Shawnee National Forest
The Shawnee National Forest, southwest of Centralia, Illinois, is nestled between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The landscape of this natural beauty features all sorts, from open lands, rolling hills, and creeks to forests, lakes, and rugged bluffs. The mild weather in the area is perfect for a visit during any season throughout the year. This forest is considered the sole largest publicly owned land body by the State of Illinois.
The Shawnee National Forest is a recreational wonderland. It’s home to beautiful scenery, a vast range of animals roaming free around the area, rivers, trails, and wildlife. This national park offers visitors plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation such as camping, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
Camping at the Shawnee National Forest is one of the wonderful ways to get close to nature and experience all the beauty of this wilderness. Tent campers have the option of utilizing either the established campsites or the dispersed campgrounds.
Below is a list of campgrounds and their features.
- Located at Garden of Gods
- Open year-round
- 12 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis
- Sites are at $10 a night
- Not ideal for RV camping because the spaces are small
- Toilets, picnic tables, and drinking water are available
Pine Ridge Campground
- Located near Garden of Gods
- Access to Pond’s Hollow Lake
- 13 electric sites
- 22 non-electric sites
- Sites are on a first-come, first-served basis at $10 per night
- Great for tents and small trailers
- Has drinking water, toilets, picnic tables, and accessible sites
- Located in Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area
- 21 sites available
- No reservation required
- Sites are at $10 each per night
- Perfect area for hikers
- Direct access to Devil’s Backbone, Boulder Falls, scenic views, and hidden springs
- Offers accessible camping, toilets, drinking water, and parking
- No electrical hookups. Best for tents and small trailers
Pine Hills Campground
- Nestled within the Pine Trees
- 13 campsites
- Good for tents and small trailers
- A remote site without access to drinking water and electrical hookups
- First-come, first-served at $10 a night
Trail of Tears Campground
- Located close to Little Grand Canyon, Pomona Natural Bridge, and Larue-Pine,
- Secluded campground
- Best suited for car camping and backpacking
- Log shelters and adjacent privies included
- A standard site at $8 per night
- Shelters are available for $25
- Group camping is also accommodated
- Close from December 24th to the end of the Spring Wild Turkey Hunting Season
For those looking for a bit more privacy, dispersed camping is allowed in many areas of the park. Primitive campsites can be found near streams and lakes, while natural areas are off-limits without permits. Vehicles should remain in overnight parking areas.
The Shawnee National Forest is one of the best places for hiking adventures. This park offers a wide range of hiking opportunities for beginners and pros.
Some of the best hiking spots in the area are as follows.
Garden of the Gods
The Garden of the Gods is the most popular hike trail in the park and is only a few distances from Centralia, Illinois. The length of the whole trail is 5.5 miles. A short mile hike within the Garden of the Gods will bring you to the Observation Trail, which features a scenic view of the Shawnee Forest woodlands and the natural sculpture of sandstone formations. The famous rock formations Camel Rock, Anvil Rock, and Mushroom Rock can also be seen while traversing the trail.
The Observation Trail includes wooden and stone steps in the middle. Various histological and geological features are highlighted within the signs along the trail.
Cave-in-Rock State Park
The Cave-in-Rock is a landmark of the Ohio River. This cavern has a 55 feet wide mouth leading to the white limestone interior. The cave has a rich history as it was used for shelter by people and explorers both in the 1700s and 1800s because of its natural chimney.
Little Grand Canyon
The Little Grand Canyon hike trail is 2.9 miles long and can take about 3- hours to finish. The highest point of the asphalt walk is a side trail that can provide a nice view of the Big Muddy River and Mississippi River on the far western part and the Swallow Rock on the northern part. This is also a great place for photo opportunities during the sunset.
The Heron Pond is a piece of wetlands located near Belnap, Illinois, and part of the Cache River State Natural Area. This area is a local habitat for over 100 endangered plants and animals within the Ohio River flood plain.
Ferne Clyffe – Waterfall
This waterfall hike at Ferne Clyffe Waterfall is a must-see and must-go adventure. Along the hike are magnificent formations made by the natural flow of water over the limestone. Within the path to the waterfall is a 5-foot wide and 20 feet long bridge crossing over a small creek that you can go to for extra adventure.
The area within Shawnee Forest is blessed with different water bodies abundant with fish hence fishing is also a popular pursuit here. The main species of fish found in the park include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, rock bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, catfish, carp, and walleye. The largemouth bass is typically found in the warmer part of the water.
Fishing lovers are welcomed to catch the local fishes while enjoying the relaxing views of the Mississippi River, Ohio River, and Big Muddy River.
With a vast land of different landscapes and natural habitats, the Shawnee Forest provides a perfect hunting spot for hunt enthusiasts. Thousands of hunt sports lovers flock to this venue to go for a hunt. Both residents and non-residents can hunt within the forest as long as guidelines are followed. The diverse wildlife in the forest includes doves, furbearers, upland game, waterfowl, deer, and turkey.
Hunting types allowed at Shawnee Forest include shotguns, rifles, longbows, recurve bows, compound bows, traps, muzzleloaders, and firearms as long as you carry a license and permit. Make sure to adhere to the laws of the land when it comes to hunting.
Miles of equestrian trails are also an attraction at the national park. These trails are available in almost every part of the area including equestrian campsites and cabins. Beginner riders can start with a smaller trail. On the other hand, advanced riders can traverse through the winding equestrian trails in the park. However, be sure to reserve time with a trail guide because the path is difficult to navigate.
Boating and Fishing
The Shawnee National Park offers ample opportunity for visitors to enjoy the beauty of nature from the vantage point of a boat. With two large rivers and many smaller streams running through the park, there are plenty of areas where visitors can find a quiet spot to relax and take in the scenery. The park also has a number of marinas, making it easy for boaters to get set up for a day on the water.
Southern Illinois has a rich history of grape-growing and wine production. Even today, the region is home to dozens of vineyards and wineries. If you’re looking for an interesting day trip or want to learn more about Illinois wines, be sure to tour some of Southern Illinois’ vineyards and wineries. The area offers stunning views of the Shawnee National Forest, as well as a host of activities and attractions that make it a great destination for wine lovers of all ages.
From Shawnee National Forest Herod, IL 62946,
Take State Rte 4 S, N Mudline Rd and IL-152 E/W Main St to N Hickory in Du Quoin, follow US-51 N to Co Hwy 23 in Du Bois Township, turn right onto Co Hwy 23, follow US-51 N to E Noleman St in Centralia, then turn right onto E Noleman St (Destination will be on the left).
The Shawnee National Forest is the perfect place for outdoor fun and adventure. It’s close enough to Centralia, IL, that you can easily take a day trip or spend an entire weekend exploring one of Illinois’ most scenic national forests.