A day trip into the Southern Illinois forest just left me wanting a few more days in this gorgeous area of the Midwest. Set against a beautiful blue sky in crisp and cool October weather, this place can calm the soul.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS: We came from the north, from I64, we headed south at IL142 (Exit 89 off of I64). From there it was about 1 hour and 14 minutes to Garden of the Gods parking and trail head. One good thing to remember, is that in the fall, the parking lots fill up quickly since fall colors are a huge motivator for visiting national parks.
We hiked two trails at this park. First we did the River to River Trail. From end to end this is a 5.4 mile long trail. From Garden of the Gods parking area/trailhead to The Hitchin Post Trailhead at the other end. (which means if you loop back to your vehicle, it’s over 10 miles) We just went out about 2 miles and returned. Along the way were the most beautiful rocky bluffs that we cautiously walked out onto. We also planted ourselves here for lunch. The trail leads to a creek and the path features some great caves and beautiful foliage. It was an easy to moderate terrain, (the two miles out and back that we did.) After a couple of miles in, we returned to the parking lot. Next we took the shorter Observation Trail. This trail “features unique sandstone rock formations and panoramic views of the surrounding Garden of Gods Wilderness. Interpretive signs explain the geological history. The 1/4-mile trail is made of natural sandstone and takes about an hour to walk. It contains short, steep grades and steps; benches are located along the trail and as a whole the trail is not tiring. Caution should be used due to the high cliffs in the area.” Source: Shawnee National Forest Garden of the Gods
Our last stop of the day in the Shawnee National Forest was at the Pomona Natural Bridge. It took us a little out of our way on our return to Scott AFB, but it was WELL worth it. It is, after all, a stinking natural bridge for goodness sake.