One of the most pleasant areas of the state, Shawnee National Forest covers almost the entire southern eighth of Illinois. Located 310 mi/500 km south of Chicago, it includes several state parks and the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.
Near the city of Carbondale (home of Southern Illinois University), there are unusual rock formations, canyons and caves. The area is also rich in wildlife and has opportunities for hunting (at Bell Smith Springs) as well as hiking, swimming, camping and fishing. Cave-in-Rock State Park, at the forest's southeastern end, has a huge cavern set in a limestone bluff. (It was one of the shooting locations for the film How the West Was Won.)
In the fall, the whole forest is alive with color—go in mid-October and see the changing leaves as well as some of the 40,000 Canada geese that winter in the Horseshoe Lake Conservation Area (get to the lake before dawn to watch the sun rise over the water and see geese and deer—it's magnificent).
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