Shawnee Forest Weekends

Shawnee Forest

Photo: Trail fun in the Shawnee National Forest

Shawnee Forest Weekends
Prehistoric Mississippians stalked deer and lived comfortably atop a cliff overlooking what is now the Shawnee National Forest, named for the defiant ones lead by Tecumseh into these lands. Cherokees traveled the Trail of Tears on the forced march to Oklahoma, and their cries of injustice still echo in our canyons. Today, visitors can retrace the steps of the ancients through forests filled with mysticism, beauty, wildlife, canyons, waterways, history, and adventure in Southernmost, Illinois. Read on for weekend ideas out of the ordinary.

The Shawnee National Forest is home to a vast number of bird species. Visitors come armed with books, digital cameras, tripods, and binoculars. They chose to visit Southern Illinois in order to catalogue the most birds in the shortest space of time.

People who love to get away for the weekend, enjoy living well and getting a lot of fresh air and exercise. Bicyclists visit often, and invariably they cycle the Tunnel Hill State Trail. Some elect to ride the beautiful short route from Tunnel Hill to Vienna, where they pass through a tunnel so dark that they lose all sense of dimension, over trestles, cutting through bluffs, and through sprawling forests and farmlands. Most serious athletes take on the challenge of riding from Harrisburg to Karnak and back, which is approximately 90 miles!

Climbing, Walking & On Horseback
The canyons of Southernmost Illinois are amazing, and climbers of all skill levels visit here to experience some new rocky challenges. Serious climbers attend the professional climbing school located on Draper’s Bluff, while casual climbers, picnic makers, and walkers prefer the paths of Bellsmith Springs, Photographers find hidden waterways, falls, rock formations, swamps, and canyons filled with wildlife and unbelievable beauty in Lusk Creek Canyon, Burden Falls, and other sites in the Shawnee National Forest. All these wonders can be experienced on foot, by canoe, or on horseback.

History & Genealogy
The area is full of Native American, military, and pioneer history. Johnson, Pope, and Gallatin County are among the oldest counties in Illinois and full of records, cemeteries, and historical research groups. An unusual and satisfying weekend adventure is an ancestor hunt. Visitors who believe they are part Cherokee come to the area searching for their ancestors, and try to attend meetings of the Western United Cherokee, who host cultural and genealogy nights twice monthly. Others of pioneer stock visit the historic courthouses with records dating back to a time before Illinois was a state, and delve into the collections of the Vienna Public Library or the Paul Powell House. The Johnson County Genealogical & Historical Society has created a project documenting pioneers in the area prior to 1850. The pioneer cemeteries are very old, and there are Native American burial grounds throughout. Perhaps the most compelling is the prehistoric site atop Millstone Bluff near Robbs.

For Children
Families like to visit areas where their children can have new and meaningful experiences. Three weekend choices that children never forget include: first-time fishing adventures, horseback riding lesson, slow trekking, and a climbing lesson. Children like to learn new things, and there are quite a few things to learn and do when fishing. First, there is the process of finding nightcrawlers or other bait; learning to bait the hook; casting; hooking a fish; and then landing or netting it. Some will throw the fish back, and some will clean, scale, and cook them for a delicious dinner.

Riding a horse on a forest trail is a pleasure everyone should experience, and children adore the opportunity to pet the horses, mount them, take their first ride, and have their pictures taken in the saddle. Lake Glendale Stables or Giant City Stables are great places for new riders, and an experienced outrigger will teach them how to ride and take them for a safe and stimulating ride. Lake Glendale Stables books one family at a time or a small group of adults. Rock and mountain climbing are great ways to keep fit, learn quick decision making and safety, and these activities are very exciting for children. Vertical Heartland Climbing School provides beginning climbers with professional advice on equipment and all the ins and outs of expert climbing techniques.

For Lovers
Starscapes in the Shawnee National Forest are brilliant, breathtaking, and a new experience for many city dwellers. They are also very romantic, as are the canyons and flora that abound, which makes this a great place to fall in love. There are a number of cabins, bed & breakfast, and inns in the area now to choose from for a romantic weekend getaway. Celebrate your love, anniversary, engagement, or get married here.

For more information, contact the Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau at 800-C-IT-HERE, www.southernmostillinois.com