Top places to visit on the Forest



Looking to explore glades, barrens, prairies, streams, lakes, ponds, waterfalls, woodlands and rocky outcrops? You can camp, paddle, hike, horseback ride, photograph, swim, run, hunt, fish and picnic at Shawnee National Forest. Check out these five spots, all within a short drive of each other.

No. 1 - Garden of the Gods: Most Instagrammed spot on the forest.

People flock to Garden of the Gods to see its jaw-dropping rock formations — such as Camel Rock and Devil’s Smokestack. Easily the most photographed location on the forest, this is the place to be photographed. Its flagstone trail makes hiking easy. Pack a lunch for the picnic area, or venture into the wilderness. Its location along the Ohio River National Scenic Byway makes it an ideal stop for those who prefer to explore by car – not foot.‚Äč

No. 2 - Rim Rock: Hike through Fat Man's Squeeze and a lush, cool canyon.

Hidden below Rim Rock is a canyon that is one of the most interesting places on Shawnee National Forest. Descend from the trail between huge slabs of rock – known as Fat Man’s Squeeze — and reach an enormous rock overhang that forms Ox-lot Cave. This is where European settlers once sheltered livestock. The cool canyon offers respite on a hot summer day and sports a diversity of plants and animals. If a cool dip is what you seek, then this trail ends at Pounds Hollow, No. 3 on our list.

No. 3 - Pounds Hollow: Take a refreshing dip.

Looking for a basecamp from which to explore Shawnee National Forest? Pounds Hollow campground may be your spot. Its campground and lake are tucked among Illinois’ hills, making it an ideal place to relax and get away. Constructed in the early 1940s, the lake is a popular place to swim, camp, fish and hike. So, after cooling off in the lake, grab a fishing pole and enjoy.

No. 4 - Iron Furnace: Get your history on, then snorkel in the stream.

Check out Illinois’ only remaining iron furnace structure, where iron once was manufactured using the charcoal blast method. Afterwards, head to Big Creek. Its clear waters are a great place to snorkel with kids. They will delight in its tiny fish and rocks.

No. 5 - Bell Smith Springs: Rocks, water and birds – oh my!

Nature geeks should head over to Bell Smith Springs – one of the most biologically diverse places on Shawnee National Forest. It’s a haven for migrating songbirds, such as scarlet tanager or white-eyed vireo. Visit in the springtime when wildflowers flourish among a backdrop of massive sandstone bluffs. Bell Smith Springs is beloved for its clear, rocky streams, scenic canyons and sandstone cliffs. It features strange and wonderful rock formations, such as Devil's Backbone and Boulder Falls. Hike its eight miles of interconnected trails, and check out its natural rock bridge.