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Explore the dramatic rock formations, cliffs and trails of the most visited site in the Shawnee National Forest. Millions of years in the making, the Garden of the Gods provides spectacular views unlike anywhere in the Midwest. See Camel Rock, Anvil Rock, Devil's Smoke Stack and other magnificent rock formations in this hiker’s and photographer’s wonderland.
Seasonal waterfalls, awe-inspiring bluffs and rugged canyons dominate the storied landscape at Starved Rock. Rich with history and beauty, Starved Rock’s hiking trails meander through towering trees and scenic overlooks along the Illinois River. Outdoor activities include hiking, canoeing, paddle boat cruises, cross-country skiing, trolley rides, fishing and picnicking. Visitors can stay at the historic Starved Rock Lodge or in one of its cozy cabins.
The Shawnee National Forest is famed for its awesome Garden of the Gods, and is home to the Rim Rock Recreational Trail (the forest has a system of 403 miles of equestrian/hiking trails). Hikers are greeted by magnificent jutting walls of rock covered with emerald-green moss, and paths that meander through canyons under the forest canopy. Nestled between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the stunning Shawnee National Forest landscape features rolling hills, lakes, creeks and rugged bluffs. If you’re into climbing than a must-see is Jackson Falls, located near the town of Ozark in the Hidden Springs Ranger District in Shawnee National Forest. The climb takes place on 60 feet of sandstone cliffs and boulders that include numerous freestanding towers.
Rolling agricultural fields, reclaimed strip mines, ravines, rocky streams and wooded bluffs dominate the northern half of the Tunnel Hill State Trail. With 47.8 miles (one-way) of crushed gravel surface, extended inclines and dark tunnels, this trail is a difficult one, but one not to pass up, as long as you’re up for the challenge. The southern half of the trail explodes with scenery that includes bottomland woods, ponds, streams and marshes. The trail, which winds through seven towns, even touches upon a handful of ghost towns that faded into the landscape after the trains here stopped running.
Kayak through canyons of skyscrapers and architectural wonders, or explore the waters just off beautiful Lake Michigan. Kayak Chicago is Chicago’s premier full-service outfitter, offering a variety of tours with certified instructors and guides. It’s a truly unique way to experience the urban landscape.
Canyons, streams, prairie and forest combine to delight visitors at Matthiessen State Park. Located in central LaSalle County, approximately four miles south of Utica and three miles east of Oglesby, Matthiessen is a paradise for those interested in geology as well as recreation. Visitors can expect to see beautiful rock formations in addition to unusual and abundant vegetation and wildlife. All of this, along with park and picnic facilities make Matthiessen State Park a popular choice for a special outing.
Looking for a jaw dropping, heart racing experience? Try Grafton’s newest attraction – a zip line that affords those brave enough a stunning river view and hours of fun. The nine zip lines total 1.75 miles, which should take approximately two hours to complete. The first of nine zip lines is nicknamed the Baby Bear – the shortest measuring only 300 feet in length. The longest, at 2,000 feet, is the Soaring Eagle, which has breathtaking views during its 250-foot descent. The Deer Hollow (3rd zip) and the Barn Burner (the final zip) are both 1,500 feet. The Limestone Leap (7th zip) is 1,300 feet, the River Run (5th zip) is 1,200 feet, the Gobblers Knob (6th zip) is 1,000 feet and the Road Runner (2nd zip) at 700 feet.
The Illinois River slices a 273-mile long path through the state—its waters lapping along the shores of many cities, including LaSalle, Peru, Peoria and Ottawa to name just a few. It’s in Ottawa where the Illinois River meets Buffalo Rock. Buffalo Rock sits like a sandstone island above the surrounding land and the Illinois River, and offers sweeping views of this famed waterway. Whether you’re kayaking or canoeing, you’ll experience the shear power of the winding river that was carved by glacial melt water in all its seasonal colors, with its various incarnations of forests, wetlands, bluffs and prairies to enjoy.
Scenic biking and hiking along a six-mile trail featuring views of the Galena River and towering bluffs.
This outfitter in Oglesby offers river rafting excursions on the Class 3 rapids of this popular stretch of the Vermillion River. With 14 sets of rapids on this 9-1/2 mile trip, Vermillion River Rafting will supply you with whatever your party needs: from rafts, paddles, life vests even rafting instructions. Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends and for parties of 5 or more.
Vertical Heartland Climbing School offers you an amazing opportunity to see Illinois from new heights. Perfect for rock climbing novices and experienced enthusiasts, Vertical Heartland offers hand-on instruction that’s provided by experienced guides with climbs tailored to suit your needs. Climbing services are available year round, seven days a week. Personal and group outings are scheduled by reservation. Reservations are preferred at least two weeks in advance.
An easy 30-minute drive from downtown Chicago places you squarely in this sprawling forest preserve. With 78 miles of wide and singletrack trails at an intermediate level of difficulty, you should expect the unexpected, starting with plenty of hills, fast descents, meandering paths and more.