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Best Camping in Southern Illinois

This region is like the flash friend who has everything, does everything, is everything. Oozing variety, whatever your activity of choice, camping in southern Illinois is a win–win situation. Shawnee National Forest is at the center of it all and Garden of the Gods is its showpiece. A walk up Observation Trail will even net you a literal money shot—you’ll see Camel Rock as it appears on the Illinois 2016 America the Beautiful quarter. Aside from hiking, everything from swimming to ziplining (three hours’ worth) is also on offer. When your muscles are over it, hit the Shawnee Wine Trail, home to 11 wineries, and load up on local apple concoctions while you’re at it (dumplings, anyone?).

Near Shawnee, visualize an intense game of cops and robbers at Cave-in-Rock, where pirates and outlaws like Jesse James hid out in a 55-foot-wide cave. Although, it was more just “robbers” since there was a notable lack of cops here during this period.

Out west, Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge and Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site are also worth a peek. The former is a legit slice of the Louisiana Bayou in Illinois, with swampy, buttressed cypress trees—perfect for winding through in a canoe. At Cahokia, stand atop 100-foot-tall Monks Mound for a panoramic view over the remains of this Native American city that housed more people than London at its peak (c. 1250).

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