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Horseback Riding, In Southern Illinois is where it's at. If you have never done it, let me introduce you to it.

Updated on September 17, 2016

The Shawnee National Forest stretches from the Mississippi River(west) across Illinois to the Ohio river(east). Inside this beautiful forest are hundreds of trails that will take you to some very interesting places, some of historic value others are just wonderful to gaze upon. A lot of the trails have been marked by owners of the nearest camping facility, easier for the customers to find their way back to their campers. One trail the River to River is clearly marked and goes completely across the state and is used by all, horse backers and hikers alike. Other trails intersect with this one and riders can use it to check their location and direction. Riders can ride for as long as their butts or horses hold up and still not see all that the forest has to offer.

Riding the trails will take you by some very tall oaks, poplars, hickory, and pine trees. There are caves to explore, creeks to cross, and historical sites to see. The forrest is divided by roads; both hard surface as well as gravel. You can set up your ride by time or distance, your choice. As you ride keep alert for the many wild animals, birds, and reptiles that make their home in the Shawnee Forest; all very beautiful to see. There are abundant herds of White Tail deer and flocks of wild Turkeys, all of which can cause a sleepy horse or rider to be startled quite suddenly. Lot of laughs will be the reward of a rider nearly loosing his/her seat or horse. Personal experience here when a Turkey flew up from a bush directly in my horses path. Managed to hang on as my mare shot backwards at a very rapid pace, whew!!!

Abe and the Buck

Here my dog Abe had a run in with an injured Buck. The Buck just wanted to rest in the cool water and Abe really didn't know what he was doing. After a few minutes of staring each other down, a lot of barking and bellering, the Buck went downstream and Abe upstream. All ended well.

Waterfall on Bay Creek
Waterfall on Bay Creek


This is one of the many waterfalls located within the forrest. Easy access on horseback or hiking. During the summer/dry season the falls dry up and then one can get under the overhang for some shade.

Jackson Hole Fall

Summertime creeks

As the summer comes to an end the creeks are virtually dry, showing the very rocky beds. There are a lot of flat rocks that in times past were used in shoring up the foundations of homes. As we ride about, we find remainders of foundations and one can only imagine how it was to live way out in the forrest.

Railroad Tracks passing thru Bay Creek area

This track garners a lot of visits because as you stand on this spot the train can emerge or enter a mile long tunnel beneath your feet. It took several years to lay this track back in the 40's and early 50's. A lot of the work was accomplished using teams of horses and mules. An elderly fella who rode with us prior to his death worked on this track in his youth. His stories describing the trials and tribulations of the crews were quite colorful. I always enjoy when a train exits the tunnel, it is quite a surprising site to see, just 12 or 15 feet below your feet...!!! The horses let you know that a train is in the tunnel, due to the vibrations that they can feel. When it exits it is awesome and usually so quite for such a large machine. You just need to experience it.

Under the railroad

Safe Passage

Railroad company did a good deed by supplying us with a means of crossing the tracks safely. This is the only under track tunnel that we have seen that is dry. There are other tunnels that were built for the creek to flow through. We have ridden through some of them and it is fun.

Taking a break to stretch the old legs...!!
Taking a break to stretch the old legs...!!

The yellow stake marks a natural area and no horses permitted beyond. Of course we wonder what the difference is between where we can ride and the "Natural Areas"....!!!! You can also see some of the many rock formations.

Winter riding is some of the best.  No bugs, no leaves, and no sweat.   Easier on these old Saddlescamps.
Winter riding is some of the best. No bugs, no leaves, and no sweat. Easier on these old Saddlescamps. | Source

Trail Gear

Winters here can be a bit nippy so a good glove is essential for the hands. These are comfortable and not restrictive. Recommend them for your pleasure.

Ahh, ice cycles, yet not to cold. Saddlescamps care not about the cold, well long as it is not to cold..!
Ahh, ice cycles, yet not to cold. Saddlescamps care not about the cold, well long as it is not to cold..!

Icescapades anyone

Not all of our winters are so brutally cold that we cannot get in some riding. This photo of just one of mother natures ice sculptures illuminates the beauty that is in this forrest. W dress right and even build fires during some of our stops where we drink hot coffee and enjoy pleasant camaraderie.

Winter riding, the best.

These old SaddleScamps really enjoy winter riding the best. No bugs to bite man or beast. No leaves to block ones view of the many bluffs and rock formations. Most importantly no sweat dripping into your eyes or making ones shirt cling to the body, yuck.

As you ride you can really begin to appreciate God's creation and be thankful that we live in a country that places no restrictions on our freedoms. We do have some boundaries such as private lands, do not want to impede on someone else's freedoms as land owners. Some areas in the forrest are marked as "Natural Areas" and no horses are allowed; these are few and really do not impede our rides.


Visual beauty.

It is not hard to see why we enjoy riding here in the Shawnee forrest when you see pictures like these. Stopping to let the horses rest and to stretch old legs is something we look forward to. We can sit quietly, enjoy the woodsy sounds, while watching the animals and birds. Or as is want, old men jabber away about anything and everything.

I prefer a wide/deep stirrup to rest my number 12s in and the rubber sole makes these my choice. Very comfortable and I have never been hung up in a wide/deep stirrup. Oh yeah I have taken unscheduled dismounts in my day, oh yeah...!!!!


SAFETY is paramount when hossback. To keep your feet from going through the stirrup and getting you hung up and possibly dragged by a spooked horse, always wear a boot/ shoe with an inch or more of heel. The old Saddlescamps wear western boots and find them to be very comfortable.

Gets cold on the winter rides and stopping for a hot cup of coffee is just plain good sense to us ol' Saddlescamps.

If you are security minded might I recommend this item that I have found to be very comfortable and easy to carry. The 1911 rides real easy in this style of h

River to River trail heads.

Grand Tower, ILL:
Grand Tower, IL 62942, USA

get directions

Beginning and end of River To River trail. According to which way you wish to go.

Golganda, ILL:
Golconda, IL, USA

get directions

Beginning and end of the River to River Trail. According to which way you desire to go.

© 2016 Donald McRaven


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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for taking us along on your ride through the beautiful Shawnee National Forest with you. Truly enjoyed seeing your gorgeous photos! It is wonderful that you can enjoy beautiful natural spots like this in which to ride your horses.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Beautiful country. Have rode in Shawnee many times. Never get tired of the beautiful scenery as shown by author. Horses, friends, nature at its best, and just riding. It can't get any better than that.

    • SaddleScamp profile imageAUTHOR

      Donald McRaven 

      4 years ago from Belknap, ILL

      Questions and comments are welcome.


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