Best Backpacking In Illinois

Our comprehensive guide to the best backpacking you can find in Illinois.
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Our comprehensive guide to the best backpacking you can find in Illinois.

Shawnee National Forest

Shawnee is the biggest chunk of public land in Illinois, so it's no wonder all three reader favorites fall within its 253,250 acres. This sprawling forest holds deep woods, weird rock formations, clear creeks, and seven small wilderness areas, including the Garden of the Gods (see below). Other highlights include creekside trails in the Panther Den Wilderness and the Indian Kitchen Trail in Lusk Creek, a 5,000-acre wilderness some call the "most pristine place in Illinois."

Contact: Shawnee National Forest, (800) 699-6637; www.fs.fed.us/r9/shawnee.

River-to-River Trail

This 146-mile trail winds from Battery Rock on the Ohio River to the banks of the mighty Mississippi. A biological wonderland and part of the American Discovery Trail, it's open to horses and in some sections to mountain bikes. The sections in the Panther Den and Garden of the Gods Wildernesses are your best bets for solitude.

Contact: River to River Trail Society, (618) 252-6789. Shawnee National Forest, (800) 699-6637; www.fs.fed.us.r9/shawnee.

Garden of the Gods Wilderness

Here's a place where the shadows dance. Hike beneath the branches of old-growth forest among otherworldly rock formations—rumpled towers and lichen-scruffed boulders with names like Camel Rock, Noah's Arc, and Mushroom Rock. At just 3,268 acres, Garden of the Gods is an intimate wilderness gem.

Contact: Shawnee National Forest, (800) 699-6637; www.fs.fed.us/r9/shawnee.