Shawnee National Forest
Guide

Introduction

Shawnee National Forest is a 289,000-acre retreat situated in the southern tip of Illinois. The vast stretches of forest, wetlands, and scenic bluffs offer a great mix of terrain types for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and climbing. Most of the forest is also open to hunting, and the area is popular for buck trophy hunting. Birdwatchers will find one of the most diverse ecosystems in the state, with hundreds of species passing through the forest during annual migrations in spring and fall.

You can also explore the forest’s 11 lakes and 52 ponds, home to a range of fish species. You’ll be able to catch largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and sunfish, as well as a number of other species. Most of the lakes in the area are great for kayaking and canoeing, with long, shaded shorelines.

There is only one developed RV campground in the forest. However, it has plenty of space, with 93 sites, many of which have electrical hookups for your rig. You’ll be right on the shores of Lake Glendale, with access to miles of hiking trails, a swim beach, and excellent fishing. Should you want more privacy, you can partake in dispersed camp in a number of areas throughout the forest.

RV Rentals in Shawnee National Forest

Transportation

Driving

Located in the southern tip of Illinois, Shawnee National Forest is within driving distance of a number of major cities in the region, including Nashville, St. Louis, and Chicago. The forest is fairly easy to navigate, with a number of main roads cutting through the area. However, there are a few remote parts of the forest that will require you to drive along narrow dirt or gravel roads.

If you are driving from Chicago, take I-57 south out of the city, and you’ll get to the forest in around five hours. Coming from St. Louis, take IL-3, and you’ll arrive in around an hour and 45 minutes. From Nashville, take I-24 out of the city and you’ll reach the forest in around two and a half hours.

The main RV campground is located next to Lake Glendale, which is located a few minutes from IL-145. The campground is easy to access, with few narrow roads or tight turns. Large RVs should be able to navigate the area with few issues.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Shawnee National Forest

Campsites in Shawnee National Forest

Reservations camping

Oak Point Campground

This large campground has 93 RV sites, 34 of which have electrical hookups. Tall pine trees surround the sites, giving you plenty of shade and privacy. There are restrooms with flush toilets and showers, as well as drinking water access points. You’ll also have access to picnic shelters with grills. There are a number of hiking trails that lead out from the campground and take you around Lake Glendale. You can access the lake from a boat launch, and swim at the beach that’s just a short walk from the RV sites.

Sites can be reserved by contacting the campground office. With 93 sites, there is usually an open spot, although the campground gets crowded on weekends starting in late spring and running through early fall. Pets are allowed, but please restrain them on a leash when you are outside of the rig.

First-come first-served

Dispersed Camping

If you want more privacy while you visit the forest, you can also try dispersed camping in a number of areas. There are a number of private plots in the area, so make sure that you park your RV on public land.

Seasonal activities in Shawnee National Forest

In-Season

Fishing

There are a range of angling opportunities in the forest, with 11 lakes and 52 ponds. You’ll find a variety of fish species, including large and smallmouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and sunfish. Oak Point Campground, the main RV campground in the forest, is located next to Lake Glendale, where you’ll find some of the best fishing in the forest. There is a boat launch just outside of the campground, and you can also fish along the shore.

Hiking

With nearly 300,000 acres of shady woodlands for you to explore, Shawnee National Forest is a hiker’s paradise. There are hundreds of miles of trails, with routes that will suit hikers of all ages and experience levels. You can also find a number of trails leading out from Lake Glendale, next to the forest’s main RV campground. Hiking is excellent from spring through late fall. Come during spring to see the forest covered in flowers, or in autumn for rich fall colors.

Boating

With 11 lakes and 52 ponds, there are plenty of places to get out onto the water. Canoeing and kayaking are popular at Lake Glendale, which is right next to the forest’s main RV campground. There is a boat launch that makes getting out onto the water easy, and you can use motorized boats on the lake, making the lake popular for water and jet skiing during the summer. There are limited boat rentals provided at Lake Glendale, so consider bringing your own along with your rig.

Off-Season

Climbing

Adventurous RV campers will also find a number of bluffs for rock climbing. Jackson Falls is one of the best spots in the forest for climbing, with scenic views and technical faces that will challenge experienced climbers. There are no gear rentals from the main RV campground in the forest, so bring everything you need along with your campervan. Do take caution while climbing in the forest, as most of the designated natural areas are off limits.

Birdwatching

The bluffs and dense canopy of pine trees are home to hundreds of bird species, making it one of the best areas in the state for birdwatching. If you visit during the spring or fall, you can catch large migrations, including of American white pelicans. Illinois has some of the most committed audubon societies in the country, many of which produce free field guided and bird checklists. Check their websites for educational information, as well as to find out more about the forest’s best birdwatching spots.

Hunting

With a variety of big and small game species, Shawnee National Forest is a popular local hunting destination. Deer are the most commonly hunted game in the forest, and you’ll also find a number of waterfowl species. Take caution when hunting in the forest, as there are dozens of miles of popular hiking trails that cut through the area. You’ll also need an Illinois state hunting license for any game you plan on hunting in the forest.

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