to Enjoy this Winter
Southern Illinois winter hikes are memories you don’t want to forget this season.
The Southern Illinois region is full of fantastic hiking trails. People not from Illinois are constantly flabbergasted that this state has as many trails as it does.
But many people think that the hiking season is over when the winter is near. I’m happy to report that notion isn’t true at all. When winter comes, for many, the hiking season has just begun.
There are many excellent Southern Illinois winter hikes to enjoy without worrying about your safety. However, it is essential always to keep safety in mind regardless of the hiking season.
Southern Illinois Winter Hikes: East Side
The region’s east side is the most visited area of Southern Illinois.
During the summer, it’s hard to find a spot to enjoy yourself because of the area’s popularity. In the winter, a lot of those people don’t hike. Southern Illinois winter hikes are some of the best hiking times in the east.
I love the east side of the Shawnee National Forest because it’s full of fantastic rock formations, exceptional scenic overlooks, and so many opportunities to see frozen waterfalls.
There is so much to see on the east side that you must visit again and again to get some of it under your hiking belt.
1. Indian Point
Garden of the Gods isn’t just about Camel Rock. The Indian Point Trail is a beautiful scene when you can see everything it has to offer.
During the summer, Indian Point is littered with thick undergrowth, and every tree is full of leaves. This makes it hard to see the trail’s amazing overlooks and exciting bluffs. During the winter, the overgrowth and the leaves fall, and you can see everything before your own eyes.
When I visit Indian Point in the winter, specifically during snowfall, I like to wear my crampons (ice cleats) to safely move down the trail to get to the base of the bluffs. I recommend getting a pair of those and wearing them to keep you safe.
This is a fantastic trail worth seeing during all seasons. During the winter, you’ll probably have it to yourself, however.
2. Old Stoneface
Old Stoneface, during the winter, is more than just a rock formation that looks like a face.
The bluff up the trail to the stone face is impressive to view. The stone face itself is something everyone should see at least once. But if you walk past the stoneface until you get to the power line right away, prepare yourself for one of the most fantastic scenic overlooks you’ll ever witness.
I included the photo of this overlook for the main picture of the east side trails. I wanted you to be able to witness the power I witnessed. But seeing it for yourself is pretty dramatic. It’s slippery on that trail, so take safety precautions.
The Old Stoneface overlook is one of the best scenic overlooks in the Shawnee National Forest.
3. White Trail
In the summer, Bell Smith Springs can often host nearly 100 people, making it difficult to enjoy for some.
You’ll only see dedicated hikers at Bell Smith during the cold winter months. The ones who visit in the summer are there for the jumping spring. But the winter hiking, especially along the White Trail, is a fantastic experience to enjoy. The creeks are almost a deep blue, the rock formations reflect the water, and the area feels like something out of a dream.
Visiting Bell Smith Springs during the winter is something I look forward to every single year. It is like a new hike every time I go. Be careful; some areas can be slick, especially getting down the stairs into the canyon.
Bell Smith in the summer is excellent, but Bell Smith in the winter is something so incredible that you don’t want to miss experiencing it.
4. Indian Kitchen
Lusk Creek Wilderness is fantastic any time, but it’s a hidden gem of its own during the winter.
Take a saunter of the Indian Kitchen Trail and enjoy a wild wilderness hike to a reward worth the trip. The first few miles are simply a walk in the woods. But the result is impressive Lusk Creek waters, massive bluffs, and fascinating natural scenes. Use caution around the bluff, especially when going to the kitchen.
I remember seeing people ice climb up the bluff at the end of the trail where the swimming hole is. I could never do that myself, but it was amazing to watch it happen.
Add the Indian Kitchen Trail to your Southern Illinois winter hikes list, and you’ll thank yourself later.
5. Cedar Creek
Cedar Creek Wonders is among the best when it comes to Southern Illinois waterfalls.
Much of this hike is on the River to River Trail. But you also take some side loops to see impressive waterfalls that might be frozen during the winter. You can also see one of the smallest natural arches of the Shawnee National Forest, the Easter Basket Arch. The terrain can be rocky in steep in some areas. Be careful and watch your step.
I love going to Cedar Creek throughout every season. It’s full of spider webs in the summer, but worth seeing the waterfalls. There are no spider webs in the winter, and the falls might be frozen.
