5 Shawnee National Forest
that you Must Visit!
The Shawnee National Forest was some really awesome scenic overlooks that are worth checking out. Many of these awesome scenic overlooks can see a lot of the Shawnee Forest Countryside and much of southern Illinois’s woodland beauty. Most of these scenic overlooks are easy to get to but some may require you to hike up rolling hills and trails could be rugged at times. It is always recommended that you put safety first so that you don’t get hurt. Remember, scenic overlooks are not awesome if you are getting injured on your way to see them. Now let’s get into the 5 Shawnee National Forest Scenic Overlooks that you must visit!
Shawnee National Forest
Scenic Overlooks #1:
Garden of the Gods West Bluff Overlook
While most people hike the Observation Trail and Indian Point for scenic overlooks of the Shawnee National Forest, there is another overlook or rather a series of scenic overlooks within the wilderness area of that part of the forest. This is the bluff tops of the West Bluff Trail which is northwest of the Observation Trail parking lot. To get to these scenic overlooks, park at the Garden of the Gods Observation Trail parking lot and walk into the wilderness area for Anvil Rock on the northwest side of the parking lot. This is where the big rocks block the road and the horse high-line area is. Continue down that trail until you see a ‘hiker only’ single-track trail to your left which follows the upper portion of the bluffs. In the next mile, there will be a series of awesome scenic overlooks that you will fall in love with.
The really good overlook is located at the GPS coordinates 37.608108, -88.388080. The West Bluff Trail that follows the upper bluff portion is marked as Trail 108-E. This is a fairly easy hike with some rugged terrain. When wet, portions of this trail can be very slick. The horse trail to get to and from it, at times, may be muddy. Be safe while viewing the overlooks as they are very high up and there is risk of falling if you do not pay attention. Cell phone signal is very limited in this area. Please tell someone that you are visiting this area before you visit. The parking area is day-use only therefore you may not park there overnight. While you are visiting this area, if you have never seen the Observation Trail, you should. It can be busy at times but it is worth witnessing at least once if you are able to.
Shawnee National Forest
Scenic Overlooks #2:
Hitching Post Overlook
On the other side of Garden of the Gods Wilderness, near Herod, there is a couple of awesome scenic overlooks that are very worth mentioning in this article. Like the above West Bluff Trail overlooks, often times, these overlooks are also less crowded. To reach these scenic overlooks, while traveling east-southeast on highway 34 through Herod, Illinois, turn left before the Post Office onto Gape Hollow Road. Travel about 1 mile until you see the trailhead on your left. This is the Eagle Creek / Hitching Post Trailhead for Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area. Do note this area is widely used by horseback riders. After parking, cross the road and head into Garden of the Gods Wilderness! Stay on the trail and continue hiking for several miles. There are quite a few hilly spots along this trail. You will start to see the overlooks on your right soon. One has a large Christmas Star attached to a tree at its edge.
The trail that takes you to these awesome scenic overlooks in the Shawnee National Forest is known as Trail 001-E. If you travel to the GPS coordinates of 37.600542, -88.410040, you should be able to see a lot from this particular overlook. This is often described as one of the best scenic overlooks on the east side of the Shawnee National Forest. If you check out the Shawnee National Forest map on Google, there are a few other attractions in this area that you might find worth checking out including a really cool arch north of the overlook areas. This is a rugged wilderness area, please put safety first. Tell someone where you plan to be before visiting. Cell phone signal is often limited in this area. As stated, horseback riders are common in this area. If you see rider, speak loudly but calmly to let them know you are near and continue talking with them as they pass so that the horses realize you are a human and don’t freak out. If you continue to follow this trail, it can take you into Garden of the Gods main recreational area.
Shawnee National Forest
Scenic Overlooks #3:
Eagle Mountain Overlook
The Eagle Mountain Overlook is not only awesome but it’s rather remote and not often occupied, especially in the warmer months. This overlook is quite unique and you can the forest and bluffs in other locations around you. While this area could be occupied by horseback riders, I’ve never seen them there. There has been a lot of off road jeep and ATV use in this area, though. I’ve been to this area in the fall and in the summer and both times have proven to be enjoyable. I can see a lot during the fall with all the leaves off and I can still see a lot during the summer with all the leaves on the trees. Getting to this location can be easy or if you prefer a workout, it can be a bit more rugged.
