Shawnee National Forest, IL
Panther Den Loop
Escape into a craggy oasis.
Wine in Illinois? You betcha. The Shawnee Hills along the state’s southern border feature high ridges loaded with gnarled limestone and sandstone formations, plus summers that linger but don’t swelter. The result? Great hiking and a federally-recognized grape-growing region that’s more Loire Valley than Corn Belt. Start by exploring the state’s smallest wilderness, 839-acre Panther Den, on a 4.6-mile figure-eight through a maze of sandstone outcrops. Link Trails 371, 389, and 001 through pine forest to explore the passageways and caves created by 70-foot rock walls. Post-hike, drive 2.4 miles to Blue Sky Vineyards (blueskyvineyard.com) for a glass of velvety Cab Franc. The hard-to-grow varietal thrives in the area’s rocky soil. (618-833-8576; fs.usda.gov/shawnee) Trip data backpacker.com/hikes/1732038
The way From Carbondale, link Giant City Rd., Grassy Rd., Rocky Comfort Rd., Panther Den Rd., and Panther Den Ln. for an 18-mile drive to the trailhead.