Shawnee National Forest Guide, part 1
Illinois County Wide Trails Network
Skokie-North Branch Trail Guide
Explore the Shawnee National Forest and enjoy the largest, most diverse natural treasure in Illinois. Major highways lead to southern Illinois where you will find some of the most beautiful scenery in the Midwest. Drive the 70-mile Shawnee Hills on the Ohio National Scenic Byway and revel in its fall colors. Go birding, horseback riding, hunting or fishing. Enjoy photography, hiking, bicycling, picnicking, and swimming. Try boating, canoeing, camping, mushroom hunting, berry picking, and more. Delight in the abundance of wildlife.
In contrast to the gently rolling farm lands to the north, the more than 270,000 acres of the Shawnee National Forest lie in the rough, unglaciated areas of southern Illinois known as the Ozark and Shawnee Hills. This area between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers boasts an unusual combination of five natural ecological divisions. Seldom anywhere else will you find such a diverse combination of vegetation, wildlife, and recreation opportunities.
The prehistoric Native American occupation of this area began about 11,500 years ago. Many of their village sites have been preserved and interpreted at several forest locations. Learn about people of the Mississippian culture (ca. 900-1450 A.D.) by visiting Millstone Bluff National Register site and walking a one-mile trail leading past a stone fort, cemetery, petroglyphs (rock carvings), and the village area. Other prehistoric Native American sites of interest include the Pounds Site at Rim Rock and the Great Salt Springs National Register site.
The historic period in Illinois began with the Joliet-Marquette exploration of the Mississippi River Valley in 1673. One tragic episode during this period was the forced march of the Cherokee people from the southeastern states to western reservations in Oklahoma during the winter of 1838-1839. The “Nunna-da-ul-tsun-yi”, or “the place where they cried” became known as the Trail of Tears because many Cherokee people perished from cold, hunger, and exhaustion during the journey. It is now designated as a National Historic Trail and extends across the Shawnee National Forest from the Ohio River to the Mississippi River.
American westward expansion during the 18th and 19th century brought pioneer farmers seeking homesteads and good, cheap land. During the 19th century land in southern Illinois ranged in price from $2.50 to 12-1/2 cents per acre. The attitude of many farmers regarding the forested Shawnee Hills is epitomized by Morris Birkbeck’s thoughts:
To travel day after day, among trees of a hundred feet high, without a glimpse of the surrounding country … it must depress the spirits of the solitary settler to pass in this state. His visible horizon extends no farther than the tops of the trees which bound his plantation.
This attitude, along with the settlers’ need for wood for housing, furniture, and tools, resulted in the clearing and cultivation of the Shawnee Hills of southern Illinois. Many farmed lands that were not suitable for the cultivation of row crops and erosion soon destroyed the natural fertility of the land. By the Great Depression, it was obvious something needed to be done.
In 1933, the federal government began to acquire old, worn-out lands that would later be designated the Shawnee National Forest. Through active forest management, the eroded lands of yesterday have become the forested hills of today.
You are invited to visit and enjoy the interesting but fragile archaeological areas that are protected for your and future generations’ enjoyment. All archaeological sites, both prehistoric Native American and historic farmsteads, are protected by law from vandalism. Remember to walk gently and touch only with your eyes.
Seven wilderness areas were designated in the Shawnee National Forest by Congress in 1990: Bald Knob, Bay Creek, Burden Falls, Clear Springs, Garden of the Gods, Lusk Creek, and Panther Dan. These areas make up about 10% of the Forest.
The primary purposes of wilderness management are to preserve natural ecosystems, protect the wilderness character for future generations, and to provide a wilderness experience in a natural-appealing environment. Wilderness is available for hiking, mtn. Biking, equestrian use, hunting, fishing, and other forms of non motorized and non mechanized recreation. These special areas offer more solitude and less evidence of human influence than other parts of the Forest.