The GPS coordinates of this awesome scenic overlook is 37.672406, -88.423531. The easy way to reach this spot is by taking Eagle Mountain Road and driving to the area of the GPS. You should see a trail going into the forest from the road. It is an old road bed so it is fairly wide. You will need to park on the side of the road which there should be plenty of room to do so. If you want a more rugged hike, you can start at Stoneface. Go passed Stoneface until you get to the power-line cutout (which is another awesome overlook all on its own) and then go up the dirt road following the power-lines. Look for the trail going into the forest on your left with a little bicycle blaze on the tree. Stay on the right-side trails until you reach Eagle Mountain Road and then follow it down towards the GPS coordinates. You can alternatively start at Glen O Jones Lake using Crest Trail but this trail disappears in the summer and isn’t blazed very well.
Shawnee National Forest
Scenic Overlooks #4:
Fountain Bluff Overlook
Fountain Bluff is a very interesting spot. It is no secret that is hold some of the most ancient of the local Native American rock art collections. Some of the art sites are well known and often visited while others are closely guarded secrets by those who worry about sites being vandalized. However, besides rock art, this area serves as one heck of the collection of awesome scenic overlooks throughout the Shawnee National Forest. In fact, Fountain Bluff was once home to a fire tower because of its height. The locals call the area ‘Big Hill’ and it is probably one of the highest points in that particular area. Viewing the awesome scenic overlooks along the top of Fountain Bluff will give you a scene of rural countryside, farmland and the Mighty Mississippi River separating Illinois from Missouri. It is really a view worth seeing if you have never viewed it before.
The location of these awesome scenic overlook is at GPS coordinates 37.690046, -89.502941. Take Happy Hollow Road from Route 3 and drive to the top of the hill. You’ll notice where the scenic overlooks will be once you reach the top. There are a few smaller parking areas along that road. Just park, get out and view the amazing scenic sights that the area has to offer. While watching, note to yourself how amazing that view probably was for the Native Americans who occupied that area thousands upon thousands of years prior. There are numerous trails throughout fountain bluff that you might consider taking but do note some areas are private property. The highly venomous Timber Rattlesnake occurs in this area so it is advised that you stay on trails at all times. While in this area, consider visiting Oakwood Bottoms and Turkey Bayou for more trails and scenic views of the historic Big Muddy River.
Shawnee National Forest
Scenic Overlooks #5:
Preacher’s Eye Overlook
Near the area of Fountain Bluff, there is another destination of the Shawnee National Forest Scenic Overlooks that is worth mentioning – Preacher’s Eye! Preacher’s Eye is located on a forest road along a bluff line and swamp of LaRue Pine Hills Research Natural Area. To be blunt, this overlook is right on Snake Road, the forest road that closes twice a year so that snakes can cross the road for and after hibernation. This area may scare some people because of the snakes which is why I highly recommend to not go to this overlook until a few months after each migration. I went up it during a migration once and counted at least 8 venomous cottonmouth snakes. This overlook is hard to get to because of how steep the bluff access is and because of all the loose rocks present. Take it slow if you do go and once you reach the top, look through the awesome natural arch and then you can pretty much see all of LaRue Pine Hills swampland right in front of your eyes.
The GPS coordinates of this scenic overlook is 37.554757, -89.440362. The road to this location is a gravel road known as Snake Road or Forest Service Road 345 (FSR-345). To get to this location, take LaRue Road from Route 3 towards Wolf Lake, Illinois. Drive slowly down LaRue Road (there is potholes and the road is narrow) until you reach the end and turn left (north) onto FSR-345. The Preacher’s Eye isn’t too far down the road. If you visit during migration periods, you will have to walk to the area as the road will be gated and closed to motor vehicle traffic. Foot travel is always welcome. During migration, venomous snakes will be present – please use caution if you visit. During non-migration periods, venomous snakes may still be present. Always watch your step and avoid coming into physical contact with any snake. Harming, harassing or handling snakes in that area is a major criminal offense.
I hope you have enjoyed this article on the 5 Shawnee National Forest Scenic Overlooks that you must visit! There are plenty of other scenic overlooks out there that might be considered better than the ones listed on this article but I wanted to try to mention the ones that are often less crowded. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share it, especially on your favorite social media platforms. Follow, like and subscribe to my social media websites at YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Consider becoming a supporter of Hiking with Shawn for $3 a month by joining my Patreon Page. You can also support me by buying my official Hiking with Shawn t-shirt and/or hoodie on my Online Shop. Please comment down below if you want to add to this article and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
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.