Shawnee Nation Forest
A Hiking with Shawn
The Shawnee National Forest is home to quite a few designated wilderness areas. In fact, there are 7 designated wilderness areas within the Shawnee National Forest. These 7 different wilderness areas span from east to the middle to the west sides of the Shawnee National Forest. Each of the designated wilderness areas offer something unique to all sorts of forest users.
It is highly recommended that you explore the wilderness areas but do note the ruggedness and raw nature of what wilderness areas are supposed to be. In this series, we will dig deeper and explore each wilderness area in the Shawnee National Forest. Please support my efforts for creating this series by sharing it with others. And help keep our beautiful wilderness areas clean by practicing Leave No Trace and packing out what you pack in!
Shawnee National Forest Wilderness Areas: Rules & Information
In order for a designated wilderness area to thrive as a protected wilderness, rules and regulations have been put into place since the initial creation of wilderness areas. In the Shawnee National Forest, our designated wilderness areas share these common regulations:
- Motorized and mechanical vehicles and equipment are prohibited. This includes cars, trucks, jeeps, SUVs, ATVs/UTVs, chainsaws, power tools and bicycles. Yes, bicycles are prohibited from wilderness areas, for the time being. For bicyclists interested, check out this link to see information on testimonies taking place with policy makers on allowing the use of bicycles in wilderness areas which is now being endorsed by land managers who manage these areas. Hiking with Shawn officially supports the designation of bicycle trails in wilderness areas.
- Wilderness visitors should camp away from trails, bodies of water and bluff tops to lesson the impacts to the area. Camping is free in wilderness areas and does not require a permit or reservation. Camping is not allowed in Natural Areas located within wilderness areas. Campers should practice Leave No Trace and ensure all areas look natural before they leave a camp.
- There are no trash services in the wilderness areas of the Shawnee National Forest. This means that each forest user is responsible for their own trash. Please help us keep our public land beautiful by packing out what you pack in and practicing the core principles of Leave No Trace. Bury human waste at least 200’ feet from any trail, campsite or body of water 6-8 inches into the ground. Make sure campfires are cold-to-touch before abandoning them.
- If you can go without building a campfire, you should. If you must build a campfire (prohibited in Natural Areas), please use existing fire rings or dismantle new rings after you are finished with them. Use dead and downed limbs for firewood. Larger downed wood that is older may be serving as a home for wildlife – keep that in mind.
- Special restrictions are in effect for equestrian users in Garden of the Gods, Lusk Creek and Bay Creek Wilderness Areas. Entering a wilderness area between the dates of December 1 through March 31 in these 3 wilderness areas with a stock animal is prohibited. Entering Lusk Creek Wilderness with a stock animal when the area has received more than an inch of rainfall in a 24-hour period is prohibited during the months of April, May, September, October and November. Further restrictions may apply – contact US Forest Service for more information on equine regulations in the wilderness areas of the Shawnee National Forest.
- Special restrictions are in effect for all forest users in Garden of the Gods, Lusk Creek and Bay Creek Wilderness Areas on group sizes. No more than 10 people (or stock animals) may be in a group at any time in these three wilderness areas.
- Camping rules: Permanent structures may not be built. Campers may camp for up to 14-days on a continuous stay. Camping is prohibited in Natural Areas. Camping must take place at least 150’ from any trail, lake, stream or water source. Equestrian camping is not allowed in wilderness areas. No permit or reservation is required for camping in a wilderness area.
- Parking overnight is available at most wilderness area trailheads unless otherwise stated through posted signage.
Shawnee National Forest Wilderness Areas: Safety Information
Being safe in wilderness areas in the Shawnee National Forest should be your ultimate goal. You should click here for my Ultimate Safety Guide for enjoying the Shawnee National Forest. But for quick reference, the following safety tips are recommended for those using the wilderness areas of the Shawnee National Forest:
- Equestrian users are present. Hikers and backpackers should always yield to all horseback and mule riders. Allow the riders to pass and take in a friendly manner to the rider. See my Safety Guide for safely sharing the trail with Equine users for more information.
- Venomous snakes are present in the wilderness areas of the Shawnee National Forest. You can avoid negative experiences with venomous snakes by staying on the trail, giving the snake plenty of room for egress, watching your step and not handling the snake. Killing a snake on National Forest land is illegal and you are encouraged to report those types of criminal activities. Please share the forest with the wildlife that depends on it.
- Wilderness areas are rugged, hilly and dense. Hiking or riding stock animals in a wilderness area is not a simple walk in the park. You can expect rolling hills, rugged and steep terrain and many obstacles along the way. You should prepare for these rugged conditions and ensure you are in physical shape to be able to travel in them.
- Wilderness areas are large and contain thousands of acres. Getting lost in a wilderness area is very possible. You can avoid getting lost by staying on designated trails and understanding basic navigation. We suggest you use Avenza for your smartphone or you can purchase paper maps from Friends of the Shawnee National Forest. Always take a compass reading of the direction of where you start so you know which way it is to go back to the start.
- Make sure you take adequate gear and supplies when venturing into the wilderness. Basic gear should always include adequate food and water (creeks and water sources are not always running), water filter, extra clothing (to change wet clothing or for warmth), map/compass/GPS/app for navigation, tick and bug spray, whistle (for safety), appropriate clothing and footwear, toilet paper and hand shovel, basic first aid kit and a knife.
