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Explore Shawnee Forest with new day-trip guide

May 24, 2013 at 09:28 AM

The State Journal-Register

The Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois is too big to be explored just one trip.

In fact, it can be downright difficult to decide what part of the 279,000-acre national forest to visit when time is limited to a three-day-weekend at most.

No need to worry. Larry and Donna Mahan have done the legwork for you.

The Mahans, who live in Palmyra about an hour southwest of Springfield, have written “20 Day Trips In and Around the Shawnee National Forest.”

The new book from Southern Illinois University Press shows readers how to get to attractions and hiking and biking trails, all while making the best use of limited time.

It took the couple eight or nine years of weekend forays to explore the trails, gather enough pictures, and compile the book.

“Donna and I own a little cabin in the southern-most part of the state, and we use that as a starting point,” Larry said. “We would spend the next two or three days walking and hiking and doing photography work.

“Every one of the trails we walked two to three times trying to get the right pictures taken,” he said. “Some people would call it work when you walk back in two to three miles, but we call it fun.”

Donna said the Tunnel Hill Trail, which stretches 47.5 miles from Harrisburg to the Henry Barkhausen Cache River Wetlands Center, was her favorite destination.

“I really enjoyed the Tunnel Hill bike trail,” she said. “I just thought it was great. I like to bike ride but I don’t like to be out on the road dodging cars.”

And don’t be put off by the distance. There are several places to get on and off the trail, and the terrain is level.

The Mahans recommend having friends pick you up at the end of a day’s ride on the trail.

Larry said one side benefit of the ongoing project was getting to know the people who live in the area.

“I was struck by how warm and sincere they were,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was a surprise, but it was a highlight. We got a lot of help. Once we developed trust, we got a lot of direction and advice from people who would take us (to find out-of-the-way trailheads).”

And what’s an outdoors adventure without a few snakes?

“I was walking on one edge of snake road, looking at the other edge — and that is not good,” Larry said. “Something told me to look down and there were two cottonmouths mating about two to three feet away.

“That was definitely a surprise.”

The “Snake Road” in Pine Hills-LaRue Swamp is closed to traffic twice a year as snakes move from winter to summer habitats and vice-versa.

The spectacle always attracts people who want to observe the migration.

Getting around

At the end of each chapter the day trip is broken down into its various component.

Readers will be able to plan because hiking distances and difficulty, natural features, and the location of facilities like parking lots, picnic areas, campsites and other amenities are listed.

GPS coordinates and directions from nearby towns also are included. For travelers with a smart phone, a QR Code box can be scanned, which links to a Google map.

The book contains familiar landmarks, such as Garden of the Gods, and less familiar sites, too.

“We like to hike, and I liked the Indian Kitchen Trail and One-Horse Gap,” Larry said. “Those two places are little more off the beaten path, and Jackson Falls also is less-well known. But we found people who horseback ride and know those areas pretty well.”

“20 Day Trips” is available from the Mahans, through or at local bookstores.

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528. Follow him at

20 Day Trips in and around the Shawnee National Forest
By Larry P. and Donna J. Mahan
Foreword by Les Winkeler
160 pages
102 illustrations
$19.95 list price
Available in paperback or ebook

Southern Illinois University Press
SIUC Mail Code 6806
1915 University Press Drive
Carbondale, IL 62901

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