do venture there when its wet, expect waterfalls. Just play it safe, be careful on wet surfaces and consider using a hiking stick for balance. This is one of my favorite hiking trails on the west side of the Shawnee National Forest.
Check out my free guide for Little Grand Canyon for driving directions, trail directions, what you’ll see on your hike, and other area things to do.
Trail Information: This is a loop trail of a little over 3-miles in length. This is a moderate difficult trail but when wet, it will be harder to complete. Please use caution on wet surfaces as it will be slick. This is not a handicap friendly trail.
Shawnee National Forest Hiking Trails #10:
Snake Road is one of my favorite hikes. This trail is actually a forest service road. What makes this road so unique it that is closes two times year to vehicles, horses, and bicycles (foot traffic is welcome) so that snakes and other critters can migrate across the road. If you don’t like snakes, this road is not for you. If you do like snakes or are curious about them, there are over 20-species of snakes alone that migrate in this area. Keep in mind that handling snakes is illegal, collecting snakes is really illegal and most snakes you will see will likely be venomous cottonmouth (water moccasins).
Check out my extensive free guide on Snake Road for directions, migration date information, what snakes you might see, other features along the road, and other stuff in the area to do.
Trail Information: The road is a little over 2.5-miles gate to gate (5+ miles out and back round-trip gate top gate). The road is easy to hike if you stay on the road. The road is gravel so capable wheelchairs are welcome to use the road. Please look out for the tiny micro-snakes.
That’s sums up my recommended top 10 Shawnee National Forest hiking trails. I hope you have found this article to be very resourceful. I’d like to make more top 10 articles if there is an interest. One particular method I look at to see if there is an interest is shares and views. So, if many people are sharing this article with their friends and people reading it, you can expect more. In the meantime, comment below with more top 10 ideas around the Shawnee that you’d want me to turn into an article and I’ll throw it up on my que. Thanks for reading and happy trails!
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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!