20 Southern Illinois Scenic Overlooks to Hike this Fall
Are you looking for the best Southern Illinois scenic overlooks around the Shawnee National Forest?
I’ve got the perfect list for you. I’ve been all around southern Illinois looking for the best overlooks I can find. And if you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve probably seen many of them on video.
But now I want to share 20 of my favorite Southern Illinois scenic overlooks with you.
Whether you’re visiting them for fall colors or even after that, these overlooks are very pretty and worth hiking to this fall.
But before we get into the overlooks list – safety first! Safety is extremely important in these areas. These areas can be hazardous when wet or icy for obvious reasons, but they can be hazardous when dry, too. Some people have slipped or fallen for other reasons and have died as a result of visiting these overlooks. Take safety very seriously when visiting these areas.
Southern Illinois Scenic Overlooks List
Now, let’s get on with the 20 Southern Illinois Scenic Overlooks around the Shawnee National Forest.
1 – Happy Hollow Overlook at Fountain Bluff
This scenic overlook will give you a beautiful view of the Mississippi River Basin as you look towards Missouri. It’s located on the very western side of the state and faces west, which is ideal for watching the sunset.
Check out this Google Maps Link to go exactly where the overlook is. The Forest Service Road up to the top of the bluff is steep and narrow. Drive slowly and use caution.
2 – McGee Hill Overlook at LaRue Pine Hills
McGee Hill is one of the prettiest Southern Illinois scenic overlooks on the west side of the Shawnee National Forest. It’s located in LaRue Pine Hills and includes a picnic area and a vault toilet in case you need those features. It’s a good sunset location, too.
Check out this Google Maps Link to drive right to the spot. Use caution while driving on Pine Hills Road, as there are some steep and narrow sections of the gravel road.
3 – Inspiration Point at LaRue Pine Hills
Inspiration Point at LaRue Pine Hills might be the highest of the Southern Illinois scenic overlooks. It’s around 300 feet in the air. You’ll see LaRue swamp and the Big Muddy River Basin from this point. It’s also great for sunsets.
Click this Google Maps Link to get to the trailhead. It’s an easy hike that’s less than a mile out and back. Be careful; every year, someone falls to their death here. It’s steep and sketchy to get down to the overlook portion.
4 – Horseshoe Bluff Overlook at Horseshoe Bluff
Horseshoe Bluff is another overlook facing the west. It’s great for sunsets. You’ll see a section of the river that was once a part of it. It’s where the Big Muddy River snakes through the area. It’s quite a sight to see.
Check out this Google Maps Link to get to where you park. Head west on the trails. It’s a few miles away and can get rugged and steep. Horseshoe Bluff is one of the steepest bluffs I’ve ever hiked up, so be safe if you visit.
5 – Chalk Bluff Overlook at Little Grand Canyon
This overlook is yet another western-facing overlook. You’ll see the Big Muddy River as well as a very beautiful bluff.
6 – Cliff View Park Overlook in Alto Pass
This overlook is very easy to get to. It also faces west. Sunsets aren’t the only thing you’ll see at this overlook, though. You can also see the big and beautiful Bald Knob Cross, which is a staple of this area.
Check out this Google Maps Link to drive right to this overlook. It is very easy to get to and worth checking out.
7 – Shelter 1 Overlook at Giant City State Park
Most visitors often forget about this scenic overlook of Giant City State Park. It is a popular exposed bluff that rock climbers frequent. You can see a very nice view of the park when on top of this bluff.
Click this Google Maps Link to get to the trailhead. Walk past the shelter and towards the exposed bluff. Take the trail to your right. Be careful, as it can be steep and dangerous.
8 – Lookout Tower at Giant City State Park
Another great scenic overlook in Giant City State Park is the lookout tower by the Giant City Lodge. If you look hard enough, you can also see the Bald Knob Cross from there. You can probably watch both the sunset and the sunrise from this location, too.
Click this Google Maps Link to drive to the tower site. The tower requires you to climb stairs to reach the top.
9 – Observation Point at Wildcat Bluff
This is one of the Southern Illinois scenic overlooks that isn’t as known. It’s within the Cache River State Natural Area. You’ll get a nice overlooking glimpse of the Cache River area. It’s really pretty in the spring and in the fall.
Check out this Google Maps Link to get to the trailhead. Take the trail to the left of the parking lot for a 1-mile out and back hike.
10 – Cedar Bluff Overlook at Cedar Bluff
This is another overlook that most visitors don’t often visit. It’s at a rock climbing location, too. You’ll be able to see the beautiful southern Illinois countryside. You can even see some of Draper’s Bluff from this location.
Here is the Google Maps Link to the trailhead. Park up the road at the other trailhead or close to the sign at the church. Make sure you leave plenty of room for the churchgoers. Take the trail up towards the right of the bluff to make your way up.
