The days are longer and it’s time to trade some screen time for some green(ery) time! Get the family back outside and take time to reconnect with nature and one another. There’s no better place to do that than with a summer adventure to the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, only a few hours from many major metropolitan areas such as Chicago and St. Louis.
Take time to enjoy one of the many beautiful hikes in the forest which range in difficulty to accommodate hikers of all ages and experience. The most popular area for hiking, and the second most photographed site in the state is Garden of the Gods. A short 1/4-mile hike from the parking lot will put you on top of this unique geological structure and offers expansive views of the Illinois wilderness.
Pounds Hollow recreation area is the perfect place to spend a day with the family. The area has a large 25-acre lake, hiking and equestrian trails that take you up into the surrounding hills. Or, let the kids take a swim at the beach or fish from the convenient pier. Rent a kayak to paddle around the lake from the Garden of the Gods Outpost. There are also picnic tables available for a lunch in the trees.
Those looking for a longer hike can take on the 3-mile Little Grand Canyon Trail that winds through the base of the canyon along the towering, 300-foot bluffs.
Rim Rock, Millstone Bluff, Sand Cave, Burden Falls, and Jackson Falls are just a few of the other areas to hike and enjoy. Shawnee National Forest has a hike or natural wonder that any member of the family won’t soon forget.
Activities for the Whole Family
Hiking isn’t the only way to enjoy the Shawnee Forest. Families can also enjoy canoeing and kayaking on many of the 11 lakes in the forest, enjoy the miles of equestrian trails, with horse and pony rental at Giant City Stables or Lake Glendale Stables. The adventurous may want to take a canopy tour through the forest that includes 8 zip lines, 3 suspension bridges at Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour.
Also, nature and wine lovers alike can all agree that the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is a must visit. This 35-mile stretch of highway 127 and 51 delights visitors, taking them over rolling hills through the Shawnee National Forest and delivering them to any of the 11 award-winning wineries along the way. Families traveling along the trail can stop for a picnic or visit one of the specialty shops, or take the scenic drive up Bald Knob mountain for a scenic view of the forest below.
As the sun starts to set, there are many places to gather the family around the campfire to share stories, talk about your favorite of the day’s events, and roast a marshmallow or two. If you’re looking for a night under the stars or full RV hook-ups, the Shawnee Forest Campground is a great spring break home base. This campground is close to many Shawnee hiking trails and also has two miles of walking paths that are wrapped around the two large ponds, perfect for catch-and-release fishing.
For a rustic cabin getaway, there are a few options. Shawnee Forest Cabins has fully furnished one and two-bedroom cabins where the whole family can cozy up for a night’s sleep before tomorrow’s adventure begins. Some of the cabins even have hot tubs, an ideal place to relax and take in the fresh spring air, and maybe enjoy a bottle of wine you picked up on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.
Larger families might want to check out Willowbrook Cabins. They offer two- and three-bedroom cabins at varying price points that fit any budget. The largest can accommodate up to 11 people. And, don’t worry, there’s also a hot tub! You can even try for a night in a treehouse! For a complete listing of lodging options in the Shawnee Forest Country, check https://southernmostillinois.com/stay/
While you’re planning your family’s summer activities, consider an adventure in the Shawnee National Forest. Hike, paddle, swim, drink, eat, and enjoy quality family time. There’s something for everyone in the Shawnee National Forest at a price that makes sense.