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  • Pete Stoller

Forests in Southern Illinois

Yes, that picture is from Illinois... I can't believe it either.

I have lived in Illinois for most of my life, but growing up I never got the chance to explore southern Illinois. I had heard great things about Shawnee National Forest though and as it turned out, it happened to be on the way from Frankfort to Peoria (kinda). Plus I had some friends from high school in the area so we planned to meet up and go hiking, kayaking, and just in general have a good time.

In looking for places to stay in the area, I happened upon a summer camp on Airbnb. It was abandoned because of covid and dirt cheap, so I rented out one of their campsites, which consisted of 7 cabins like the one pictured above. Lexy, Lucas, and I arrived early Saturday afternoon to find we had the place all to ourselves! Other than the staff, there was absolutely no one there. We basically had our own private beach, lake, kayaks, frisbee golf course (sadly no frisbees tho but sticks work too), and large green spaces for playing and frolicking!

We didn't spend much time sitting around! We first took to the water and explored the lake by kayak. It was a perfectly calm afternoon and we didn't see a single other boat the entire time despite the fact that it was a pretty large lake. As the sun started to set, Lucas and I did some fishing from the dock. Didn't catch anything worth keeping, but we did manage to hook a smallmouth bass!

Pretty soon it was time to head back and make a fire! We prepared the classic campfire dinner, hotdogs and smores. I swear hotdogs taste way better when cooked over a campfire!

Sunday morning we explored the camp a little more and attempted to play frisbee golf with whatever we could find (sticks, rocks, logs, and a weird saucer thing) and packed up to head out. But before I said goodbye to my friends, we went on a short walk through the gardens at SIU. It was a great time! I miss them already!

My adventures in southern Illinois don't end here, however. After leaving them back at college (gross), I drove out to stay a couple nights at a hotel near Shawnee National Forest. Garden of the Gods is one of the top-rated hikes in Illinois and it was killing me that I hadn't been able to get down there yet!

As you can see, it's a popular hike for a reason. You hike along steep cliffs with spectacular rock formations looking out over the forest below. The forest is teeming with wildlife, from the squirrels and chipmunks that run across your feet (it rested on my shoe for a sec), the eagles that soar above, and the lizards sunbathing on the rocks. Shawnee National Forest is definitely my favorite hike in Illinois and certainly one that I want to come back to see in the fall!


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