What is the number one outdoor recreation tourist attraction in the State of Illinois?
What do hunters, fishermen, bicyclists, hikers, sightseers, birdwatchers, horseback riders, campers, families and other lovers of the great outdoors know that you might want to know about?
The Shawnee National Forest is the answer to both questions!
Welcome to Saline County and Southeastern Illinois, Garden of the Gods Country!
Once you’ve seen the Shawnee National Forest, the Garden of the Gods and other Saline County area natural wonders, you’ll never see Illinois the same way again, so says Chicago television station WTTW’s Ben Hollis. Hollis described the “jaw-dropping natural beauty” of the sandstone rock formations and high vistas:
“Here's where getting back to nature can be a religious experience. No kidding, the natural beauty here knocked our socks off and we're still looking for 'em…We only just scratched the surface of what's available within the Forest. So get down here and see for yourself.”
A vacation point for many city dwellers, the Shawnee National Forest provides an oasis of scenic landscapes, fresh air, natural beauty, quiet, peaceful and restful settings OR physical challenges, interesting historic sites, educational and research opportunities, and many other attractions. Unique opportunities provided by the Forest include public big-game hunting, long distance pedestrian/equestrian trails (i.e. River-to-River Trail), orienteering, bird watching. rock-climbing/rappelling, viewing scenic natural features, beach recreation, and two National Scenic Byways (Ohio River and Great River Road). *
*from the USDA Forest Service
The Forest is within a day's drive (350 miles) of more than 45 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population. (U.S. Census Bureau, 7-1-97 estimate). The Shawnee provides congressionally designated wilderness, candidate wild and scenic rivers and roadless areas, with the largest acreages of wilderness and roadless areas in Illinois.
Hunters everywhere know that Southern Illinois is home to the prized white-tail deer. White-tail is king here, and each fall hunters from all over the country come to and through Saline County, stocking up on supplies at businesses such as Strictly Outdoors in Harrisburg, before heading out to our forest lands.
Gateway to the Shawnee National Forest
The City of Harrisburg is the county seat of Saline County, and is known as The Gateway to the Shawnee National Forest. Harrisburg’s double highway intersection at Highways 45 and 34/145 that leads into the Forest is a key growth corridor and second highest traffic area in Southern Illinois.
Visitors and citizens alike enjoy the City of Harrisburg to Eldorado Bike Path/Pedestrian Trail, which begins at Small Street to Tunnel Hill. The Bike Path/Pedestrian Trail serves as an extension of the Tunnel Hill State Trail, which has been designated as one of 37 new National Recreation Trails in 23 states as part of the National Trails System. The Tunnel Hill State Trail extends for 45 miles from downtown Harrisburg to Karnak.
An access road, parking lot, water fountain and restroom facilities also are available. This “Rails to Trails” Project was constructed on an abandoned railroad corridor. Trail users in Harrisburg also take advantage of the community’s bed and breakfast, motels, restaurants and a local bike shop.
Ohio River National Scenic Byway
The 188-mile Illinois portion of the Ohio River National Scenic Byway is home to many of nature’s architectural wonders. Garden of the Gods features 320 million year old sandstone rock formations, and inspiring views that will leave you with lasting memories.
From Adventure Illinois!:
Garden of the Gods Recreational Area
Hwy 34, turn east at Herod (618-287-2201) “This 3,300 acre wilderness ranks 10th in the United States for photographing sandstone rock formations and high vistas. The easiest trail is the 1/4 mile Observation Trail for outstanding views and to see Camel Rock, Anvil Rock and Devil’s Smokestack. Five miles of trails are part of the River to River Trail, and some are difficult.”
For a listing of places to eat, shop, play and stay while you’re visiting, just click on the Membership tab.