Back Country around Illinois

12:34 p.m. on July 21, 2010 (EDT)
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First post on this site and was wondering if anyone had any trip ideas around Illinois. I am looking to go Labor weekend for 2-3 days. I am a beginner and don't want to get too crazy but I definitely want to hike in some areas where their will not be alot of other people. I am willing to drive to some close states and I was thinking of looking into some state parks.

1:50 p.m. on July 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Where do you live in IL?

If you live in northern IL, I would recommend either the South or North Kettle Moriane State Forests in WI. You can backpack on the Ice Age Trail in those areas. In Iowa, there is the Yellow River State Forest in the northeast area of the state not far from the Mississippi River.

If you live near the Southern portion of the state, you have Shawnee National Forest near Carbondale, IL or Hoosier National Forest in Indiana. There is a trail in southern Indiana that it supposed to be pretty good called the Knobstone Trail.

7:42 p.m. on July 21, 2010 (EDT)
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I live in Mokena. Just southwest of Chicago. I was looking at going to Shawnee National Forest. Looks like pretty interesting scenery with the garden of the gods, little grand canyon and cave in rock. I was looking for some advice on how to go about planning a 3 day backpacking trip. This would be my first overnight trip that wouldn’t involve camping next to my car. I would most likely be going with my friend or even possibly solo over labor day weekend.

Where do I begin? How do I plan my route? The information I have been reading is that you can virtually camp anywhere in the forest (taking into account the leave no trace and only where it is allowed). I guess my question is how do I plan my route and my schedule? I see these trip reports and articles in Backpacker and such and I am wondering how to be that prepared.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

3:16 p.m. on July 22, 2010 (EDT)
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Quite seriously, I've only been in Shawnee once and that was over ten years ago.

My friend who hikes there almost once or twice a year, recommended a good book called the River-to-River Trail. It's out of print but you can still find it if you do a search on

Unfortunatley, there doesn't seem to be a large number of resources for hiking in that area on the web. You might want to try a Google search on River-to-River Trail because I seem to remember that there was a website dedicated to hiking in that area.

The thing to keep in mind is that there are no resonable sources of water so you will need to cache your water on the trail prior to starting a trip. My friend gave me that word of advice too.

Also, that area is notorious for ticks so be sure to check yourself for them periodically. And keep in mind that rattlesnakes and copperheads are pretty common out there too.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many of the trails out there cut across private land so you need to be careful. Some of the people who own property out there are not very happy to have hikers walking thru their land... I know a few people who had some issues out there with the locals when they were hiking.

1:47 p.m. on July 23, 2010 (EDT)
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I will be in Shawnee National forest for my first backpacking backcountry excursion next weekend on July 29th through August 1st. I have been told to check out Bell Smith prings, Burden Falls and Jackson Falls plus Garden of the Gods and Cave in Rock. I will let you know when i get back how it is and what i think you should see/stay/avoid etc. as for Rattlesnakes i have lived in east central Illinois my whole life and have seen 1 rattlesnake and it was dead. A but there are copperheads which love warm waterey rock places so do be aware of them and ticks are very bad so tuck your pants into your boots wear a hat or bandana and you may even want to wear a long sleeve light weight white cotton t-shirt even though the temps in the last couple of days here have been 95+ with a heat index 0f 105-115. Any ill keep you posted

3:24 p.m. on July 24, 2010 (EDT)
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I would definitely appreciate any information you could share. Have a safe trip and hear from you soon.

10:20 p.m. on July 29, 2010 (EDT)
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We did the Garden of the Gods to the Lusk Creek Trailhead in June this year. Never been there before. the National Forest Service has got a great map of the surrounding area/trails and current trail conditions for free. Contact number is 618-658-1312. They also have contacts for someone to help spot your car if needed. This was used by us although it seemed expensive. If you park at the Garden of the gods trailhead to start the rules state to camp the previous night at the campground. ( no idea why).

If you're backpacking in addition to the above posts, some points to ponder... A lot of the trail was shared with horses. When we went some sections were muddy and very rutted though passible.( Thank God we had no weak ankles.) There were a few miles on roads also.

You can get trapped by flash floods for a time. Precautions are necessary in some areas. In wet weather there are a couple of easy water crossings

Drinking water could be a problem. We camped at One Horse Gap and brought enough with us for the night. That was the only stretch we ran into like that. It was still wet season and there were some streams we could filter.If you have time you could cache some at one of several road crossings. We did not.

TICKS and more TICKS. In 2 1/2 days one of us had 15-20 crawling, one had 20-25 and the dog had more than that. I didn't have any. No idea why, maybe because I don't smoke.

We never got off trail. We had the Forest Service Map and a trail map bought from the guy who spotted us. These trails are frequently rerouted because of erosion, etc and a map could be slightly off on accuracy.

Visibility will be better after some leaves fall. Hope this helps...

9:59 a.m. on August 2, 2010 (EDT)
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Okay. So we just got back from Shawnee yesterday. Very very pretty down there. Ive lived in Illinois for 29 years and had no idea that type of landscape was only a 3 hour drive. We did not do any overnight backpacking due to having younger kids. We did 3 day hikes and 22 miles and drove in and out. I do recommend on hiking "Rim Rock" which was an awesome day hike all around the top trail and down to the valley and hiked to pounds hollow which was my favorite hike. we didnt hike the garden of gods trail but we did hike up down and all around the garden of the gods. Also Bell Smith Springs has a nice day hike area, it has the #5 biggest natural arch east of the mississppi at 102 feet long, 40 feet off the ground and a neat steel ladder driven into the cliff so you can climb up up to it, it also has a 100 foot waterfall "Jackson Falls" and a 40 foot waterfall "Burden Falls" which were dried up for us of course. The trails are all nicely beat down and well marked. It was difficult to find where the trailheads started and ended as the national forest service is not very thourough on there signs and it was difficult to find any topo maps for the area. Lots and lots of ticks as Awwman said, i mean alot. We did see a copperhead and a couple of non venomous snakes on the upper rim trail of rim rock, the copperhead was coiled up inside of a log good photo. Cave in rock was another neat area but again im pretty sure it would only be good for day hikes, but you can hike the state park or up and down the ohio river. Also if you are gonna be down that way another nice day hike would be Piney Creek Ravine natural area near Chester Illinois. There are over 200 native american pictographs and petroglyphs carved into the cliif faces here, along with hundreds more recent ones, people just dont care about anything anymore. anyway another neat hiking area and no one was there. We only seen 2 other hikers in the 3 days we were down there. Hope this helps and if you have any questions let me know i may have forgotten something.

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