If you’re ever in Southern Illinois you must make a stop in Shawnee National Forest to hike. When you think of Illinois you might only think of the main attractions in the northern area of the state. However the southern area is gorgeous, full of adventure and far away from the traps of metro areas.

We entered the state via the Cave-in-Rock Ferry, crossing the Ohio River with other vehicles on a choppy day. The ferry is free and drops you off right by Cave-in-Rock State Park. It was flooded so we had to skip it, but we’ll be back.


Garden of the Gods is about 30 minutes from CIR when you head north on Illinois 1. If you need food, gas or really anything stop before you leave Cave In Rock – there’s not much available past that point.

Garden of the Gods has numerous trail options.  We chose the observation trail with Camel Rock. We had alot of ground to cover so we didn’t spend the full hour needed to explore the whole trail.  Be careful on all of the GOG trails, you are on the side of a cliff a majority of the time.

We’ve been to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. The Illinois version is nothing like the Colorado version. Don’t expect there to be any similarities. Both are unique to their areas, both are spectacular in their own right and both are worth exploring.


When you’re almost to Garden of the Gods you’ll see a little ice cream shop, look to the left and you’ll see the Shawnee Big Foot. It’s a fun little stop for a quick photo.


Pay attention to your kids because one tumble and it’s all over and there’s no signal to call for help.

Which brings me to another tip, let someone know you’re going into the area, estimated time there and when to expect a call or text from you.


I wish we had more time to fully explore Rim Rock. This beautiful trail meanders through the cliffs, trees and rock formations overlooking the valley below. It was peaceful, covered in wildflowers and really gorgeous. There are some steep inclines but not enough for me to mark this moderate.

Again – no cell service. Same rules apply for safety.



Several weeks before we were in the area, I arranged for the Junior Forest Ranger books to be mailed to the kids. Rebecca with the Shawnee National Forest headquarters in Harrisburg, Illinois helped the kids get ready for our visit. She set them up with books, helped me while I was there on locating certain trails and made our visit to the headquarters extra special.  By extra special she not only gave them badges, pins and ID cards she surprised them with several other Smokey the Bear treats. They talked about it for days.

Having the books sent to us early for the kids to work on them before we were actually in the forest that day allowed us to have time to explore the park. I’m thankful Rebecca understood our goals and helped us achieve them.

If you are close the Ranger stations you can grab the books there. Contact information and ranger locations can be found here.


Admission to the National Forest is free.


You’re in the middle of nowhere, away from everyone and everything. The area is gorgeous, full of photography opportunities. The hikes are easy for kids.


You’re in the middle of nowhere, away from everyone and everything. My only concern is getting in the areas and something happening and I can’t get help. However, I was traveling by myself with the kids. My husband wasn’t with us so it may have been my irrational fears of getting in a bind with the kids. If you’re not as high strung as I am, then this won’t be a con for you.