More than 320 million years ago, the wind and rain patiently started to chisel away at large deposits of sedimentary rock located in what is now, Shawnee National Forest . Over the years, the elements have sculpted some of the most stunning and extraordinary rock formations known to man. This garden of sandstone sculptures and vast untouched wilderness was fittingly named Garden of the Gods.
The park contains a variety of plant and animal life, adding to the scenic beauty of the Shawnee Forest. Garden of the Gods covers more than 3,300 acres of forest throughout the Southeastern Illinois counties of Saline, Pope and Hardin. There are also plenty of trails for backpacking and horseback riding, allowing nature lovers a welcome tour of what the lively environment has to offer.
Among the 5.5 miles of interconnecting trails, the most popular is Observation Trail. The trail is of average difficulty and is occasionally marked with educational signs outlining the history and geology of the region. Fair warning to trail-goers though, rocks along the trail can become slippery and dangerous when wet.
There are also magnificent bluffs which drop more than 100 feet down, but provide breathtaking views of the forests below and beyond. Some of the more popular rock formations surrounding the cliffs acquired titles such as Camel Rock, Mushroom Rock and, one of the first formations named, Anvil Rock.
The park and its campsites are open year round. Pharaoh Campground has 12 campsites all outfitted with fire pits, picnic tables, toilets and drinking water. A $10 fee is required for camping. Just make sure to bring all the necessary roughing-it items. The nearest town is a good 20 minutes away, but the short drive is well worth the trip.
With its massive pillars of sandstone and scenic bluff overlooks, Garden of the Gods is one of the most inspiring views of the Midwest. A garden truly made for men, but of the gods.
From Exit 54 at Interstate 57 and Illinois 13, drive 25 miles east on Illinois 13 to US 45 in Harrisburg . Turn right onto US 45 and drive south 1 mile to Illinois 34. Turn left onto Illinois 34 and drive 16 miles to Karbers Ridge Road . Turn left onto Karbers Ridge Road and drive 3 miles east to Illinois 10, turn left. Continue about 1 mile to Garden of the Gods Road, turn left. Look for Garden of the Gods Recreation area on your left.
From the south take Illinois 1 North to Cadiz Road. Turn left and continue west 6 miles to Karbers Ridge Road . Turn left and continue west for 4 miles to Illinois 10 (Garden of the Gods Road ). Turn left and travel about 1 mile. Turn left into Garden of the Gods Recreation area.
Author Kevin Kepple
Kevin is a writer, poet, songwriter and English major at Southern Illinois University.