Southern Illinois – A Hidden Midwest Gem

Southern Illinois

Warning: This is going to be a picture heavy post. I have a special place in my heart for Southern Illinois. I went to college there and absolutely love the area.

First you are probably thinking: “Really? Southern Illinois? You have been posting the Cascades, the Rockies and the Appalachians and now you want to show us Southern Illinois?”. Well to get you to shut up and listen we will start with a picture:

Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest.

Good. You get that out of your system? And yes, the above picture, is in fact from Southern Illinois. Garden of the Gods (not the Colorado one) in the Shawnee National forest in Southern Illinois. The same Garden of the Gods that will be depicted in one of the US Quarters. Part of the America the Beautiful Quarters program. Click here for more details on that!

The Shawnee National Forest is the largest publicly owned piece of land in Illinois. It is 280,000 acres and is located in Pope, Jackson, Union, Hardin, Alexander, Saline, Gallatin, Johnson, and Massac counties. What I found most enjoyable about Shawnee National Forest is its isolation from major populations. It is 5.5 hours from Chicago, 2.5 hours from St. Louis, and 3 hours from Nashville. Even the major university of Southern Illinois University (Go Salukis) is over an hour away. So on most days you can enjoy the natural beauty in isolation. 

garden of the gods

Garden of the Gods

Larue-Pine Hills, Shawnee National Forest


Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest.

Rock Formations at Garden of the Gods

garden of the gods


Shawnee National Forest is the staple of Southern Illinois wilderness, but it is not the only beautiful spot to visit. Just outside Carbondale, Illinois is Giant City State Park. This is almost a mini Shawnee National Forest. It has great hiking and great rock formations as well. Beware though, being such close proximity to a major university, you will see college students.


20030721 39 Giant City State Park

Wide Angle

There is also, the spill way. Right outside of Murpheyboro, Illinois.


But one of my absolute favorite things to do in Southern Illinois is to explore some of the old farms. Now before you grab your camera and run out on some farm in Illinois, be aware that these citizens like there guns and their right to protect their property haha. I did get 100% permission from land owners before stepping a single pinky toe on their property. Most are down to earth very open friendly people… most.

And of course… GO SALUKIS!!!!

Go, Salukis! Go, Zack!