- Always try to hike with a friend and always tell someone where you plan to be hiking at before you go hiking in a wilderness area. This will help emergency first responders in an event that you don’t make it back home.
- The most common activity that results in serious injury or death in a wilderness area is falls from cliffs and bluffs. Please always watch your step and put safety before all else.
The 7 Shawnee National Forest Wilderness Areas
Let’s take a look at the 7 wilderness areas of the Shawnee National Forest. Each wilderness area has its own guide for further information and convenience:
- Bald Knob Wilderness – Bald Knob Wilderness is the second largest wilderness in the Shawnee National Forest, located on the west side of the forest located in Union County, Illinois. The wilderness area spans 5,793 acres of second-growth forest. Prominent features include Hutchins Creek which separates this wilderness and Clear Springs Wilderness and a portion of the River to River Trail runs through this wilderness area. The closest community to this wilderness area is Alto Pass and nearby attractions includes multiple wineries, vineyards and the Bald Knob Cross.
- Bay Creek Wilderness – Bay Creek Wilderness is a 2,866-acre wilderness area of the Shawnee National Forest in rural Pope County, Illinois. This wilderness is also a second-growth wilderness and named after Bay Creek, a wild and scenic river candidate that flows through many different parts of the Shawnee National Forest. Right next to this wilderness is Burden Falls Wilderness. There are some trails located within Bay Creek Wilderness. The closest community to this wilderness is Eddyville and nearby attractions include Bell Smith Springs and Jackson Hole.
- Burden Falls Wilderness – Burden Falls Wilderness is a popular 3,775-acre wilderness area of the Shawnee National Forest located in rural Pope County and Saline County, Illinois. The roadless second-growth forested wilderness is made popular by its waterfall which is the tallest waterfall in the Shawnee National Forest. Burden Falls Wilderness is bordered by Bay Creek Wilderness. The closest community to Burden Falls Wilderness is Eddyville.
- Clear Springs Wilderness – Clear Springs Wilderness is a 4,730-acre wilderness area in the Shawnee National Forest located in Jackson County and Union County, Illinois. This is the most-western wilderness area in the state of Illinois. This wilderness area is made up of a second-growth forest. The main features of this wilderness are a portion of the River to River Trail runs through it and Hutchins Creek separates it from Bald Knob Wilderness. The closest community to this wilderness is Wolf Lake and area attractions include LaRue Pine Hills and Inspiration Point.
- Garden of the Gods Wilderness – Garden of the Gods Wilderness is a 3,318-acre wilderness area of the Shawnee National Forest located in Hardin, Pope, Saline and Gallatin counties of Illinois. This wilderness is the most-eastern wilderness area in the state of Illinois. This wilderness is popular by the trails Observation Trail which includes the famous rock formation, Camel Rock and Indian Point which is its popular backpacking trail. Garden of the Gods Wilderness features many rock formations, scenic overlooks, a variety of different trails and various creeks. The closest community to Garden of the Gods Wilderness is Equality.
- Lusk Creek Wilderness – Lusk Creek Wilderness is a 6,293-acre wilderness area of the Shawnee National Forest located in Pope County, Illinois. Lusk Creek Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in the Shawnee National Forest. Luck Creek Wilderness is very popular among equestrian users as well as kayak/canoe users. There are several popular hiking areas in this wilderness as well and many different interesting points of interest. The River to River Trail passed through Lusk Creek Wilderness. The closest community to Lusk Creek Wilderness is Eddyville.
- Panther Den Wilderness – Panther Den Wilderness is a 1,195-acre wilderness area of the Shawnee National Forest located in Union County, Illinois. Panther Den Wilderness is the smallest of all the wilderness areas in the Shawnee National Forest. Panther Den Wilderness is known for its interesting rock formations and for the River to River Trail which passes through it. Panther Den Wilderness Borders Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge which also has a wilderness area of its own and is the oldest wilderness area in the state of Illinois but is managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The closest community to Panther Den Wilderness is Carbondale.
In conclusion, the Shawnee National Forest has its fair share of wilderness areas. Wilderness areas are meant to be as natural as the area once was with little or no modern technologies within them. Wilderness areas are where nature and wildlife can actually thrive with little human interruption. As long as you use common sense, put safety first and plan for your visit-you are very encouraged to enjoy the various wilderness areas of the Shawnee National Forest. We hope you have enjoyed this guide of the Wilderness Areas of the Shawnee National Forest.
Shawn J. Gossman
Hi Shawn, I just want to thank you for all the hiking info you provide. I first became acquainted with Shawnee in the late 1970’s when I was a student at SIU, and have been coming back ever since (driving down from Chicagoland). My most recent visit was Bell Smith Springs (a decade since my previous visit) and your info on off-trail attractions there really added to the experience. There aren’t many places I haven’t visited, but I’ve never ventured far into the Burden Falls/Bay Creek wilderness. Is there a good multi-day route in that area? My favorite overnighter is a counter-clockwise loop starting from from East Trigg TH: through Cove Hollow; then south under the tracks and up the ridge with views of Bay Creek 5; over the ridge to follow the bluff line on the right around to Jackson Falls; cross the tracks for a side trip to a wet weather waterfall; then through Jackson Hollow and back to the road walk south back to East Trigg. This route has extraordinary scenic sights, and Jackson Hollow can be challenging in spots with a full pack and no clear trail.
I love the East Trigg/Jackson Hollow area. We try to make it during leaf off when it is wetter (sadly we’re in a drought). Thanks for the kind words, I really appreciate it!