Southern Illinois – Shawnee National Forest

Rend LakeRend LakeSouthern Illinois is far enough away from the Chicagoland area to require at least three days and two nights, and some advance planning. Although we usually enjoy leisurely rides along the backroads, you might want to consider taking the Interstate at least part of the way maximize your touring time down south. We had just 2-1/2 days so we visited the east end of the Shawnee National Forest and the area along the Kentucky border.

Our first stop was just off I-57 on Rend Lake. The state park there has a resort complex popular with families and fishermen. We were there on a Monday night in early October and saw only a few other guests, mostly groups there to fish. Had we thought about it, we should have requested a top floor room as we were awakened long before dawn by some very heavy-footed fishermen. The view of the lake from our room was stunning and if you bring your pole, you can fish off the balcony.

Garden of the GodsGarden of the GodsWe headed for the forest and the Garden of the Gods, so named for its stunning and extraordinary rock formations, sandstone sculptures and vast untouched wilderness, along with breathtaking views. Cave in Rock and its State Park also offered an opportunity for some hiking and scenic landscapes. The cave is a 55 foot wide cavern on the Ohio River formed by wind and water erosion and the cataclysimic effects of earthquakes in 1811-1812. Following the Revolutionary War, this immense recess came to serve as the ideal lair for outlaws, bandits and river pirates who preyed on the people traveling along the Ohio River.

The area has many recreation areas along the river and the many inland lakes. One of these is the Little Grand Canyon on the western edge of the Shawnee National Forest.
After a day of exploring the sights and great roads (including some rustic) we relaxed at the River Rose Inn in Elizabethtown and right on the Ohio River. Across the street is the Rose Hotel, built in 1830 it is one of the oldest inns in the state and operates as a Bed and Breakfast. There is also camping available as well as cabins, cottages and the usual motel chains near the highway.River Rose InnRiver Rose Inn

Here are a few cautions:
Refuel when you can. There is not a plethora of gas stations in this part of the state and when you do find one, they don’t always offer premium grade.
Make lodging reservations in advance – especially if you will be visiting on a weekend or during hunting and fishing season.
Take cash. Restaurants and taverns often won’t take a credit card.
Plan to eat early. We found that restaurants close at 7 pm.

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