Southern Illinois winterbreak

End of semester, end of 2016 and seeking warmth without the cost of a tropical getaway, I ventured with my significant partner to Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois. It was mildly warmer considering we live in Wisconsin. We decided to go winter camping, because I gifted us with a new ALPS tent, that required testing. We set out from Oswego, Illinois on a 5 hour drive heading south.

For anyone who has driven through Illinois, Illinois offers plenty of flat topography … (yawn). This all changes once you descend upon the forest. The winter weather stripped the trees of their foliage, but it unveiled the rolling landscape. There is a very geological reason for this.

Where Illinoian glaciation stopped is where The Garden of the Gods begins. We set up camp along a backpackers trail. The temperature peaked around 40⁰F during the day but dropped to the 20s as night fell. Unfortunately, the wind picked up, making it impossible to enjoy the campfire. Fortunately, for us, we wore extra layers and brought lots of sleeping bags.

After surviving a windy night in the new tent, we hiked the Garden of the Gods Observation Trail. It was an easy trail, but it does get more challenging depending on how adventurous you are. I was not daring enough to climb up or down rock formations, although some hikers were. These numerous unique sandstone formations or hoodoos provided breathtaking views of the forest.

After driving on some of the back roads, we finally found a few waterfalls, Jackson and Burden Falls. Burden Falls was the smaller of the two as Jackson Falls was the highlight. It had a steep drop-off that we did not hike down to, but was still impressive. The falls provided a natural soundscape of the forest. The weather was ideal (jeans and sweatshirt were sufficient) and the areas we explored were not crowded for seasonal reasons.

Some important notes: anyone can set up camp for up to 2 weeks for free in the forest.  There are plenty of trails to explore, as well as a cave, but we didn’t have time to explore.  I also found that there were plenty of restrooms.

Though we spent only a day exploring, it was enough to make us want to come back during warmer seasons. One peculiar sighting was a cryptid statue and (maybe?) someone  we might encounter next time.