Winter hiking in the Shawnee National Forest is just one popular winter activity here in southern, Illinois! Yes, it can be cold out there, but not near as cold as the northern parts of our state.

If you are really lucky, the waterfalls will be flowing or frozen, either sight is beautiful!  You may even come across ancient Petroglyphs drawn on the bluffs, your personal discoveries will make braving the colder temperatures so worth it!  We guarantee it!

Winter Hiking Shawnee National Forest

During your hikes, you’ll see the beautiful, barren and serene scenery that the Shawnee Forest has to offer. When the trees are bare, you can even see the Mississippi River at the top of Fountain Bluff and other destinations on the Western side of the forest.

If you’re looking to do some winter hiking in the Shawnee National Forest, we put together this guide that should help you plan your first (or next) hike in Shawnee National Forest!

Best Winter Hikes in Shawnee National Forest:

Here are some recommended routes in the Shawnee National Forest for hiking, with the help of resident hiker, and Shawnee National Forest hiking expert, Shawn Gossman.  Look him up on YouTube too!

Best Winter Hikes In Shawnee National Forest

6 Areas to Winter Hike in Shawnee National Forest:

  1. Buffalo Rock Trail
  2. Cove Hollow East
  3. Sand Cave
  4. R2R (River to River Trail) Rocky Comfort West
  5. Snake Road
  6. Fountain Bluff


1. Buffalo Rock Trail

Buffalo Rock Shawnee National Forest

Located off Gum Springs Road near Ozark, Illinois area. This trail is under a mile out and back and features a visible but disappearing Buffalo on the bluff believed to be created by Native Americans. The area is great for seeing icicles and smaller frozen waterfalls. Edging the bluff line will prove to be a fun experience. Cedar creek is next to the trail and is also very scenic and wild. There’s a parking area with room for several vehicles and horse trailers. The start of the trail is on the north side of the parking area along the creek.


2. Cove Hollow East

Cove Hollow Falls Shawnee National Forest

You’ll find this trail located along the River to River trail from Trigg Tower Road, not to be mistaken for the Cove Hollow trail attached to Cedar Lake. This trail is near Ozark/Eddyville, Illinois area. Cove Hollow is a partial loop out and back trail of about 3-4 miles in length. The trail features a lot of bluffs, pine forests, hardwood forests, and waterfalls. Start at the very large East Trigg Trailhead (Hitching rack trailhead to some people), go east across the road following the R2R trail until turning left on the 001T trail, following the trail until you get to the Tin Whistle (tunnel for hikers under Railroad tracks) and then turn right to make your way back.


3. Sand Cave

Sand Cave Shawnee National Forest

This trail is located near Eddyville, Illinois and is an out and back trail of 1.5-2 miles in length, features a very large natural shelter that looks like a cave!  It doesn’t have cave features but is more like a Cave-in-Rock type of natural shelter. So large that in the past, before Natural Area rules were enforced, jeeps would drive inside of it. Truly a sight to see! The trail also features a natural arch and neat bluff lines which is easier to follow in the winter!


4. R2R Rocky Comfort West

R2R Rocky Comfort West Shawnee National Forest

Located along Rocky Comfort Road near Makanda, take the western portion of the R2R trail through what was once the outdoor learning lab for Southern Illinois University. The area is now managed by SIU-C Touch of Nature and may be accessed by the public during non-firearms hunting seasons. This area includes old chimneys and structure foundations, areas that look like old roads and curbs, old water systems and wells, old settlement and even an Indian-like sweat lodge that you may go into.

There is also, Progress cemetery which is what is left of the old ghost town of Progress, Illinois. So much old stuff to see out this way and best to visit during winter when you can actually see it all. This hike can be anywhere from 1 to 6 miles out and back, depending on how long you want to stay. A large parking lot was recently created there. Go west on the trail (the side with the parking lot).


5. Snake Road

Snake Road Image Shawnee National Forest

In the colder months, all of the snakes are in the bluffs sleeping and dreaming about summer. Winter is the perfect time to edge the bluffs and explore, see the old cemetery out there and the old settlement foundations. Visit Inspiration Point for one heck of a view and now drive the newly reopened Pine Hills Road above for even more awesome views. I love visiting Snake Road in the winter and if the sun is out, you might even see a cottonmouth snake poking its head out to get some sun – remember do not try to handle them!


6. Fountain Bluff

Fountain Bluff Shawnee National Forest

Fountain Bluff is perfect for winter exploration for so many reasons, twin waterfalls, hiking, and rock climbing too. For instance, Fountain Bluff may be best known for its Petroglyphs. It is common practice in our area to not give anyone the exact locations of the Petroglyphs in a blog or article. Just a great winter-time hike to do!


Come Enjoy Your Winter Hike!

Wherever you end up choosing to hike in Shawnee National Forest, be sure to dress warmly.  We hope you get out and experience the Shawnee National Forest before this winter ends!  Makanda Inn & Cottages is happy to host your winter hiking getaway! Book here.