The Shawnee National TForest manages 81 Natural Areas, IO of which are Research Natural Areas. These special areas have been set aside to preserve, protect and enhance the unique biolo ‘cal and 91 geological features found thin their boundaries, including a variety of wildlife species and diverse vegetation. Natural Areas are scattered throughout the Forest and account for just under 5% of the Forest’s acreage.
Bring your boat, canoe, sailboard or sailboat to enjoy the thousands of acres of water in southern Illinois. Lakes, ponds, creeks and streams in and near the forest offer canoeists and power boaters picturesque settings for summertime rides in the sun. The water-bodies range from small pools to lakes larger than 2,700 acres.
You will long remember a trip on the water with a quiet sunrise departure or sunset return on a shimmering lake surrounded by the forested hill country. Let your boat slide through glassy water on Devil’s Kitchen, Little Grassy, Big and Little Cedar and Dutchman Lakes alongside rocky outcroppings. Drift or paddle the tranquil Big Muddy River Canoe Trail.
Your safety is important to us. Remember flotation devices and other boating safety gear. Many lakes were created by flooding lowland and cypress swamps. These impoundments often contain submerged stumps or treetops that can be difficult to see. Stay alert and observe horsepower limits.
Whitetail deer, squirrels, rabbits, Canada W geese, quail, ducks and wild turkeys are hunted in the Shawnee National Forest and at nearby wildlife refuges. The Forest Service manages both forested and openland areas to provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife species. Oakwood Bottoms Greentree Reservoir offers abundant hunting opportunities. Its location along the Mississippi Flyway serves as a resting and feeding stop for thousands of waterfowl during their spring and fall migrations. Hunting seasons, regulations, hunting licenses, special permits or wildlife stamp information can be obtained from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Geology and Minerals
Bluffs millions of years old stand guard over forested hill country. Cliffside vistas and interesting outcroppings draw thousands of people each year. Popular attractions include Garden of the Gods, Stone Face, Little Grand Canyon, and their hiking trails. Bluffs rise 300 feet above Mississippi River bottomland at the LaRue-Pine Hills/Otter Pond Research Natural Area.
Minerals played an important role in the history of southern Illinois and are still important today. Coal, important to the economy of southern Illinois, lies mainly north of the forest. Other minerals mined in this area include fluorspar and tripoli. Fluorspar is used in common products such as toothpaste and fire extinguishers, and was also used by Native Americans to make small animal figurines and beads. Tripoli is used in paints and as an abrasive.
The Great Salt Springs attracted people and animals to the area for centuries. A visit to the Illinois Iron Furnace, restored in 1967 by the Golconda Job Corps, will take you back to the mid- 1800s when several tons of pig iron were produced every day.
Popular only begins to describe fishing adventures in southern Illinois. Trophysized bluegifl, red car sunfish, channel and flathead catfish, white and yellow bass, crappic, and, of course, largemouth and Kentucky spotted bass trophies have been taken from area waters. Walleyed pike, sauger, striped bass and hybrid striped bass are also caught. Fishing enthusiasts, from the worm-and-bobber crowd to those on the tournament circuit, have a field day in April and May as the waters warm and the fish begin to feed actively. The fun for many continues throughout the warm months and into mild southern Illinois winters.
Looking for a challenge? Take your bass or crappie rig and motor the mighty Ohio River and its world-famous Smithland Pool. Anglers call the Ohio River and 22 streams that enter it from Illinois one of southern Illinois’ best kept secrets.
There is no shortage of marinas, boat and motor rentals, or bait and tackle supplies, from private establishments and other agencies that manage lakes in and near the forest. While the Forest Service charges no fee to fish, an Illinois fishing license is required. Have fun, land a lunker, and get the frying pan ready!
Partners & Volunteers
Many recreation, ecosystem and wildlife M improvements in the Shawnee National Forest owe their success to hundreds of volunteers and partners. Individuals, organizations, universities, and other agencies help stretch Forest Service budgets by providing matching money, or labor, expertise, equipment, and supplies for forest projects. Partnership contributions often double the Forest Service investment. Contact your nearest Forest Service office for information on how to participate in these programs.
