Riding the Shawnee National Forest

A motorcycle parked in front of a beautiful view at Shawnee National Forest

Are you looking for the perfect spot to ride your motorcycle and enjoy the natural scenery in Illinois? Then you’ll want to check out Shawnee National Forest. 

This sprawling national forest in southern Illinois offers some of the most beautiful forestry and breathtaking natural attractions in the state. Combining your visit with a scenic motorcycle ride is the perfect way to spend a weekend in nature. 

Read on to learn the best Shawnee National Forest motorcycle rides and how to prepare for a bike trip to this sprawling natural area. 

Best Motorcycle Rides Near the Shawnee National Forest

Riding in and around Shawnee National Forest offers excellent views of vast cliffs, lush forests, deep caves, and other natural scenery. Here are the best motorcycle rides to take you in and around the Forest. 

Chicago to Shawnee National Forest

The Shawnee National Forest is a decent drive from Chicago — about 340 miles. However, if you’re planning to travel to the Forest from the Chicago area, you can enjoy a challenging yet rewarding ride. 

From Chicago, you’ll want to head south on I-57, then take the Carbondale exit. You’ll then travel east on IL-3 for around 35 miles, then south on IL-146 for another 15 miles. You’ll see the Shawnee National Forest Welcome Center on this route. 

The Welcome Center is an excellent spot to begin your Forest tour, as it’s located in the center of the Shawnee National Forest. You can also use this opportunity to grab a map and talk to park rangers about your plans for your trip. 

Murphysboro to Carbondale Loop

This loop spans 46 miles round trip and passes right through the Shawnee National Forest, offering an excellent opportunity to stop and enjoy the forest’s scenic attractions before completing your ride. 

The loop begins in Murphysboro and heads south on IL-146 toward Anna. You’ll then follow Old Hwy 51 until it turns into US 51 in Cobden. While the entire loop features its fair share of curves and hills, Old Hwy 51 offers a more challenging yet enjoyable path, complete with a few sharp curves that will test your navigation skills. 

Carbondale to Shawnee National Forest

If you’re near Carbondale, you can travel directly to the Shawnee National Forest using this route. This path is about 100 miles from start to finish and includes a small loop that you can use to cover the most ground near the forest. 

You can start the route in Carbondale, then drive south on Highway 51. Eventually, you’ll head east on Highway 146 and travel through Anna and Vienna. You’ll pass through the Garden of the Gods, offering beautiful cliffs and rock faces for your viewing pleasure on your bike. You’ll then circle the Shawnee National Forest and take in the sites.

At this point, you can either head back up to Carbondale or continue with the rest of your journey. 

Tips to Prepare For Your Motorcycle Trip

Whether you’re planning a short motorcycle ride around Shawnee National Forest or plan to ride the almost 340 miles from Chicago, you’ll want to prepare accordingly to ensure that you have all the supplies you need. Here are a few tips to prepare for your journey:

  • Fill up your tank before you head out.
  • Pack an emergency first aid kit and tool kit in your storage area. 
  • Wear your helmet at all times, but especially on busy interstates.
  • Take curves slowly. 
  • Stay aware of traffic as you enjoy scenic views. 
  • Stop at rest stops along the way to avoid fatigue. 
  • Drink plenty of water throughout your journey. 

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