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8 Wilderness Areas Located in Southern Illinois

Check out 8 of the best Designated Wilderness Areas in Southern Illinois offering visitors hiking, backpacking, camping and wildlife viewing.
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  1. When we think about a Wilderness Area, we often think about something out of Alaska or the mountainous regions of the country. We never really assume that a wilderness exists in Illinois of all places. But we would be wrong to think that! There are actually 8 different officially designated wilderness areas located right here in southern Illinois. While these 8 wilderness areas are not as vast and large as those in Alaska, they are still designated as a wilderness area and they are still something us Southern Illinoisans can brag about. In this article, we will take a look at the 8 Wilderness Areas Located in Southern Illinois. If you have yet to visit any of these wilderness areas, you should get out and visit them soon because they belong to you!

    #1 – Bald Knob Wilderness Area
    Located in Union County, Illinois, the Bald Knob Wilderness Area is best known for its Bald Knob Cross, one of the largest Christian monuments located in the United States. Each year the Bald Knob Cross site features the Official Blessing of the Bikes where motorcyclists from all over the country and world visit to be blessed at the Bald Knob Cross for safe riding. Rain or shine, motorcyclists make their way to the cross each year. But the cross isn’t the only feature about this area. The Bald Knob area is also a designated wilderness area in southern Illinois with old abandoned roads, creeks, bluffs and cemeteries that are worth seeing. With elevations of up to 980 feet, sightseeing at the Bald Knob Wilderness Area is something to see once in your life. The wilderness area offers trails and other sightseeing points for those traveling to it.

    #2 – Clear Springs Wilderness Area
    Hutchins Creek separates the Bald Knob Wilderness from the Clear Springs Wilderness allowing visitors to check out two different wilderness areas in one trip. Clear Springs Wilderness Area offers many sightseeing opportunities to those who visit the area. Rusted out old farming implements and abandoned croplands show the historical presence of the farming industry that made southern Illinois what it is today. There are 400 foot bluffs allowing visitors to get a wide view of the Big Muddy River and the Mississippi River Valley of the southern Illinois region. There are various creeks and waterholes worth checking out within this wilderness area. A photographer could have a field day while visiting the elegant section of southern Illinois. This wilderness areas offer easy hiking and wilderness camping which there are no fees in order to do so.

    #3 – Bay Creek Wilderness Area
    Located in Pope County, Illinois near Eddyville, Bay Creek Wilderness Area offers something of a unique area for those exploring the forest areas of the great Shawnee National Forest. Once an agricultural hub, the Bay Creek Area is now officially designated as a wilderness area in the United States. With land allowed to become a wilderness area, hardwood tree species have covered the area of the wilderness. Water from the Bay Creek Wilderness Area is responsible for furnishing the water that accompanies the Burden Falls waterfall located in the Burden Falls wilderness areas which is connected onto the Bay Creek Wilderness Area. Bay Creek also flows through Watkins Creek, an actual ghost town of southern Illinois. There are nearly 3,000 acres of wilderness to explore in the Bay Creek Area.

    #4 – Burden Falls Wilderness Area
    Burden Falls Wilderness Area, located in Pope County, Illinois offers travelers and sightseers a chance to view one of the largest waterfalls in the region. There are backpacking and hiking favorites within the Burden Falls Wilderness Area as well. The Burden Falls area is also situated near the Bay Creek Wilderness Area and the Bell Smith Springs Recreational Area. Bell Smith is another popular hiking and swimming site among visitors in the area. Trails are mainly used by hikers, backpackers and equestrians. There are hunting grounds within this area so it is not recommended to hike the area during hunting season. The length of the Burden Falls Wilderness trail is about 3 1/2 miles long. Seeing the waterfall is best after a good hard rain in the area although the roads and conditions to the location can be hazardous so please use extreme caution when traveling to this area after it has rained a lot.

    #5 – Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area
    The Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area is probably one of the most visited recreation sites in southern Illinois. With famous sites such as Camel Rock and bluffs to view the entire Hidden Springs Ranger District of the Shawnee National Forest, this area would indeed be so widely visited by folks from all over the world. If you have not yet visited the trails and wilderness areas of the Garden of the Gods, then you are truly missing out on one of the best outdoor recreational opportunities available in southern Illinois. Access to the Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area can easily be made at the Observation Trail, a trail with heavy tourist traffic. This wilderness area is served by the River to River trail which begins at the Ohio and ends at the Mississippi River ranging from over 100 miles of hiking and equestrian trails. This area is widely considered the most visited wilderness area in the State of Illinois.

    #6 – Crab Orchard Wilderness Area
    Not many locals know it, but Crab Orchard is a designated wilderness area as of 1976 with 4,050 acres in the designation area. Crab Orchard is mainly known for its fishing and hunting activities. Crab Orchard Wilderness area is mainly for fishing and game sport as well as bird and wildlife watching. Camping is restricted to official designated camp grounds and there are no officially maintained hiking trails. Nonetheless, Crab Orchard offers a well-known campground that is family orientated and a lake that is famous for fishing and boating in southern Illinois. Crab Orchard is located in between Carbondale and Marion, two of the largest communities located in the southern Illinois region.

    #7 – Panther’s Den Wilderness Area
    Panther’s Den Wilderness borders the Crab Orchard Wilderness area. Panther’s Den was officially designated as a wilderness in 1990. There are over 800 acres within this wilderness area. Panther’s Den is considered the smallest wilderness in Illinois but still offers a lot in terms of wildlife viewing, hiking and dispersed camping among travelers and locals in the area. Permits are not required for trail hiking and camping within the wilderness. There are tall cliffs and bluffs within the wilderness that makes this area special as well as shelter cliffs that suggest usage by people for more than one century and quite possibly from ancient tribes and first settlers in the region. Panther’s Den is also located near a local wine trail that is very popular among visitors in the area and is close to Giant City State Park, a famous hiking and outdoor recreational area in southern Illinois.

    #8 – Lusk Creek Wilderness Area
    In 1990, over 6,000 acres of the Lusk Creek area was designated as a wilderness area within the State of Illinois. Lusk Creek characteristics are unusual for the State of Illinois as the area includes winding canyons and rugged terrain. Finding sheltered caves, sinkholes and high bluffs surrounding watered areas along Lusk Creek is easy in this particular wilderness area. The 1.5 mile trail Indian Kitchen is among some of the favorite trails within this wilderness. The trail suggests that ancient people had used the area more than 10,000 years ago. Camping and hiking does not require a permit in this designated wilderness area. There are several unofficial trails in the area which often require a compass and a map for usage. The trails in this wilderness are often considered difficult and visitors should practice smart hiking when in the area.

    Those were the 8 wilderness areas located in southern Illinois. I hope you enjoyed reading this article and learn more about the wilderness areas that southern Illinois has to offer to locals and travelers alike. Please share this article with others and especially on social media to show support for its creation. Join Southern Illinois Hiking Forum to find out more about these wilderness areas and to discuss the areas with other hikers, backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts.

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