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Southern Illinois Vacation Rentals Blog

Five Essentials to Pack for Hiking in Dense Forests

The Shawnee National Forest is known for dense forest hiking. This huge forest spans across 289,000 acres and is nestled in Southern Illinois between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. It features lush oak-hickory forests, intriguing wetlands, incredible canyons, razorback ridges and endless geological formations that are unique to Shawnee National Forest. Because more than 30 U.S. cities are within a six hour drive, Shawnee National Forest serves as a retreat for over 1 million Americans every year.

We are proud to have unique vacation rental homes that are just minutes away from the peaceful adventures that await you in Shawnee National Forest. We want our guests to be as prepared as possible to handle all things hiking in dense lush forestry can throw at you, so here’s our must-not-forget list! Be mindful of the time of year you’re going and keep an eye on the projected temperatures to know exactly what you need to stay comfortable. This isn’t a complete list by any means, but one that covers what guests should plan for ahead of time.

If you plan to buy clothing and other hiking gear in Southern Illinois right before your hike in the Shawnee National Forest, head to Shawnee Trails Wilderness Outfitters. This longstanding local store is staffed with adventurers who are knowledgeable about the best trails in the Shawnee National Forest as well as the surrounding area. On top of offering great advice for where to go, they can help you pick out absolutely everything you need for the best adventure ever in the Shawnee National Forest. This store is truly a gem to all outdoorsmen – beginners and experts.

1. Comfortable Waterproof Hiking Boots with Long Socks

Look for boots that come up at least ankle-high and are waterproof. They’ll need a decent tread on the soles as well in order to feel confident hiking up rocks that can sometimes be slippery. Wear new boots around the house, during errands, and a long walk if you can long before your actual hike. Your boots should actually feel great on your feet all day. If they don’t, you should readjust the laces or shop for new boots altogether.

Also, pack a couple extra pairs of socks so you stay dry and comfy. Your socks should be at least over your ankles for the most comfort. This will keep brush and bugs for having easy access to your ankles as well. Foot comfort can make or break a hike, so take extra care with this aspect of your clothing.

Hiking Boot Brands that are great for beginners: Keen and Solomon.
Hiking Sock Brands that are great for beginners: Smartwool and Merrell

2. Bug Spray

Always carry a good bug spray. There are ticks and mosquitos in Southern Illinois during the spring, summer, and fall. Choose a bug spray that expresses that it repels both ticks and mosquitos.

Brands that are great for beginners: OFF! Deep Woods Insect and Mosquito Repellent and Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellent

If you’re uncomfortable using bug spray, there are more natural alternatives using oils that can work if made and used correctly. This is something you should have tried often in similar environments before you go to the Shawnee National Forest and risk exposure to bug bites. Choosing this route can be great for some, but in case it doesn’t work for you during your hike we suggest keeping a back up of the above mentioned bug sprays.

3. Effortless Access to Water

Don’t forget your water! You can exhaust yourself quickly hiking in Southern Illinois. A common time for people to forgo drinking enough water is October to early December in Southern Illinois because the weather is usually still really warm with far less humidity than the spring and summer months. Water bottles can be a pain on long hikes. They’re bulky and using hard to access unless you hold it the entire time, which isn’t ideal when you’re trying to keep your balance hiking up slippery rocky trails. Pack enough water with hydration bladders to drop in your existing hiking bag or shop for hydration packs if you want the whole backpack + bladder shebang.

Brands that are great for beginners: Platypus (bladders, personal favorite) and CamelBak hydration packs.

4. Towels

For those of us who need to jump in every creek, get that awful sweat and sunscreen mix in our eyes, and want a fast way to get cool, a towel is a must. Doesn’t need to be a huge one, just one that’s easy to access at all times. There are brands that offer really light quick drying towels, which make incredible investments if you plan to hike often. Otherwise, any towel will do just fine for a short day hike.

Brands that are great for beginners: Sea to Summit Pocket Towel and PackTowl Ultralite.

5. Lightweight Rain Jacket

Not to be confused with windbreakers, which often aren’t waterproof, you’ll want a thin lightweight rain jacket that’s sized to be thrown over a thick layer. This keeps you from overheating in summer rains, and can quickly convert a normal jacket or sweater into a cozy rain coat in cooler months. When shopping for your rain jacket make sure you buy waterproof not water resistant. Waterproof materials act as an actual barrier to water while water resistant materials can only withstand so much.

Also, bonus points if it’s bright! It’s important to stand out in a dense rainy forest.

Brands that are great for beginners: Colombia Watertight Rain Jacket and Marmot PreCip Eco

Where to Stay:

Premier Cabin – Photo by Nina Wilson

Our properties are all near the Shawnee National Forest. You can’t go wrong with any of them to serve as an amazing base for day hikes. The properties we recommend as our top choices for hiking are Lakeshore Cottage, Rock Ridge, The Purple Door Cabin, On the Rocks, Premier Cabin, and Couple’s Retreat.

View our full list of properties on our website at to find the perfect spot for your stay.

Safe travels!


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+585 889 996 96 184 Main Collins Street Victoria
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+585 889 996 96 184 Main Collins Street Victoria
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