Description - The Shawnee National Forest is located at the junction of five physiographic regions and at the edge of the glaciated area, which results in a wide diversity of flora and fauna, and unique geologic features. The Forest provides some of the largest and most diverse blocks of mature hardwood forest, forest interior habitat, and public openland habitats in Illinois. The Shawnee National Forest also contains the most acreage of Natural Areas in the State of Illinois, providing remnants of 25 rare natural communities in 80 Natural Areas. The Forest provides habitat for aquatic and terrestrial threatened, endangered and sensitive species, and provides an abundance of diverse habitat for game and non-game species. The Oakwood Bottoms Greentree Reservoir and Inahgeh lands provide important wetland habitats for migrating waterfowl in the Mississippi flyway. The Forest provides mature upland oak-hickory and bottomland hardwood forests that can be managed on a sustainable basis, providing wildlife habitat and the potential for timber products. The Forest includes large acreages of non-native southern pine plantations that add some scenic diversity to the landscape
- The State of Illinois claims the Shawnee National Forest as its number-one outdoor recreation tourist attraction. The Shawnee National Forest has the largest public forested area in the state, and is uniquely positioned to provide visitors with a wide range of outdoor recreation opportunities. Magnificent rock and bluff formations, river views, waterfalls, tupelo and cypress swamps, lakes, and large scale forested areas and backcountry experiences are predominating.
Interpretation of the area’s cultural heritage offers visitors a variety of opportunities to learn more about the history of southern Illinois. There is more than 10,000 years of human occupation that has left its mark upon the landscape, from prehistoric Native American rock art and stone forts to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Contained within the boundaries of the Shawnee National Forest are stories representing many significant episodes in our Nation’s history, including Early American exploration (Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery), the Cherokee Trail of Tears, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, the Great Depression and the origins of the Shawnee National Forest. For example, interpretation of the Underground Railroad offers visitors an important perspective about out nation’s history. It celebrates the courage of those who chose its path and those who helped to aid and conceal enslaved people of color who were determined to be free. Sites Like Miller Grove, Crow and Sand Cave offer their rich history, ripe for interpretation.
Recreation - There are many miles of diverse hiking and backpacking trails in the Shawnee National Forest including the 160-mile River to River Trail. Take extra precautions during hunting seasons by wearing bright orange clothing. It is a good idea to carry a compass and map. Forest streams do not meet the safety standards for drinking water. We recommend taking your water with you or purifying stream water before drinking it. National Forest ownership is scattered with privately-owned lands interspersed. Respect the rights of these owners by staying on public lands.
The Shawnee National Forest has over 277,000 acres open to equestrians. There are many miles of roads and trails that provide access to several interesting and scenic areas. Horses are allowed anywhere on the Shawnee National Forest with the exception of developed recreation areas, designated hiker-only trails, and Natural Areas. Equestrians are encouraged to stay on the designated trails to minimize the impact to natural resources.
Primitive camping is allowed anywhere in the Shawnee National Forest with the exception of developed recreation areas, Natural Areas, developed campgrounds, on lake shores, near streams, or on trails. Primitive camping is free and is allowed any time of year. Do not trespass on private land, do not cut down live trees, shrubs, or other vegetation, clean up all personal garbage, and make sure all fires are completely out. Campers may camp up to 14 consecutive days, but no permanent structures may be built. It is not necessary to check in with a Shawnee National Forest office unless you wish to do so in case of an emergency.
There are 15 designated camping areas within the Shawnee National Forest. These developed campgrounds are usually open from April 1 through December 15, although there are some exceptions. Campsites are available on a first-come, first serve basis. There is a maximum of 8 campers to a site and a maximum of 14 days continuous use. Campers can then transfer to another campground if they desire further camping.
Rock Climbing and rappelling on the Shawnee National Forest is permitted at Jackson Falls on the Vienna Ranger District. However, there are several other designated rock climbing and rappelling areas throughout southern Illinois that are not part of the National Forest. If you are not an experienced climber, we suggest that you contact other resources for safety information. When rock climbing or rappelling, please avoid disturbing plants on the rock faces and be courteous to other visitors.
There a variety of fishing opportunities ranging from the Ohio River to small fishing ponds. All rules and regulations set by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources are followed on the Shawnee National Forest. Anglers must have their license in possession at all times while fishing. For more information on any of the lakes or ponds, contact the appropriate District Ranger’s Office.
Climate - Illinois experiences four distinct seasons with varying weather throughout the year. Winter can be very cold. The highest humidity of the year occurs during this season averaging 70 to 75 percent. Average low temperatures in January dip to 20 degrees F with highs near 35 degrees F. Spring temperatures are mild with humidity below 70 percent. Temperatures during this season average between 32 and 50 degrees F. Summer is usually hot and humid in this Midwest state. Low temperatures remain in the low sixties with high temperatures near 90 degrees F. The highest rainfall of the year occurs during the summer months. Fall is an excellent time to visit the state with low humidity and rainfall and moderate temperatures.