Shawnee National Forest Mountain Biking

Weighing in the Pros and the Cons

Shawnee National Forest Mountain Biking Opportunities only really exist unofficially. There are no official Shawnee National Forest mountain biking trails because the local Forestry structure doesn’t exactly cater to the biking community. Back in my 20s, I was overweight and lazy. I just kept getting worse and worse! Cycling with a mixture of road biking and mountain biking effectively saved my life so I have a special place in my heart for cycling which has lead me to write this article.

Shawnee National Forest Mountain Biking

Is the Shawnee Behind the Times?

Have you ever visited the ‘biking’ page for the official USDA Forest Service website for the Shawnee National Forest before? This is what is says about mountain biking:

Presently, there are no designated bike trails in the Shawnee National Forest. The Forest has restrictions prohibiting mountain bikes from traveling off-road, in natural areas and in other non-motorized areas. This means mountain bikes are allowed only on roads. Generally, roads within the Shawnee National Forest consist of either dirt or gravel. In this area, state highways are narrow and have heavy truck use. Therefore, use extra caution when riding along these routes.

Now let’s take a look at some of the National Forests in the other states around us. Check out Hoosier National Forest in Indiana – 10+ mountain biking trails. Now head over to Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri – there are numerous trail within 6 forest Ranger Districts!!! Now let’s head south to Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky – there are more mountain biking trails there that I wish to try to count. Every National Forest around Illinois offers mountain biking opportunities. Based on my research, Shawnee National Forest is either one of the few or the only forest in the United States that is behind the times on offering mountain biking opportunities to its patrons. I have the utmost respect for our Forestry Service but man that is pretty bad!

Southern Illinois is scenic and more and more cycling opportunities are starting to flourish among the road cyclists. I ride with St. Nicks Cycling Club out of Perry County at times. They are leading the way in increasing cycling opportunities in southern Illinois, supporting breweries, creating organized rides, sponsoring cycling races and more. Cycling in southern Illinois can amount to paradise and actually help the area – why the heck are there no official Shawnee National Forest mountain biking trails yet?

Shawnee National Forest Mountain Biking

What is stopping mountain biking from happening?

Fear? Security blankets? The unwillingness for change? There are many theories and factors that could be preventing Shawnee National Forest Mountain Biking trails from becoming a reality. Many people blame the entirety of this concern on horseback riders. Some equestrian organizations are against mountain biking for their own reasons, whether they are right or wrong. But that doesn’t mean that all horseback riders are this way. In fact, I know horseback riders who love to ride their horses and mules in the Shawnee National Forest and even love to ride their mountain bikes in the forest just the same. Not all horseback riders are against Shawnee National Forest mountain biking trail ideas. But some are. But I do not put the full blame of horseback riders for the reasoning behind the lack of mountain biking trails in the forest, I also blame the unwillingness for causes to rise up and pressure those who are making the decisions.

Do you want Shawnee National Forest mountain biking trails to become a reality? Then you need to fight for it! Volunteerism needs to be established. Money needs to be donated. And people need to be talking about it. If we rise up together and make our voices as loud as we can get them, change can happen and social media is one of the best platforms to get it all started.

Many of my subscribers are horseback riders. I want you all to know that I don’t consider all of you the stopping point of mountain biking opportunities in our forest and I even understand the argument against it. Horseback riding really in all forms, essentially was the mastermind behind the trails created in the Shawnee National Forest. Many of our trails were created by horses – all of us hikers and backpackers should thank horseback riders for their efforts in making the trails. Horseback riders still do a lot for the forest including laying gravel, creating new trails and maintaining trails. We owe a lot of the work being done in the Shawnee to equestrians and I for one will recognize their work. But the forest belongs to everyone and mountain biking enthusiasts should be a part of that everyone who the forest belongs to.

Horse can become spooked by the presence of mountain bikers and accidents can occur. My suggestion to forestry is to start by created a nice long trail designated for mountain biking and hikers to start or to allow bikers on equestrian/hiking trails but make sure they understand that horses have the right-away because in the end, horses should have the right-away. A horse is an animal with a mind of its own. It doesn’t matter how much the rider thinks they know the horse, that horse can still freely think and decide on its own what its next step will be. If a horse gets spooked by an approaching mountain biker, it could harm the rider so guidelines would have to be put into place and riders (both on bikes and horses) would need to use some good old fashion common sense. And mountain bikers aren’t the only thing that spooks a horse. I’ve spooked many just because I was hiking, or wore a blue shirt or had a backpack on – some horses just freak out because they are animals in the end.

I think what is stopping the US Forestry in our neighborhood from officially designating mountain biking trails is basically a security blanket and lack of demand. We need to be more vocal about it. Whether through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, going to public meetings, writing to our local politicians, getting businesses and organizations involved or just a good old fashion visit to forestry offices and suggesting mountain biking trails. If enough folks are loud enough, demands will eventually be met. Some may dislike me for saying that. I might lose a few subscribers. But by Golly-Jee-George, every other forest allows mountain biking and they are doing JUST FINE with it, LOL!

Shawnee National Forest Mountain Biking

How can Mountain Biking help southern Illinois?

So to note on a professional side of Hiking with Shawn (Me, Shawn!), I have a lot of experience in public and private sector emergency management. My education consists of a Master degree in emergency management and an MBA concentrating on hazardous incident logistics and supply chain management. With that experience and education, I am developing my subject matter expertise in rural emergency management and organizational continuity. The one thing I have learned about rural regions and communities is that we have a lack of financial infrastructure because we have limited means of gaining financial rewards. How does this relate to Shawnee National Forest mountain biking opportunities? Because I research and invest so much into rural community and regional emergency management concerns, I’ve learned that in order to create a better rural environment, more money needs to be spent in rural areas.

If the forest service were to invest in creating opportunities for mountain biking enthusiasts, it could mean that rural southern Illinois could gain more revenue resources from tourism and visitors. People already want to come to the Shawnee to visit our unique and awesome forest, it we were to add another recreational opportunity, mountain biking, it would only increase the likelihood of more money being spent locally which would essentially help this rural region thrive more. The horseback riding community allows for a lot of money to be spent here as well as hiking and backpacking visitors but mountain biking would unleash a new crowd into the area that would likely spend more money and increase the creation of businesses and services that cater to the bike riders. Adding more recreational opportunities will add more money to the region.

And the budget of the forest service doesn’t really matter. I promise there is a huge group of willing volunteers ready to help the Shawnee get out from behind the times and establish a mountain biking presence in the forest without needing compensation. I know I’d be one of the first people to sign up!

Please feel free to comment below whether it be for this idea, against it or other. Please do note that I require a mature and responsible debate in the comment section. If anyone gets mean, the comments will never be made public.

Shawn J. Gossman

Shawn J. Gossman


Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
%d bloggers like this: