Family Travel | Visiting Garden of the Gods in Southern Illinois

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If I were to list my favorite places I’ve ever visited my life, a place called Garden of the Gods would make my top 5. As a kid, my parents would often take us on weekend trips in the fall to Giant City Lodge in Makanda, IL. It’s there we would stay in rustic cabins nestled in the Shawnee National Forest, eat a family-style chicken dinner at “The Lodge” and then jump in the car to walk the Observation Trail at Garden of the Gods. I don’t know if I could ever begin to accurately describe this place, it’s just too beautiful for words.

Beyond the beauty, it can be a very dangerous place too. The cliffs are as high up as 100 feet with no barrier between you and that quick fall to the forest below. It’s certainly not the best place to take rambunctious 2 and 4 year old toddlers. But we did. And I paid for it dearly. Instead of getting to take in all the beauty, I found myself in mommy panic mode holding onto my children with a death grip. While I may have been a tad overprotective and a little anxiety ridden, I’m glad I went. I got to share one of my most favorite places on Earth with children.

Just look at this view …

Garden of the Gods Illinois Observation Trail

Garden of the Gods Round Rocks

Garden of the Gods Illinois Rock Formations

Garden of the Gods Rock Layers

Garden of the Gods Illinois Hiking

Go ahead mom, slide on your butt down this rock 20 feet to the ground, it’ll be fun! Ha!

Giant City Rock Trail

Mattison doing the same crazy rock hopping and climbing that I did at his age.

Garden of the Gods Rock Cave


If you’re traveling in our through southern Illinois, this is one place you’ll definitely want to make a stop. The land and beauty there is nothing like what you’d experience in the flat, farm lands of central Illinois where I’ve spent most of my life.

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  1. says

    Oh how wonderful!! Looks like you had a great time and wasn’t it well worth it? I think we need a mini vacation every 4 months or so.


    • says

      It was definitely worth it. Just being there reminded me of how much I miss and love being in the outdoors. I’m going to plan on doing more mini trips next spring.

    • says

      When we moved to St. Louis I never thought I’d miss Illinois but spent 3 years there being soooo homesick. I love this state even if it is boring at times.

  2. says

    I grew up near Garden of the Gods, my dad worked for the Shawnee National Forest. Great pictures and great memories.

    • says

      Amy, you were one lucky kid! I would loved to have grown up down there, actually I keep trying to convince my husband to move to Marion.

  3. says

    such a beautiful place it is like in my back yard and we go down there quite often Hope you all had a great time in our beautiful Southern Illinois

  4. luminouslucia says

    What a beautiful place, it inspires magic. I also love that it is a place deeply rooted alongside of your family tree. I work at a daycare and am finishing my studies to become a teacher. I am always interested in seeing what blogs are available to parents. Hope grows in me when I find posts such as this one that feature parents and children growing alongside of one another. I was intrigued by the title of this blog, “Family Travel”. I strongly believe that travel is a fundamental component to growth and think it’s beautiful for families to travel together, becoming peers, as students in the school of the universe. This past summer I met a family while traveling, they were all WWOOFing together, a non-profit organic farming organization. It is a work exchange program. We were staying at the same farm, and I was amazed to see the capacities of children to flourish when given tasks, chores, as well as independence. We all worked as a part of a team, on a farm, and we were paid in the same delicious food that we had all helped to grow. It was a wonderful experience that I would recommend. I have attached a video, it is not an advertisement, and is not spam, it is a compilation of video and poetry in which I have expressed my love of the earth and in working for the earth. I hope that our sharing of experience will continue to motivate, inspire and to create commonalities for us all as we take part in nature.
    Thank you, and I wish you and your family continuous beautiful journeys!

  5. says

    How beautiful! What peace of mind that place must bring (when your not toting toddlers of course.) We have a very gorgeous place here in NY called Glenn’s Falls or so I think it was many years ago. Sometimes pictures like these make me wonder what this country looked like before it started being settled.
    Gladys P

  6. Raleah says

    It looks nice, and looks like ya’ll had a great time.
    We recently went to Gatlinburg, TN. and went hiking. It was a 10 mile hike, which was so tough, but worth it. At the end, was this waterfall and it was beautiful:)

    I think i’d like to visit the Garden of the Gods as well.

  7. kasey says

    That looks so cool!! I am putting it on my list for the next time we travel up that way – wish I weren’t so far from it.