10 Southern Illinois
for Every Type
Southern Illinois hiking trails are some of the best in the state. Southern Illinois is home of the state’s only National Forest so it’s safe to say that you can find plenty of hiking trails here. In this guide, I’ll take you through 10 Southern Illinois hiking trails for all different types of hikers whether you’re a beginner, requiring family hikes, or you want that rugged experience away from others. The great thing about southern Illinois hiking trails is there are way more than these 10 I am mentioning in this guide. So that means you can expect to see more guides for southern Illinois hiking trails from me in the near future.
Southern Illinois Hiking Trails for Beginners,
Seniors, and Children that are Easy
Let’s take a look at some southern Illinois hiking trails that are best for folks who are new to hiking, kids, and seniors who may not be able to get around as easy.
Indian Creek Trail at Giant City State Park
Indian Creek is probably one of the most scenic but easiest southern Illinois hiking trails out there. This loop trail is less than a mile in length and there is barely any elevation. There are some interpretive signs along the way telling you the history of the Native American culture that once used this area. You might even find chert that was once used to craft tools for hunting and such. There is a lot to see on this trail and it will definitely make you fall in love with southern Illinois even more.
To see more details, directions, and important information for this trail – check out my Free Online Guide for Giant City State Park.
Heron Pond Nature Preserve
Heron Pond Nature Preserve is where Hiking with Shawn was started at and it’s a beautiful trail to hike, especially for beginners, children, and seniors. The hike is about 2-miles in length and out and back. It features quite a few interpretive signs along the way explaining the natural elements of the area. This area is a wetland and its completely natural though it looks like something out of the Louisiana Bayou. You’ll see a little bit of everything on this trail including a boardwalk over a swamp, the Cache River, and even a giant oak tree that would take a whole family to completely hug.
To see directions, more information, and other details about the area – check out my Free Online Guide for Heron Pond Nature Preserve.
Garden of the Gods Observation Trail
Garden of the Gods Observation Trail is likely the most visited out of all southern Illinois hiking trails. This easy loop is about a half mile total with very little climb. There are signs everywhere that explain what you’re seeing and there are tons of rock formations. One formation, Camel Rock, has been featured on a US quarter. This is the trail I send people to when they’ve never visited the National Forest because after you see the features of this trail, you’ll fall in love with southern Illinois hiking trails and want more and more after that. Just understand that this is a popular place to expect to see quite a few people and remember to put safety first at all times.
For directions, safety information, and other cool areas to visit around this trail – check out my Free Online Guide for Garden of the Gods Observation Trail.
Southern Illinois Hiking Trails for more
Experienced Hikers who like Moderate Trails
Let’s take a look at some of the more moderate trails in southern Illinois. These trails are easy to follow but are more moderate conditions like having creek crossings and some hills.
Rim Rock National Recreation Trail
Rim Rock National Recreation Trail is a great trail for a more moderate hiking experience without worry of getting lost. This well-used trail is moderately rugged, a loop, 1.7-miles in length, and has some hilly trail conditions during the start and finish. There are some signs along the way telling you more about the area and what it was used for long before the forest was established. There is also an access trail to Pounds Hollow beach which is a seasonal swimming beach that’s free to swim in. This trail features high bluffs, waterfalls, natural shelters, scenic creeks, and even a Native American rock wall. You’ll love this hiking trail after you’ve completed it.
For more information, safety stuff, and directions on how to reach this trail – check out my Free Online Guide for Rim Rock National Recreation Trail.
Sentry Bluff Trail at Bell Smith Springs
The Sentry Bluff Trail is often described as the more wilderness-like trail at Bell Smith Springs. This 3.2-mile, moderately rugged loop hiking trail has a lot to offer. There is the very wild and scenic Bay Creek which you’ll have to cross at some point. There are waterfalls along this trail and awesome bluffs. There are unique overlooks and big cave shelters. There are even some swimming holes that are a lot more private than the main swimming area of Bell Smith. While this trail is harder, it is definitely worth experiencing if you want a more moderate hiking adventure. If it’s summer, you might want to bring a swimsuit with you.
For more information like directions and safety tips – check out my Free Online Guide for Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area.
