Harrisburg Activities: Suggested Itineraries to Shawnee National Forest

There are lots of Harrisburg activities for travelers in southern Illinois.

Shawnee National Forest
50 Hwy. 145 S
Harrisburg, IL 62946

Shawnee National Forest offers a large diversity of ecosystems in over 270,000 acres of national park land. Wilderness makes up about 10 percent of the forest. Established by President Roosevelt in 1939, the area is home to more than 260 bird species and over 100 species of fish. One popular itinerary is to take Route 34 south from Harrisburg to Route 146 east to see the Garden of the Gods, spectacular rock outcroppings that are more than 300 million years old. Popular with rock climbers, the stunning vistas can also be enjoyed hiking along the easy Observation Trail. Nearby, Pounds Hollow Lake offers sportsmen a challenge reeling in largemouth bass, catfish and bluegills.

The Johnson Creek Recreation Area is on Kinkaid Lake in the Shawnee National Forest. There is a public boat ramp, swimming and canoeing. Water skiing is permitted as well. Cliff diving is attempted by some visitors; some cliffs rise 60 feet above the water. There are 92 miles of trails along the shoreline that are popular with hikers and bikers. Horseback riding is a popular pastime. Take Route 13 west to Route 149 west, then Route 3 north to Route 151. After a fun-filled day of adventure, you will relish indeed heading back to relax at your comfortable Harrisburg Bed & Breakfast.

Murphysboro Ranger District
2221 Walnut St.
Murphysboro, IL 62966

The LaRue-Pine Hills ecological area near Jonesboro is a nature lover’s paradise, and one of the most popular Harrisburg activities. Herons, egrets and warblers are plentiful, and it is not unusual to see a pleated woodpecker. Bird watchers abound in the 4200-acre pristine forested site. Several rare animal species can be seen here, including the golden mouse, Indiana bat and green water snake. The fishing at nearby Watkins Creek is world class. For five miles along the Missouri River valley the awe-inspiring limestone bluffs of the Pine Hills rise up over 120 feet from the flood plain. Take Route 13 west to Route 149 west to Route 3 south.

Bald Knob Cross of Peace
3630 Bald Knob Rd
Alto Pass, IL 62905

Not far from Pine Hills is the Bald Knob Cross of Peace. Completed in 1963, the cross rises 110 feet, making it the tallest cross in the Western Hemisphere. When lit at night it can be seen for miles around. An annual Easter sunrise service has been held on the site since 1937. Then head south on Route 3, east on Route 146 to Route 147 east to Route145 north to see the incredible Bell Smith Springs, designated a National Historic Landmark, yet another of the many Harrisburg activities, Bell Smith is comprised of four creeks which come together in a canyon. Through a unique phenomenon of interconnected ecosystems there are a dozen springs of ice cold water all year round which never go dry. There are over 700 species of plants which grow here. Native Americans believed the site was sacred. Bobcats, deer, wild turkeys and foxes can be seen coming for water. With a long day behind you, you will appreciate heading back to the friendliness of your Harrisburg Inn.