There is no question that regional road trips have become extremely popular this year – with many folks focusing on what is right in their own backyard for ‘staycations.’ For plenty of regional travel ideas, check-in here for ideas with Downstate Illinois Road Trip Roundup on themed topics showcasing several destinations across the southern portion of the state. National Take a Hike Day is this week, so we’re focusing on some of the best places to hike throughout Downstate Illinois!
Shawnee Forest Country
Garden of the Gods and Rim Rock/Pounds Hollow Recreational area are two must see locations on the eastern side of the Shawnee National Forest. Both are located just off Karbers Ridge blacktop 30 minutes from Harrisburg. Garden of the Gods consists of spectacular overlooks and views of unusual rock formations. One formation, known as Camel Rock, is featured in the America the Beautiful Quarter Program representing Illinois and came out in 2016. Garden of the Gods has been listed in “USA Today” as one of “Ten Great Places to Get Nature on Film”. There are two main trail systems. The “Observation Trail” is a .25 mile stone path featuring some of the most well known formations. The view of the 3300 acres of beautiful old growth forest from this trail is breathtaking. Sunsets are especially beautiful. The Wilderness area is over 320 million years old. The sediment rock in this area is over 4 miles deep and the fractured bedrock has created some interesting rock formations that represent various objects.
There are other trails which interconnect for plenty of hiking. For those people who want even more extensive hiking River to River Trail enters the east end of the area from High Knob and proceeds south below the rock formations before bearing west again. River to River Trail is a trail system which stretches across Illinois from the Ohio River to the Mississippi.
Rim Rock/Pounds Hollow Recreational area consists of a wonderful scenic trail of exceptional beauty and historic values. The trail leads past remnants of a stone wall built by prehistoric Native Americans, an observation platform and steps descending through huge rock formations, narrow rock passageways via stone steps to the floor below. Ox Lot Cave, at the bottom, is a massive rock overhang where 19th century loggers kept their oxen and horses. Continue hiking to the beautiful 28 acre forest lake known as Pounds Hollow Lake, or through massive sandstone canyons back to the top of the escarpment. The upper trail is paved and less strenuous for hikers. The lower trail has a dirt surface and leads along the base of the bluffs before looping back to the parking lot.
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”
Southern Illinois is a destination for hikers of all experience levels! Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Williamson County is great for hiking and observing! This impressive location has trails ranging in difficulty and scenery. The Rocky Bluff Trail is a moderately difficult trail that has beautiful waterfalls and steep bluffs. It also has 60 varieties of wildflowers and a number of various wildlife to observe. Another great spot at the Refuge is the River to River Trail. This trail spans throughout 160 miles of Southern Illinois. Five miles of the trail runs through the Refuge and it is open seasonally to horseback riding. There are a number of other great spots and great views you won’t want to miss! Just outside Williamson County is the Shawnee National Forrest. This incredible area has 403 miles of hiking and equestrian trails. It is also home to The Garden of the Gods, a must see when in Southern Illinois. Hiking with Shawn can be found on social media platforms and is a great resource for all things outdoors!
Experiencing a little cabin fever? Stretch your legs and hit the trails in Effingham! Our TREC trail system is a public trail designed to create recreational opportunities for residents and visitors, alike. The trails provide a great place to connect with nature and get moving… It’s the perfect destination for walkers, runners, bikers or any outdoor-enthusiasts! The mission of the TREC trail system is to develop a countywide, multi-use trail system, to educate communities on the benefits of trails, and to promote an active lifestyle by providing recreational activities. With beautiful views, impressive infrastructure and a bridge that crosses both I-57 and I-70, there’s so much to see on the TREC trails! Be sure to stop by the Effingham Visitor’s Center, on your way, and pick up a map of the trails or get directions to one of the multiple trail entrances.
Please, be considerate of others while using the public trails by maintaining a smart social distance of six feet and wearing a mask to protect others.
There is no shortage of great places in ILLINOISouth to get out and take a hike. One of the most scenic places in our territory to enjoy nature, no matter the time of year is Piney Creek Ravine in Randolph County. From trickling streams to beautiful bluffs and ravines, this Nature Preserve is a great moderate level hike. Not to mention, Piney Creek Ravine is home to the largest collection of prehistoric rock art of any area in Illinois. Check out centuries old petroglyphs and pictographs carved into the bluffs! Monroe County is also great for hiking – and has trails in a wide range of difficulty. The views from Salt Lick Point Land and Nature Preserve and Fults Hill Prairie Nature Preserve are both AWESOME, as there are several observation points from the top of these bluffs. For a little more flat terrain, Pyramid State Recreation Area in Perry County boasts over 16 miles worth of trails to trek – many of which have great views of some of Pyramid’s 24 different lakes and bodies of water. To get a glimpse of some of the tallest trees in ILLINOISouth, head to Beall Woods State Park in Wabash County. Beall Woods is home to one of the last remaining tracts of virgin timber east of the Mississippi River, which means trees here can be as tall as 12 stories, and as wide as three feet in diameter. No matter where you choose, your outdoor adventure awaits.
Take a hike in Southern Illinois!