Little Grand Canyon Trail
The Little Grand Canyon Trail is one of the best trail (if not the very best) on the west side of the Shawnee National Forest. This 3.4-mile moderately rugged loop trail offers hikers a chance to take a hike on the wild side to sum it up. You will start off hiking rolling hills and then arrive at one of the most scenic overlooks you’ll lay eyes on. Then you’ll hike down a waterfall, yes down a waterfall, to get to the canyon below with high bluffs, views of the historical Big Muddy River, and even more waterfalls. Then you’ll hike back up another waterfall, yes, another one and make your way up rolling hills back to where you parked. Little Grand Canyon is moderately rugged but a really good trail for folks who want a good workout.
For safety information and important information as well as directions – check out my Free Online Guide for the Little Grand Canyon Trail.
Southern Illinois Hiking Trails for
True Adventurers looking for Hard Trails
Now let’s check out some of the hardest southern Illinois hiking trails out there. These trails are for the more experienced folks who are looking for a rugged adventure. Be sure to play it safe when hiking these trails.
Red Cedar Trail at Giant City State Park
The Red Cedar Trail is often used as a backpacking or multi-day hiking trail in southern Illinois. This 12-mile loop trail is the most rugged of the trail at Giant City State Park. There is a campground (hike in) located in the middle of the trail in case you want to do it in a few days. There is over 1,000-foot of elevation, creek crossings, huge bluffs, challenging hills, and rocky rugged trail terrains. The water sources on this trail are creeks so be sure to bring a filter or plenty of water. If you visit when the area is wet, it’ll be muddy in spots, but the waterfalls are amazing to see.
For more information, safety tips, and directions to this awesome trail – check out my Free Online Guide for backpacking the Red Cedar Trail.
Pakentuck Waterfall Trail
The Pakentuck Waterfall Trail is located on Shawnee National Forest land that borders Camp Ondessonk and it’s one of my favorite spots to chase waterfalls. There is a short Forest Service Road that eventually turns in to unmaintained horse trails. It is a 5-mile rugged loop with creek crossings, rugged terrains, muddy trails, huge bluffs, and three large waterfalls that you don’t want to miss seeing at their best. I highly recommend going when its wet out, but it will be harder to hike. The waterfalls in southern Illinois really depend on rainfall. This might also be an ideal spot for frozen waterfall chasing in the winter but again, that will make it way harder to hike. Keep that in mind.
For directions to this trail and important safety information – check out my Free Online Guide for the Pakentuck Waterfall Hiking Trail.
Trail 049 Loop
The Trail 049 Loop is among my favorite southern Illinois hiking trails for longer loop hikes. This rugged 10-mile loop trail will let you see many cool areas of the Shawnee National Forest including portions of the River to River Trail, Cove Hollow (001T), Millstone Lake, and even Jackson Falls. This loop is pretty rugged with some challenging hills, huge mud holes that you’ll have to hike around, plenty of creek crossings, horseback shared trails, and rocky terrains. You see huge bluffs, rock climbing areas, some of the best waterfalls in the area, and even some awesome erosion at Millstone Lake. There are all sorts of extra gems along the way too. This is a trail I like to do multiple times a year during every season possible.
For directions where to park and start, safety information, and other stuff to do in the area – check out my Free Online Guide for Trail 049.
The Hardest of the
Southern Illinois Hiking Trails
And this leads us to the very last of the southern Illinois hiking trails and the hardest of them all. This is the trail of all trails.
The River to River Trail (R2R)
The River to River Trail is the premier thru-hiking trail that stretches all across the southern Illinois region. This nearly 160-mile trail starts at the Ohio River and ends at the Mississippi River (or vice-versa if you wish) and has over 15,000-foot of elevation gain. It is probably the most rugged trail and is listed as Point to Point. You’ll see everything on this trail including the best waterfalls that our region has to offer, countless bluffs, countless overlooks, natural arches, rock formations, awesome southern Illinois communities and all parts of the Shawnee, quite a few state parks, and even a National Wildlife Refuge. The River to River Trail is the southern Illinois thru-hiking experience and many attempt it but only some complete it.
To learn more about this trail, get directions to the many trailheads, and see all information possible – check out the free Trail Guide for this trail created by the River to River Trail Society.
And there you have it, folks! That’s 10 Southern Illinois Hiking Trails for all different types of hikers. I hope you all have enjoyed this article. If you have, please consider sharing it with others, especially on your favorite social media profiles and groups. You should follow this blog for more articles like this one which will definitely be created in the near future. Thanks again for reading another one of my articles, keep reading below to find out how you can support my efforts, and until next time – I’ll see you on the trail!
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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
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!