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10 Things to Do in the Shawnee National Forest Area – Southern Illinois

Thanks to Southernmost Illinois for extending an invitation to experience the best of the Shawnee National Forest Area and to our writer Crystal Rapinchuk for attending and sharing her experience.

Exploring the Shawnee National Forest Area in Southern Illinois is a treat for outdoor lovers! Known for great hikes, stunning scenery & Bigfoot territory.

10 things to do and see in the Shawnee National Forest that May include Bigfoot

Southern Illinois is a beautiful spread of country with so many things to see in the Shawnee National Forest Area!

Has bigfoot been found in the Shawnee National Forest?

Photo Credit @ Crystal Rapinchuk

I’ve been wanting to visit Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest for years so I was thrilled when I was invited on a press trip to explore the forest area! Below are just some of the things to do on the more eastern side of the Shawnee National Forest.

10 Things to do in the Shawnee National Forest

  1. Hike in the Garden of the Gods.

Garden of the Gods in Southernmost Illinois

Photo credit @ Crystal Rapinchuk

This location is the most touristy hot spot in the Shawnee National Forest for its stunning scenic views and unique geological formations. You can’t go wrong with any hiking path in the Garden of the Gods area!

  1. Take a selfie with the Shawnee National Forest Bigfoot!

Bigfoot! Spotted in Shawnee National Forest!

Photo Credit @ Crystal Rapinchuk

This local legendary statue was installed by a local resident and business owner on a whim and it’s drawn quite the attention ever since!

You can’t miss this big statue on the side of the road! It’s across the street from the Outpost – just pull off in the small parking lot and grab some selfies and silly videos! Don’t forget to tag @ShawneeForestBigfoot on Facebook!

  1. Grab some ice cream at the Garden of the Gods Outpost and make a call on their working pay phone!

Bigfoot Family

Photo Credit @ Crystal Rapinchuk

This local hot spot is fabulous for cold drinks, ice cream, Bigfoot and local area souvenirs (including pressed pennies!) and yes – definitely for asking directions! They are incredibly friendly! Don’t miss the family of Bigfoot across the street eating ice cream on display!

  1. Have a picnic under the Golden Circle.

Dine in the Golden Circle at Shawnee National Forest.

Photo Credit @ Crystal Rapinchuk

The Golden Circle is an amazing local spot that most tourists don’t know about. But I will warn you – it’s completely unmarked so be prepared for an adventure! It’s just down the road from the Outpost but I highly recommend stopping in there to ask for directions! You’ll have to do a big of backwoods gravel driving but we didn’t have any issues in our minivan. Just make sure that you bring everything out that you brought in and don’t leave any trash!

  1. Hike down into Rim Rock.

Rim Rock

Photo Credit @ Crystal Rapinchuk

Rim Rock was one of my personal favorites to explore because if it’s incredibly unique geological formations. I recommend taking the furthest path on the left which will lead you right to the narrow steep stairs down into the slot canyons. You can’t miss it! Also here you’ll see some old stone walls built by prehistoric Native American Woodland people from approximately 5000 years ago. (Similar forts were built in Giant City, Illinois!)

  1. Marvel at Ox-Lot Cave.

    Ox Lot Cave at Shawnee National Forest

    Photo Credit @ Crystal Rapinchuk

Ox-Lot Cave received its name as it was once used as a corral to keep oxen, mules and horses. A small spring is boxed in off to the side and was a watering hole for animals. In the early 1900’s the area was used for logging and can be seen at the bottom of the Rim Rock trail.

  1. Go swimming, fishing, boating or camping at Pounds Hollow –

Pounds Hollow is just down the road from Rim Rock and is a beautiful quiet section of Shawnee National Forest but a popular swimming hole in the summer! The great thing about Pounds Hollow is that it is FREE for anyone to visit, swim, fish, or boat at – just bring your gear! There are NO fees here (although you’ll need a fishing license like anywhere else in Illinois)! You can also pitch a tent and camp here too for about $10/night!

  1. Explore Cave in Rock.

Outside the Cave in Rock

Photo provided courtesy of the Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau

Having a huge obsession with caves, Cave in Rock was my favorite place to explore!

There are legends going back hundreds of years about pirates. Most of the legends are fictional, but the most fierce legend is real. Captain Samuel Mason, originally from Pennsylvania, was a lifelong criminal and pirate that not only attacked boats on the Ohio River but would also steal from people’s houses while they were at church on Sundays.

Two movies were actually filmed here which further inspired the legends looming around this cave: Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (Disney film 1950’s) and How the West was Won (MGM Film 1960’s).

  1. Dig for Fluorspar at the American Fluorite Museum.


Photo Credit @ Crystal Rapinchuk

This small but history packed museum is located on the site of the Rosiclare Fluorspar and Mining Co., which was once the largest fluorspar mining company in the U.S. Fluorspar is used to make things like Corningware, propellants, freon, and more. You’ll find maps, plenty of fluorspar and other minerals on display, and even old mining equipment, uniforms and models!

Things to do in the Shawnee National Forest

Photo credit @ Crystal Rapinchuk

When you’re done soaking in the history inside head outdoors and wander around the large property. You’ll find an old train car, mining carts and equipment, and even the old power house! For a fee, you can also dig your own fluorspar out of a large pile and take it home!

  1. Climb inside the Iron Furnace.

iron furnace

Photo Credit @ Crystal Rapinchuk

This impressive piece of history was in operation as the only working Iron Furnace in Illinois from 1837 to the 1880’s. It was, however, rebuilt in 1967. It produced 9 TONS of pig iron PER DAY which is an incredible feat even today!

Looking for somewhere pretty centrally located on the eastern side of Shawnee National Forest? The Shawnee Forest Cabins are incredibly cozy and have PRIVATE HOT TUBS as well as a fireplace and full kitchen! You can walk to see Bigfoot and the Outpost from your cabin and you’re only 2 miles from Garden of the Gods!

Find even MORE places to see and stay on the eastern side of the Shawnee National Forest here or anywhere else in the Shawnee National Forest area here!

Thanks to my friend and colleague, Crystal Rapinchuk for attending a press trip on behalf of Travel Inspired Living and sharing her experience with us. Crystal loves to spend time outdoors, exploring caves and planning epic road trips with her family and sharing her experiences on    

Looking for more fun destinations to visit in the United States? Check out our post on things to do in Mt Airy NC. Hint Mayberry fans will love it! Those interested in military history will enjoy our post on things to do in Fayetteville NC and if you want to stop off in the big city, Chicago is only a few hours away.  

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This list of 10 things to do in the Shawnee National Forest Area in Southern Illinois may surprise you. Beautiful scenery, outdoor activities, hiking and even bigfoot. #roadtrip

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