Exploring Shawnee National Forest
It was spring break for my long time friend Emily and I was itching to get away, so we decided to go on a hiking trip. After some debate and a coin toss, we started planning our trip to Shawnee National Forest.
We visited Shawnee March 14th-16th. We had perfect weather and decided to tent camp. Below I have descriptions of each of the places we hiked along with descriptions and helpful tips 🙂 Hope this helps you with your tip to Shawnee National Forest.
Picking Up Maps
There are two districts within the national forest, Hidden Springs and Mississippi Bluffs. When planning your trip make sure to check which hiking places are in each district so you don’t waste too much time driving. Make sure to stop by one of the ranger stations of the supervisor’s office to pick up a overview map of the park and individual maps for each hiking spot. These will be helpful, as they describe the trail and give instructions on how to locate each area. Do not rely on signage to direct you where to go as the areas are spread out and brown recreation signs are a rarity. Also, there is horrible cell reception and very little data.
Hidden Springs Ranger District
Garden of the Gods: The views here are super gorgeous and will only take you about 45-60 minutes to explore depending on if you climb the rocks and explore a bit. This is a loop trail that will take you back to the parking lot. This place is definitely worth going to. The first night we also camped here for $10, just so you know there are bathrooms, but no showers.
High Knob: High Knob can be difficult to find. Make sure to hang right when you come to the equestrian campground and follow the road up the hill. You come to a super pretty overlook and some picnic tables. It’s a great place to have lunch, but there is also a small tail that should take less than an hour. There isn’t much maintenance, so it can be tricky to find. As you look at the picnic tables from the parking lot, go to the right, and look through the trees a little bit. There will be some stairs that will take you to the base of the rock where you can explore. It is a loop trail and you will end up on the other side of the picnic tables.
Rim Rock & Pounds Hollow: The trail for Rim and Rock and Pounds Hollow can be done together. Rim Rock is a loop trail that will have an opportunity to go to Pounds Hollow. Pounds Hollow is not a loop, so you once you get there, walk the same trail back. Frogs + turtles can be spotted along the way. At first when approaching Rim Rock trail from the parking lot you will encounter 3 different trails, stay to left, this takes you on the lower trail to explore around the base of the rock, you will come out on the right side.
Burden Falls: Burden Falls was awesome. The waterfall is beautiful but be prepared to get wet. It’s a good idea to bring waterproof shoes since most of the time you’ll be by the creek or in the waterfalls. Don’t be afraid to climb down the rocks and explore! The trail here can be tricky to follow. It stays close to creek and can be found at the top by the parking lot. When you are on top of the hill and feel the trail has ended, don’t worry, just go down the hill!
Bell Smith Springs: This was one of our places and would definitely recommend. It is also within 15 minutes of Burden Falls and has a campground as well. Once again there are no showers. Just note that if you grabbed a specific map for this area from a station it is not updated with the white trail info. There is a map at the trail head that shows the white trail. Emily & I got lost on the white trail. I definitely recommend taking the blue trail and then going onto the lower yellow. Once you come across the ladder it will take you to the upper yellow which leads into the white if you go to the right. Overall a great place to go hiking for hours with colored markers along the way.
Cave-In-Rock It is technically not a part of Shawnee, but is apart of it’s own state park, but since you’re in the area you might as well stop here. It one massive 55 foot opening of a cave. There is not much to do once inside but it’s magnificent to see. Also, sitting by the river is a great place to watch the sunset.
Mississippi Bluffs Ranger District
Little Grand Canyon: This is a great place to do a couple hours of hiking but make sure to bring your waterproof shoes. This is a gem that is easily missed due to sketchy trails and waterfall staircases. Emily and I entered the trail by the parking lot and then when we got to the overlook after wandering and climbing on the bluffs we found the slim trail to the right that takes one down to a waterfall and natural rock stairs. When you get to the bottom there are white trail markers and a defined path. To exit the canyon you will have to go back up another waterfall. You have gone just a tad too far if you hit “private property” signs. Overall, I would definitely recommend this hike.
Inspiration Point: This is one of the most scenic overlooks and makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. It is a very easy hike and suitable for most. Takes about 30 minutes total but words can’t describe it. The hyperlink to trail is the exact format of maps that can be found at the supervisor’s and ranger’s stations.
Pomona Natural Bridge: This is also a very easy hike and is family friendly. There’s a couple large rocks to play on, but honestly Emily and I didn’t find much reason to stay long. Glad we did it, because we were in the area, but left much to be desired.
Fountain Bluff: I can’t find much information on them about them on the website but there are some bluffs with a couple of trails. They’re pretty tricky to find and most areas have been covered with damage due to a storm in 2008. But if you want to find them there is a couple trails heading North on Gorham Road from Route 3. The first one will be .5 miles in and you just park on the side of the road where tire tracks should be. Go down a little bit and there will be another trail. There is waterfall and a ladder to climb. The damage made it hard to do to much hiking here. I’d bring a machete to cut branches out of the way. Go North again on Gorham Rd and there you will get to where the bluffs end. Park you car and walk the north line of trees until you come across the path. There’s not too long of a path or much to see but we were determined to find something. We never really figured out how to get to the top of the bluffs. There is a street off of Gorham that goes past a school and there’s a cool view there but not much else. Please let me know if you found how to get up there.
Overall, Shawnee was awesome & Emily was deff the best partner to do it with. We both had a great time & one day I hope to return again.