The forest offers three developed swimming sites: Lake Glendale, Pounds Hollow and Johnson Creek beaches. Lake Glendale and Pounds Hollow are the only beaches where lifeguards are provided and a fee is charged in the National Forest.
The mix of trees in the Shawnee National Forest provide an eye-lifting Autumn Spectrum of colors. Maple, gum and dogwood produce the brilliant reds of fall. Beech trees dress in yellow as the days shorten. Oaks are scarlet-brown at the height of their glory, and pines sprinkle the palette with a dependable array of greens. Enjoy the Forest’s melting pot of hues. Obtain information and maps about fall color tours from the Supervisor’s Office in Harrisburg.
Trails and Roads
A network of trails and roads offer visitors numerous opportunities to experience the year-round beauty of the Shawnee National Forest. All trails in the forest are open to foot travel and most trails are open for horse travel. Spring and fall are the most comfortable for strenuous outdoor activities.
There are 1,250 miles of paved, gravel, dirt and grass roads in the Shawnee National Forest. Foot travelers, equestrians and mountain bike riders are welcome to use them with due care. Some roads are always closed to motorized use, and other roads are closed only seasonally. Remember to tread lightly and respect other trail users.
Camping and Picnicking
Camping in the Shawnee National Forest is fun, whether you like to rough it or prefer conveniences. Pitch a tent or park a trailer for a modest fee in one of 12 developed campgrounds. Most have drinking water, restrooms, tables and grills or fire rings. Showers are available at Oak Point
Campground at Lake Glendale Recreation Area and at both Lake Glendale and Pounds Hollow beaches. Campsites at Lake Glendale have electrical hookups for all the conveniences of home. Panoramic views and unusual scenery are found near every campground. Towering rock formations, peaceful rivers and streams, and historic sites provide backdrops and side-trips while you camp or picnic.
Southern Illinois Tourism Council – Route 37 North, P 0. Box 250
West Frankfort, IL 62896 – (800) 342-3 1 00
Shawnee National Forest Supervisor’s Office Harrisburg, IL 62946
Voice: (800) 699-6637 – TTY-. (618) 253-1070
Elizabethtown Ranger District – Voice: (618) 287-2201 – TTY- (618) 287-8872
Jonesboro Ranger District – Voice: (618) 833-8576 – TTY-. (618) 833-3693
Murphysboro Ranger District – Voice: (618) 687-1731 – TTY. (618) 687-1726
Vienna Ranger District – Voice: (618) 658-2111 – TTY-. (618) 658-2214
This development was two fold in purpose – primarily for flood control but creating a marsh and water landscape with facilities for outdoor recreation. The Chewab Skokie, long noted for its restful changing beauties had been mutilated by drainage ditches which lowered the water table, thus promoting new types of rank vegetation and yearly peat fires. Control of seasonal flooding in this entire valley was accomplished by the construction of seven lagoons with a flood plain of 400 acres, They are held within dikes by a main control dam at Willow Road. Three low dams maintain an average water level close to the ground surface which is ideal for marsh vegetation.
The result has been a unique development. In addition to flood control, the lagoons have provided new picnic spots and 190 acres of fishing waters for thousands of people. The original marsh may have been more picturesque but few people could enjoy it.
Points of Interest:
- Good fishing from shorelines and boats
- Area notable for wildflowers
- Wildlife refuge Nature trails
- Skokie Division Headquarters
On the Map:
- Boat Ramp
- Charles “Chick” Evans, Jr. 18-hole golf course
- Youth Group Camp (by permit only)
- Chicago Botanic Garden
Harms Woods is notable for its spring wildflowers and many fine trees. However, most of its huge sugar maples and other patriarchs of the primeval forest are gone, victims of old age or disastrous fires.