During the 1800s, the Shawnee National Forest was home to several stops on the Underground Railroad; enslaved people traveled between safe waypoints on the way to freedom in the North. Today, it's a protected area with historical markers that help you learn about the brave people who once journeyed through the tree-covered hills. As it was in the past, Shawnee is an area of remarkably diverse natural beauty and recreational opportunities—in one day, you can hike up otherworldly stone bluffs, fish in 11 different lakes, or get a thrill on a high-speed motorbike ride. Whether you're in the mood for adventure or relaxation, a slew of activities awaits visitors year-round.
An RV is an excellent way to explore the Shawnee National Forest. Whether you make a home base in one campground or drive to different spots, your RV is a home away from home no matter the season. Make the most of your vacation by renting an RV through RVshare from a local owner; pick the model that fits your group size to ensure that your crew sleeps comfortably and wakes up ready for adventure.
If you're traveling in the summer months, book a site at the Oak Point Campground. It's located on the banks of a small lake in the Lake Glendale Recreation Area, so you can spend your time swimming, fishing, and boating. Arrive early to get one of the 34 sites with electric and water hookups; there are also 25 rustic sites available. Inside the campground, you'll find a dump station, bathrooms, a shower house, and playgrounds. Rates start at $22 per night for partial hookups and $12 a night for basic sites.
Stay close to the Garden of the Gods at the Pharaoh Campground. This area is open all year on a first-come, first-served basis. Sites are basic, and you'll find vault toilets and drinking water close by. Every campsite offers a table and a grill. Rates are just $10 per night, and each spot accommodates up to eight people.
You'll find full hookups and an array of amenities at the Marion Campground & RV Park. Every site offers a Wi-Fi connection and cable TV, and showers sit a short walk away. Choose from pull-through and back-in sites to accommodate your RV. If you're bringing kids or pets, check out the playground and walking area. Within the campground, you can use the laundromat and meet other campers in the lounge. Rates start at $39.95 per night.
Located a few minutes off I-24, the Shawnee Forest Campground makes it easy to get off the road and into camp quickly. Every site offers full hookups, and many spots are pull-through to accommodate your big rig. After you set up camp, head out to the catch-and-release fishing ponds or stroll the 2-mile trail network. The clean bathhouses offer hot showers, and you can take advantage of the laundry facilities during your stay. With its rolling landscape and wealth of trees, this campground makes a beautiful home base. Rates vary; call for details.
The Rim Rock Trail is short, but it packs in some of the most beautiful scenery in the Shawnee National Forest. The route runs along a rocky bluff, offering views of the forest. It's particularly beautiful in the spring, when wildflowers create fields of riotous color. If you want a longer hike, take the stairs down to the bottom and walk through the bizarre rock formations and the enormous Ox-lot Cave.
Length: .8 miles
Intensity: Easy to Moderate
The Garden of the Gods is the most popular site in the Shawnee National Forest; explore it on the wilderness trails that wind through the massive rock towers. For a quick stroll, take the 0.25-mile Observation Trail. For a more exciting hike, create your own route with the unnamed wilderness routes that take you around the pinnacles, through the forest, and to the edge of high, rocky cliffs.
Length: 16.9 miles
Intensity: Easy to Difficult
Check out a 90-foot rock bridge on the Pomona Natural Bridge Trail. This kid-friendly hike takes you past rock walls, down to a creek, and past a beautiful overlook point that shows off the natural bridge in all its glory. You can even hike right over the top of the bridge, which is tucked in the forest and covered in moss. Wear sturdy shoes as the rocks can be slippery when it's raining.
Length: .3 miles
Hike deep into a box canyon on the Little Grand Canyon Trail. The 3-mile loop travels past waterfalls and wild rock formations on its way to the canyon bottom. The canyon itself is remarkably green, with brilliant moss and the trees on the rim giving the light a glowing quality. You can do the entire hike in about three hours, but it's a good idea to leave extra time to explore the side trails and take in the beauty of the canyon.
Length: 3 miles
Intensity: Moderate to Difficult
With its rolling terrain and pastoral views, the Buttermilk Hill Trail is a lovely hike any time of year. If possible, visit in the fall—when the leaves change, the trail is covered with a breathtaking array of colorful leaves. Most of the trail is moderate, but you'll encounter a few steep sections.
Length: 7.9 miles
As soon as you see the One Horse Gap Trail, you'll understand where the name comes from. As it traverses the space between two bluffs, the trail narrows dramatically, leaving room for just one horse. This multiuse route accommodates hikers and equestrians. Stick to One Horse Gap Trail for a short, easy hike, or hop on one of the other trails that branch off it to extend your adventure.
Length: 1.4 miles
Intensity: Easy to Moderate
If you're up for a challenge, head straight for the popular Godwin Trail. Between the east and west trailhead, it passes through the Clear Springs Wilderness and the Bald Knob Wilderness. The first section is the most challenging, with intense climbs to stunning exposed ridgelines. To break up the hike, take time for a picnic near the lovely Hutchins Creek.
Length: 6.7 miles one-way
The Shawnee National Forest covers more than 265,000 acres; you can find a new activity for every hour of your visit. If you have time for just one thing, head straight to the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area. Here, massive sandstone pillars peek out of the forest, creating spectacular views and hiking opportunities including great stargazing at night. For a relaxing day, take a drive along LaRue Hills Road or the Ohio River National Scenic Byway.
With 11 lakes, 53 ponds, and a number of streams, the forest offers excellent fishing for the whole family. Alternatively, rent a canoe or a kayak and paddle Lusk Creek. This region is fascinating for ecology and bird-watching enthusiasts; you'll find varying plant and animal species in the bottomlands, hills, and plains. Other popular activities include horseback riding, OHV riding, geocaching, and picnicking.
If you're a history buff, don't miss the fascinating Underground Railroad sites in the forest. Hike to Sand Cave to see a hiding place along the escape route. At Miller Grove Cemetery, you can see what's left of a community of free African American people. In Golconda, see where escaped enslaved people were detained if they were caught.
Address: 50 Hwy 145 South, Harrisburg, IL 62946
Fee: Entry fee $0
Whether you're coming for the fascinating history or the beautiful scenery, the Shawnee National Forest has activities to keep you busy for days. Explore on foot, or enjoy scenic drives through the trees any time of year. An RV is a great way to see the forest; it acts as your mobile home base and enables you to camp comfortably no matter the weather.