11 – Blackjack Oak Overlook at Ferne Clyffe State Park
This is among my favorite Southern Illinois scenic overlooks. It’s beautiful to see and perfect for viewing fall colors. You can see the lake and the beautiful Shawnee Forest Country all in one frame. There are a few overlooks along this trail, and each one gets better.
Here is the Google Maps Link to the trailhead. Cross the road from the lake and take the trail up. The entire trail out and back is about 2 miles.
12 – Lookout Point Overlook at Ferne Clyffe State Park
This area had been closed off for a long time due to budget cuts. Too many budget cuts hit southern Illinois state parks – that needs to change! Write to your local lawmakers! Anyways, you can now drive to these overlooks and even picnic at them. They overlook Ferne Clyffe State Park.
Check out this Google Maps Link for directions right to the start of the driving loop. Check out the picnic areas along the way to see these Southern Illinois scenic overlooks.
13 – Owl Bluff Overlook at Lusk Creek Wilderness
This scenic overlook is an amazing spot in the Lusk Creek Wilderness area. You can hike to it and horseback ride to it as well. It’s a great view and was a favored spot to check out the last Total Solar Eclipse. Enjoy a nice view of the wilderness area.
14 – Murray Bluff Overlook at Murray Bluff
This is another one of those Southern Illinois scenic overlooks that often get missed. It’s also the site of an ancient Native American rock wall. You can enjoy a view overlooking the Shawnee National Forest and even towards Burden Falls Wilderness.
Click this Google Maps Link for driving directions to the start of the trail. Take the trail up (steep climb) and access the bluff along the rocky area to your right at the top of the hill. Enjoy all the banding in the rocks, too.
15 – Stoneface Overlook at Old Stoneface
Many people visit Old Stoneface and then turn around and go back, totally skipping the amazing overlook about two minutes further up the trail. Don’t be one of those people. The overlook is made possible by a power line right-of-way. You can see a lot of southern Illinois on it, too!
Here’s a Google Maps Link that takes you to the parking lot. Take the trail to the left and walk past Stoneface until you get to the power lines. Enjoy the overlook.
16 – Wilderness Overlook at Garden of the Gods Wilderness
This is another one of my favorite Southern Illinois scenic overlooks. It’s a more scenic overlook of the Garden of the Gods Wilderness that isn’t as busy as Camel Rock usually is. They used to call it Christmas Star Overlook, but the star has since been removed. It’s a wilderness, and it didn’t need to be there, anyway.
Here is a Google Maps Link to get to the trailhead. Cross the road and take River to River Trail towards Garden of the Gods. This is all in the wilderness. It’s about a 4 or 5-mile hike with some steep hills.
17 – Observation Trail at Garden of the Gods Recreation Area
This is one of the most scenic overlooks in the Shawnee National Forest. It’s also one of the most visited ones at that. In the summer, on a weekend, it might be visited more than a thousand times in one day. But if you’ve never been, visiting this crowded place is worth it. You’ll see amazing rock formations like Camel Rock (it’s on a US Quarter) and Devil’s Smokestack. You’ll also see beautiful views of the wilderness area.
Here is a Google Maps Link to this easy trail. The loop is less than an eighth of a mile. But it’s dangerous, and people die there every year from falling. Use extreme caution around the edges of the cliffs.
18 – Indian Point at Garden of the Gods Wilderness
This is another one of those Southern Illinois scenic overlooks that you have to visit at least once (or twice or 100 times). It’s close to the Observation Trail noted above; you could add it as a second trip for the day. You’ll see a beautiful view of the Garden of the Gods Wilderness, and you can even camp around the area if you want to.
Here is a Google Maps Link to the trailhead. Take the trail and head to the right at the start of the loop. The entire loop is a few miles long and is moderately rugged.
19 – High Knob Overlook at High Knob
High Knob Overlook is an amazing scenic overlook with a great hiker-only trail that goes around the bluff. The overlook area is the site of a former fire watch tower that is no longer there. Enjoy a beautiful scene overlooking the eastern side of the Shawnee National Forest.
Check out this Google Maps Link for directions to the overlook. You’ll drive through High Knob Horse Campground on a public road. Please drive through the camp slowly and yield to horseback riders to ensure everyone is safe.
20 – Rocky Top Overlook at One Horse Gap
The Rocky Top Overlook is located at One Horse Gap. The overlook gives you a nice view of the Shawnee National Forest and some private farming communities around the area. You can hike to this area or ride horses and use a high line at the overlook.
Here are the Google Maps Directions to where you can park on the side of the road. Take the trail to your right for a short distance to the overlook. The trail is for hiking and horseback riding only. Driving on it is illegal and will result in a federal citation.
I hope you get to enjoy these awesome Southern Illinois scenic overlooks as much as I get to. Thanks for reading this article, and be sure to share it with others who might also enjoy it. If you’d like to give me a small tip for providing this article, it would be appreciated. You can also support me monthly if you want to. Be sure to subscribe to my free monthly newsletter for more hiking resources. And until next time, I’ll see you on the trail.
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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. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman