Must-See in Illinois: Garden of the Gods

SR-34, Herod, Illinois Illinois’ most celebrated natural landmark, this truly awesome collection of rock formations was carved by ancient forces

Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area, Illinois
The colors of autumn make the massive limestone and sandstone rocks in this wilderness all the more striking.

SR-34, Herod, Illinois

Illinois’ most celebrated natural landmark, this truly awesome collection of rock formations was carved by ancient forces of nature. Over hundreds of millions of years, fierce wind and freezing water eroded huge slabs of limestone and sandstone to create impressive ridges and canyons. Once home to prehistoric peoples, the area now attracts photographers, bird-watchers (who hope for a peek at the resident raptors), and avid climbers.

Particularly interesting and aptly named formations include Camel Rock, Anvil Rock, Devil’s Smokestack, and Old Stone Face. Made of natural flagstone and just one-quarter-mile long, the popular Observation Trail leads to areas immediately above the cliffs for outstanding views of the surrounding Shawnee Hills mountain range and nearly 3,300 acres of forest. Five additional trails lead into more of the expansive, unspoiled wilderness.

In fall the terrain turns into a tapestry of brilliant color. To maximize the view, both hikers and equestrians alike can follow the River-to-River Trail, which winds across the center of the wilderness in a spacious S for nearly 10 miles, stretching from Battery Rock on the Ohio River to Grand Tower on the Mississippi. Along the trek spectacular sights include Burden Falls, the tallest waterfall in Illinois; Bell Smith Springs, boasting a mighty rock bridge and the Devil’s Backbone, jutting from its clear water; and Sand Cave, the largest sandstone cave in North America. From the area hikers can also opt for a detour on the famous American Discovery Trail.

For those eager to dine or sleep with the gods, picnic sites, complete with tables and fire grills, as well as ample space for camping and overnight parking are available. Motorized vehicles, however, are strictly forbidden from entering the wilderness.

Open year-round.

www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/shawnee/ recreation/
(618) 287-2201

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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