3-5 Days | 383 Miles | in Outdoors & Regional, 4-5 Days
Sometimes the grandeur of the natural world calls us. It beckons us to go outside and get some fresh air. And with majestic rock formations, picturesque hills, lush woodlands, breathtaking bluffs, there’s no better place to do it than the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois.
Make sure to check with attractions ahead of time for up-to-date operating hours, travel policies and health and safety information.
Start your day at Crab Orchard Lake. If you’d like to spend the day out on the water, boat rentals are available. Also nearby is the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge visitor center. Here, you can learn about the natural beauty of Southern Illinois before venturing out to see the wildlife on the nature trails or trying your luck at fishing. If you have time, stop into the tasting room at Walker’s Bluff Winery.
Now head south to the Cache River Wetlands Center where you’ll find information about the wetlands and its recreational opportunities. The center also has an extensive natural and cultural history exhibit, wildlife viewing and more. Then, it’s time to explore! The Section 8 Boardwalk passes through a cypress-tupelo swamp and a floodplain forest. There’s interpretive panels to help you identify the many tree species lining the boardwalk.
After a day of exploration, enjoy wine and a meal at the Cache River Basin Vineyard & Winery Restaurant. To rest up for the next day’s adventures, the vineyard has onsite cabins where you can enjoy a furnished kitchen, sauna and hot tub.
Start your day at Garden of the Gods, an incredibly impressive set of unique sandstone rock formations with panoramic views that make it one of the most photographed natural areas in the state. On the road in, look out for Sassy the Bigfoot, a quirky roadside photo-op that Bigfoot fans should not miss. Also nearby is Cave-In-Rock State Park, featuring an impressive 55-foot wide cave. Snap some pics and explore the trails. There are great options nearby for lunch including The Red Onion, known for their impressive steaks, and the floating E-Town River Restaurant.
Time to explore Giant City State Park! If your feet are starting to tire, Giant City Stables offers guided horseback trail rides, as well as lessons and pony rides for younger horse lovers. If you want to experience the trees from above, a Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour will have you flying high on a thrilling zipline ride. For a bite, Giant City Lodge is a great option for lunch or dinner. They’re known for their family-style fried chicken...need we say more? The lodge also has accommodation options for an overnight stay.
If you haven’t had your fill of the beautiful Shawnee Forest area yet, there are plenty of other ways to explore. The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail features 11 award-winning wineries located along a 35-mile scenic drive along Illinois Route 127 and U.S. Route 51. If you prefer to get your steps in on the golf course, the Southern Illinois Golf Trail is another great set of stops to base your trip around. Up for a challenge? Do some biking on the Tunnel Hill State Trail, a 47.8 mile trail that starts in Harrisburg. It’s a difficult -- but beautiful -- ride that weaves through reclaimed strip mines, ravines, rocky streams, bottomland woods, ponds and more.