10 Strenuous Hikes in the Shawnee National Forest

There are quite a few strenuous hikes in the Shawnee National Forest.

Those last two words (“to enjoy”) might make some of you look at this article twice. Who in their right mind wants to go on a strenuous hike?

Many people do!

If you’re training for a longer hiker like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, a strenuous hike can help you build the strength and fitness to do it.

These hikes are great if you’re a trail runner and want to improve your abilities.

Some hikers enjoy harder hikes from time to time. It will effectively help you become a stronger hiker. You’ll get better at hiking.

And some folks, well, No Pain-No Gain!

So, if you’re one of the folks above, I got 10 different Strenuous Hikes in the Shawnee National Forest for you to try. Be sure to revisit this article and tell me how they were!


Safety Information about Strenuous Hikes in the Shawnee National Forest

First, we must cover safety information about strenuous hikes in the Shawnee National Forest.

You better read this part. If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for hiking safety, and I expect every one of you to leave with good memories, not bad injuries. Don’t make Sasquatch Shawn come get you – always put safety first.

Do it for yourself. Do it for your loved ones. Do it for me. Please.

Before you do any strenuous hikes in the Shawnee National Forest, please consult your medical provider and make sure you’re healthy enough to do it. Hiking is good for you but can be bad for you if you have some underlying condition. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

These hikes are tough! They consist of areas with steep ridgelines and challenging hills. The trails are often technical and rocky. In the summer, they’re grown up, and snakes might also be around-venomous. In the winter or during wet weather, everything is often really slippery. Understand the conditions and difficulties before you try these hikes.

Make sure you bring plenty of water and food. Take the essential gear you need to enjoy these strenuous hikes in the Shawnee National Forest safely.

To summarize, put safety before everything else and use common sense.


Strenuous Hikes in the Shawnee National Forest on the West Side

These strenuous hikes are located on the west side of the Shawnee National Forest around Carbondale, Murphysboro, Anna, and those areas. The west side of the National Forest has a lot of steep ridgelines and challenging hills.

1 – Little Grand Canyon

Little Grand Canyon is a 3.5-mile loop hiking trail. It’s rugged, especially when wet, because you’ll hike down a system of waterfalls. It can be quite dangerous when wet and impossible to hike when frozen. Please be careful here, but this is a great place for a fitness hike or trail run because of the elevation and rolling hills along the trail.

Check my free trail guide for this area; it can be found on All Trails.

2 – Godwin to Godwin

Godwin East to Godwin West is about 12 miles long and stretches through Bald Knob and Clear Springs Wilderness areas. Beautiful wild and scenic river candidate Hutchins Creek is in the middle and could be challenging if flooding occurs. Expect a lot of rolling hills, ridgelines, and tough conditions along this trail.

Check out my free guides for Bald Knob Wilderness and Clear Springs Wilderness. This trail is also available on Avenza.

3 – Atwood Ridge

Atwood Ridge has almost 20 miles of trails within it. There is over 2,000’ of elevation. I’ve hiked some of it, possibly the hardest area on the west side. The trails are steep and rugged. This area has a lot of jeeps, and ATV damage, so be careful around severely eroded areas.

This area is available on All Trails.

4 – Ripple Hollow

Ripples Hollow earns a spot in the strenuous hikes in the Shawnee National Forest because of its steep ridgelines, rolling hills, and trails that can be difficult to navigate. This area is heavily used during hunting season, so be sure to avoid it when the bullets are flying through the air.

Check out the Forest Service page for this area. A map of this area will soon be available for Avenza, so check back soon.

5 – Trail of Tears State Forest

Trail of Tears State Forest has several miles of old fire roads you can hike or trail run on. There is even a trail used for cross-country training by local high schools. The trails are tough and very hilly. But there are enough trails within the system to enjoy many strenuous hikes.

Check out the official website for Trail of Tears State Forest. These trails are also listed on All Trails.

Strenuous Hikes in the Shawnee National Forest on the East Side

There are quite a few strenuous hikes in the Shawnee National Forest on the eastern side, too. The good thing about the east side is that there is typically more to see. So, you get a better view of interesting things while huffing and puffing while trying to catch your breath.


6 – Hitching Post to Eagle Mountain

Hitching post to Eagle Mountain is one of the best strenuous hikes in the Shawnee National Forest on the eastern side. This Forest Service Road is known as Horton Hill Road. It is 6.7 miles from start to finish. There are numerous hills, and due to off-road vehicle and ATV damage, there are some large mud holes to get around.

You can find this Forest Service Road on the Gaia App. I use OnXHunt for navigating roads like these.

7 – Crest Trail

The Crest Trail is a trail that’s had the name for a long time but has never been an official trail. It starts at the Tecumseh Statue at Glen O Jones Lake and goes to Stoneface utilizing Eagle Mountain. It is an out-and-back, tough hike with challenging hills and grown-up trails. It’s easy to get lost in, but it is an adventure.

I recommend using a map and compass or an app like OnXHunt to help navigate this hike.

8 – Backdoor of Garden of the Gods

There are two Backdoor to Garden of the Gods hikes. There are both user made routes that use a combination of multiple trails. One route is around 10 miles, and the other is around 13 miles. They give you a lot to see but are challenging with rolling hills and steep terrain.

Check out my Garden of the Gods Wilderness Guide for information about the area. You can find both of these routes on All Trails.

9 – Shawnee Challenge (Legacy Trail)

I came up with the original idea of the Shawnee Challenge. The old challenge route makes an excellent addition to these strenuous hikes of the Shawnee National Forest. It’s a 10.5-mile out-and-back trail with plenty of hills and technical terrain. You could even use a mountain bike since the route uses designated hiking and biking trails. It will take you from Dixon Springs State Park to Lake Glendale.

Check out my Dixon Springs State Park and Lake Glendale Recreation Area trail guides. You can download the Shawnee Challenge map for free on Avenza.

10 – Trail 049

Trail 049 is among my favorite strenuous hikes in the Shawnee National Forest and one of my favorite trails. It starts on Trigg Tower Road and loops through Jackson Falls, Millstone Lake, and everything else. It’s technical with creek crossings, hilly, and steep in some areas. It’s a great fitness trail.

Check out my guide for Trail 049 for more information. This hike is also available on Avenza.

And that completes my list of strenuous hikes in the Shawnee National Forest. These hiking routes are great choices for speed hiking, trail running, and general hiking, where fitness is a goal. Most of these trails are used less by the tourist types of hikers. Enjoy them, but always put safety first. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to my mailing list to get notified of more like it.

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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!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

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

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