The town of Harrisburg sits near the southern tip of the state of Illinois. The town’s population and recognition grew in the early 20th-century due to its good supply of coal, which has died down since the late 1900s. Since then, Harrisburg has embraced its prime location that puts it on the edge of the great Shawnee National Forest and guests often use it as a home base when visiting the forest. Harrisburg has a great mix of historical buildings that travelers can enjoy by just driving or walking downtown, in addition to some great spots for food.
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1. Garden of the Gods
Perfect for those not looking for an intense hiking session, the Garden of the Gods is a great location for some truly striking scenery. Some particular locations have names including: Camel Rock, Mushroom Rock, and Anvil Rock. The stone's unique formations come together in such a way that make them look as if they were sculpted by hand, hence the name “Garden of the Gods”. The location of the recreation area that is home to the garden is about a 32-minute drive outside of Harrisburg. The Observation Trail is a popular, average difficulty trail that is well marked with signs that are informative about the history of the park. The trail is not far from the Pharaoh Campground if guests wish to stay somewhere close by.
Garden of the Gods
Address: Shawnee National Forest, Observation Trail, Herod, IL 62947
Website: Garden of the Gods
2. Shawnee Forest Cabins
A 26-minute ride from Harrisburg and just a small drive down the road from Garden of the Gods are the lovely Shawnee Forest Cabins. These cabins come in the one-bedroom and two-bedroom variety. Each cabin has a fully equipped kitchen that includes large appliances, cooking utensils, a coffee maker, in addition to a fire pit outside. A two-night stay is required unless there is only a single night available between already scheduled reservations. The one-bedroom cabins come with a hot tub for extra relaxation. The one-bedroom cabins can hold up to 4 guests, but an additional 10 USD is added per night if the reservation includes more than 2 guests. The two-bedroom cabins can hold up to 6 guests and should more than 2 guests be staying, an additional 10 USD is required.
Shawnee Forest Cabins
Price: from 139 USD
Number of Guests: 2
3. Burden Falls
Towards the other side of the Shawnee National Forest are the Burden Falls. Some call this the best waterfall in southern Illinois because of the great scenery that surrounds the falls and its great photography potential. These falls are about a 30-minute drive from Harrisburg and a 32-minute drive from Shawnee Forest Cabins. The falls are not far from the road, so guests can actually see the falls from their car. Unfortunately there are no trails or stairs in the area, but there is still a safe route to the bottom and top of the falls.
Address: Shawnee National Forest, Stonefort, IL 62987
Website: Burden Falls
4. Bell Smith Springs Scenic Area
A 30-minute drive from Harrisburg and a 10-minute drive from Burden Falls is the Bell Smith Springs Scenic Area. The grounds contain a variety of streams with clear water as well as cliffs, and indigenous flora and fauna. There are hiking trails surrounding the area that combine into eight miles (12.8 km) total. The best time of year to visit is from May through September, when the weather is amiable.
Bell Smith Springs Scenic Area
Address: Shawnee National Forest, Bell Smith Springs Rd, Ozark, IL 62972
Website: Bell Smith Springs Scenic Area
5. Harrisburg Township Park District
When you’re done adventuring in the Shawnee National Forest, retiring to central Harrisburg is a great option. The Harrisburg Township Park District is a great municipal park available to enjoy a nice stroll in. There is a nice playground open if you have children that would enjoy playing on the equipment. The park is also host to several fitness classes including yoga, and karate. These classes require registration that is on a first-come-first-serve basis and each has its own fee for admission. This fee is different depending on the specific class you are registering for, so it is wise to check that on the park’s website first. The park is open from 7am to 11pm and is strictly enforced. There are also pavilions available for rent, if you wish to hold an event, or would simply like to have a pavilion reserved for your activities. This is also on a first serve basis, and cost 20 USD for a half day and 30 USD for a full day. Reservations are required, and visitors may choose a specific pavilion. The park is also home to many summer programs for both children and adults. These include swimming programs, tennis lessons, baseball games, and movie nights. The prices for these programs vary, so check their website for specific details.
Harrisburg Township Park District
Address: 921 W Poplar St, Harrisburg, IL 62946
Website: Harrisburg Township Park District
6. Morello’s Restaurant and Catering
After a fun day outside a nice big meal sounds pretty good. So end your day with some delicious pizza at Morella’s Restaurant. This community favorite is a locally owned treat that specializes in a mix of Italian and American cuisine. They are well known in the area for their great pizza, but their menu features other comfort foods including: wings, hamburgers, steaks, fish, soups, salads, and a featured list of Italian favorites. Morello’s also has a great list of available wines. Morello’s is available for catering upon scheduling with one of their representatives, the appropriate contact information is on their website under the “Catering” menu.
Morello’s Restaurant and Catering
Address: 217 E Poplar St, Harrisburg, IL 62946
Website: Morello’s Restaurant and Catering
Outdoor adventures and delicious food
Harrisburg is a great location for those looking for an easy trip into the Shawnee National Forest. Its proximity to the park and its own attractions within the town are what make this a great stop if you’re going through southern Illinois. Take a day to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the area and when you’re done, retire to the slow-paced streets of the city for some yummy food to put the icing on the proverbial cake of your day.