The Garden of the Gods is possibly the number one tourist destination in Southern Illinois, and for good reason. The views are amazing! From the easy stone walkway of the 0.25 mile Observation Trail
to the multiple miles of rugged wilderness trails surrounding it, this place is a great weekend destination!
Pay close attention to the turn on Trail #001A
on the far left of the map. It's hard to see the trail as it's up a rocky ravine. The GPS is spot on though so you can use the Trail Run Project mobile app
to help find your way.
For starters, if you've never been here, be sure to run the Observation Trail
as an add-on to this outer loop. I suggest running clockwise. Halfway around, your jaw will drop. You're going to see awesome bluff rock formations carved by wind and water erosion. Be sure to take some time to explore around and climb. There are user-made trails everywhere. The rocks are super grippy, but be careful. People fall all the time. Have fun!
So you did that, but still want more? How about taking a 4-6 mile run around the perimeter? Its not quite as spectacular as the big bluffs you saw earlier, but it is just as awesome in its own way.
As you start the main Observation Trail
on the east side, just past the trailside bathroom is a small obscure trail to the left to the Backpackers Parking lot. Take that. Its a rough dirt singletrack but you wont be on it long. At the bottom of the hill you'll intersect with the River to River Trail
#001. Hang a right.
Heading west on the RtR Trail #001, you'll see the rock formations of the Garden of the Gods to your right and a couple overviews to your left. This is an old road and is usually fairly smooth. Trail #001 loops around the south and west of the GotG. Once the Garden of the Gods is to your back, begin looking for the next junction in the trail. There is a wooden sign, Trail #001(RtR) goes left, Trail #001A
goes almost straight ahead, and Trail #108C
turns right and back toward the GotG. Go straight on Trail #001A
heads down into a valley following a small creek. Cool rock formations and bluffs adorn the way. Keep an eye out for H-Rock up high on the right. You can climb up and into the hole right beside the H if so inclined. On down Trail #001A
, two creeks converge at a sweet camping spot. There is plenty of clear water here. Use a filter or chems though if drinking. Follow the main creek a bit further, admiring the bluffs along both sides. This part can be tricky—the trail appears to just follow the creek forever. It does but that's not 001A. Trail #001A
makes a sharp turn up a rocky slope that is very easy to miss. It does not look like a trail at all. Check your GPS or use the Trail Run Project mobile app
. If you spot two rock shelter caves halfway up on the bluffs to your left, you've gone just a little too far. Back up a little bit, and look for the rock wash uphill trail. The GPS/Trail Run Project mobile app
is spot on with this turn.
Once above that leg burner hill, your run will get easier. Just a nice mile or so of a dirt singletrack run until you're back in the rock/valley/bluff business. You'll come upon another wooden sign. Trail #001A
goes left here and Trail #108C
goes straight/right. Hang the left and stay on Trail #001A
once again descends into a valley, but you'll climb right back up the other side. Once you've ascended far enough up the hill, look to the right for a small dirt trail. There's no trail marker other than a small brown placard saying no horses or ATVs. Those on foot only!!!
This little dirt trail is Trail #108E
. Actually, there are numerous small dirt trails here. Don't worry about being on the right trail. As long as you keep the bluffs on your right, they all go where Trail #108E
does. But step out on the bluffs. This is one cool valley to overlook. There are many viewing points through here.
Continuing on up Trail #108E
you'll merge onto Trail 108K, probably without even noticing. Trail #108K
is wider... and smoother. you have two options here. Call it quits after that 4 miles and continue up 108K to your car, or turn left on 108K for the "Mega-Loop" adventure!
Want the Mega-Loop? Take 108K left a short distance back to Trail #001A
and then turn right. Follow 001A over to Trail #108J
and turn right. 108J loops you around the backside of Pharoahs Campground. 108J ties back into The River to River Trail
#001. Now the bluffs you drove passed on the way in make for a sweet grand finale to this epic run. Grand total for the Mega Loop will be near 6.5 miles.