Monday, February 24, 2014

320 Millions Years Well Spent: Garden of the Gods, IL

Garden of the Gods, Sit and Overlook
Be sure to take time to soak in the natural beauty of the area.

The exquisite sandstone formations located at Garden of the Gods Recreation Area, located in Illinois, took nearly 320 million years to form and, in my opinion, every single second has been very, very well spent. The area boasts truly awe inspiring vistas that beg to be fully taken in, small well worn trails that beckon you to lay tread to, and unique formations that are instantly recognizable, such as; Camel, Mushroom, and Anvil Rock formations. This true Illinois treasure is one of the most awe inspiring locations I have laid eyes upon, and was reminiscent of views I experienced in South Dakota and Colorado, only far, far closer to home!

Devil's Smokestack, Garden of the Gods IL
You can't miss the Devil's Smokestack!
Garden of the Gods Recreation Area boasts over 3300 acres of forest in the counties of Pope, Saline, and Hardin, with 5.5 miles of interconnecting trails spread throughout. However, the most popular trail by far is the quarter mile long Observation Trail. This well maintained and traveled interpretive trail will have you gazing at some very interesting rock formations such as Monkey Face, Mushroom Rock, Table Rock, Camel Rock and the Devil's Smokestack. In just a few short seconds, you'll easily be able to make out each of the namesake rocks as you stroll along the trail, take care and watch your step though, the smooth sandstone beneath your feet may be slippery when wet. Before venturing down the trail be sure to read the large informational signboard that contains background on the natural history and geology of the area, there will be additional interpretive signs along the trail as well pointing out even more interesting formations and history. Honestly, I don't want to give away too much on this short hike, it is a path best experienced rather than explained.

Interesting outcrop
Interesting outcrops are EVERYWHERE!
If you are heading out to the Garden of the Gods be sure to wear comfortable shoes because the rocks, cliffs, and chasms BEG to be climbed upon and explored. No matter your age, I can guarantee that you will hear a small voice from within asking "What do you think you can see from up there?" and before you can even consciously reply, your body will be moving forward, ready to discover the answer. I'd also suggest that you pack a lunch as there are many places along the trail to stop and rest, allowing you to really soak in the surrounding beauty, and these spots are perfect for small picnics (just be sure to keep the area beautiful by picking up all your trash, please, remember ).

Scenic overlook after scenic overlook is what you can expect.
I also want to let you know that this area is one of the busier parks that we have visited, on any given nice day I can assure you that you will see many other hikers and nature lovers out on this trail. In fact, on our summer visit the area was downright crowded in some spots (but you can always find some spots to have to yourself for a bit). So if seclusion and solitude is what you seek, you may want to hit a portion of the River to River Trail, which runs through Garden of the Gods. However, I can't stress how splendid the views are from the Observation Trail and missing them is darn near criminal...

Ever wonder what a tree eats?
For those of you interested in longer journeys, this makes a fantastic starting area to traverse a portion of the 160 mile River to River Trail, which blazes through the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area. The Garden of the Gods Recreation Area can also satisfy those of you looking to "rough it" a bit, with year round camping at the Pharaoh Campgrounds, but be sure to bring what you need with you as the nearest town, Elizabethtown is about a 20 minute drive away. Campsites are rented for $10 on a first come, first served basis.

Garden of the Gods Recreation Area and the Observation Trail make an absolutely fantastic family friendly day trip. I can assure you that after a day of bouncing among the boulders, shimmying along the outcrops, and traveling the quarter mile trail, your curtain climbers will be tuckered! Just be sure to pack a light snack or lunch and follow some of these tips for a great day hike. You may want to include a couple of band-aids though, just in case of a scraped knee. Just be sure to take time to revel in the splendor of the area and have fun!




More Information:
Visit Local Treks on facebook!
Tips: How To Take A Great Dayhike 
Shawnee National Forest - Garden of the Gods
Pharaoh Campground Information (Nearly halfway down the page)
My Flickr Garden of the Gods Photos
Garden of the Gods Trail Map (via ShawneeNationalForest.com)
Illinois Wildflowers (online guide with pictures)
National Geographic "Backyard Bird Identifier"


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