Check out this wonderful area and enjoy the memories it creates for you.
Southern Illinois Winter Hikes: West Side
The west side of Southern Illinois is often neglected year-round.
Southern Illinois winter hikes are amazing and worth the trip. Many people think there isn’t much on that side of the forest. They miss out on the hidden gems that they don’t visit. Many areas are nothing but ridgelines, but even they have their beauty in the winter.
I’ve visited places on the west side that probably haven’t got any new traffic since the last time I saw them. That is how easy it is for you to find solitude on the side of the forest.
You should definitely be planning some Southern Illinois winter hikes on the west side.
6. Snake Road
Are you afraid of snakes? Then you should hike Snake Road in the winter.
The snakes are asleep in the wintertime on Snake Road. You don’t have to worry about seeing them as much through the winter if you fear them. But seeing the road, its impressive tall bluffs, and the swamps that surround it during the winter is something you don’t want to miss. Some people have even seen turtles under the thick ice on Winter’s Pond. Like anywhere, exercise caution when visiting the area.
I love Snake Road all year long. During the warm months, we visit for snakes. During the cold months, we visit to explore the hills and ridgelines that cover the area.
Snake Road is a fantastic spot to visit, no matter the time of the year.
7. Ripple Hollow
Ripple Hollow is a great trail if you want to see an old-growth forest and exercise.
Ripple Hollow is mainly made up of deep ridges and rolling hills. Hiking in this area can be challenging for some. But after a winter of eating turkey and pies, you might desire some good outdoor exercise. Ripple Hollow is perfect for that. Plus, there are a lot of big trees to see in the deep canyons. Previous settlers couldn’t safely get to those areas to extract timber. Many of them are virgin-growth trees.
I recently did Ripple Hollow this year. It was our first time visiting for us. I enjoyed it, but you want to have a map of the area and understand topo and contour line reading. It can be pretty strenuous if you have to hike off the trail.
Ripple Hollow is best in winter because it grows during summer.
8. Horse Creek
Enjoy a glimpse of the Missouri Ozarks in Southern Illinois along the Horse Creek Trail.
Horse Creek is a beautiful trail to hike during the summer and winter. In the summer, there are a lot of stinging nettles to dodge. But all that dies down in the winter and makes the hike easier. The creek along the trail looks like something out of the Missouri Ozarks. This is because that same natural region slips into a small portion of this part of southern Illinois.
We enjoyed hiking this trail. The creek portions offered fantastic rockhounding opportunities, and you can find fossils in the rocks. The fossils are older than human beings. That’s a wonderful find!
Add Horse Creek to your list of Southern Illinois winter hikes, and you won’t be disappointed.
9. Buttermilk Hill
Buttermilk Hill is a challenging trail to follow during the summer months.
This is a known trail to many hikers and mountain bikers. But portions of the trail seem to vanish, and sometimes it’s hard to find. Hiking Buttermilk Trail in the winter months makes hiking a lot easier. You can see more, and getting off trail isn’t as dramatic as it is in the summer with all the ticks and undergrowth.
We like to start from the Kinkaid Spillways and go up through the dam trail. There are some rocky areas and bluffs to climb down, so please be careful. But there is more to see along this route, including the amazing Kinkaid Lake.
And the good news is that Buttermilk Trail should be getting some much-needed maintenance very soon.
10. Cedar Lake Trail
The Cedar Lake Trail will give you an easier tour of the lake with lovely walks in the forest.
If you want a safer winter hike around Cedar Lake, you should explore the Cedar Lake Trail on Boat Dock Road. It will take you to the Little Cedar Lake spillway area, where you could add some extra miles. It’s a great hike with scenic views of the lake, small creek crossings, and some bluffs. While it is an easier hike, some areas are slick, so please make sure you put safety first.
This is one of the better trails in the Cedar Lake area, aside from Cove Hollow and Lirley Trail. I enjoyed this walk, and I bet you would too.
This will make a great addition to your Southern Illinois winter hikes list.
It’s wintertime in Southern Illinois, and the hiking season is just beginning for many. The Southern Illinois winter hikes recommended above will help keep you hiking all winter. They are some of my favorite trails to hit when snow is on the ground, and the leaves are off the trees. If you’ve enjoyed this article, please share it and subscribe to my free monthly newsletter for more tips and hikes.
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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