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U.S. Forest Service

Eastern Region Viewing Area


Cercis canadensis. Early spring is welcomed with bursts of bright magenta as redbud trees (Cercis canadensis) display their beauty for the driving tour. Photo by Christopher David Benda.

Cornus florida. Late spring adds the robust beauty of dogwood trees (Cornus florida) to complement the redbud trees on the driving tour. Photo by Christopher David Benda.

Asclepias tuberosa. In the summer and fall, the brilliant orange flowers seen along the roadways are the deep-rooted butterfly milkweeds (Asclepias tuberosa). Photo by Christopher David Benda.

Monarch butterfly. A monarch butterfly, often found on butterfly milkweeds, pauses on a vehicle tire in a parking lot. Making frequent stops along the Scenic Byway will ensure rest and plenty of photo opportunities! Photo by Misty Dodd.

Ohio River National Scenic Byway

Forest: Shawnee National Forest

Description: The Ohio River National Scenic Byway, designated May 2006, has the distinction of being the only National Scenic Byway that traverses three states: Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. The westernmost segment follows the Ohio River in southern Illinois for 188 miles, ending at the confluence of the Ohio with the Mississippi River in Cairo, Illinois. The Scenic Byway reflects the culture and history of the rolling, hilly land along the Ohio River Valley in Illinois, passing through the eastern portion of the Shawnee National Forest near recreation areas such as Glen O Jones Lake, an Illinois State Conservation Area, and Garden of the Gods, Rim Rock, Pounds Hollow, and Cave-in-Rock State Park.

A drive on the Illinois portion of the Byway at any time of year offers spectacular views of the Ohio from several places, including Golconda and historic Fort Massac State Park, as well as refreshing stops at beautiful recreation areas that promise relaxing moments and exciting adventures. Spring, summer and fall wildflowers grace the woodlands associated with each stop, including breath-taking glimpses of cliffs and unique rock formations. Roadside wildflowers are plentiful and are dominated by dogwood (Cornus florida) and redbud (Cercis canadensis) trees in the spring, garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) and tall thoroughwort (Eupatorium altissimum) in the summer, and asters, goldenrods and butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) in the fall.

Viewing Information: The butterfly milkweed is common across the Shawnee National Forest and southern Illinois. This plant is appropriately named since it is almost always found with various species of butterflies, including the beautiful monarch butterfly. The nectar of the butterfly milkweed is a favorite food source for the monarch and its leaves are an essential part of the monarch caterpillar's diet.

Safety First: Obey traffic laws and proceed with caution. For extensive viewing, take a hike on trails at any of the above-mentioned stops. During the summer, heat and humidity can dictate travelers' activities, so always bring plenty of food and drink and make sure that a friend or family member knows where you are planning to be on the Forest. The traveler should take caution and be aware that an encounter with a copperhead or timber rattlesnake is possible, though rare, these being two of the three venomous snakes in southern Illinois. Chiggers and ticks are common and are best warded off with the use of insect repellents. Additionally, poison ivy is abundant and should be avoided.

Directions: Enter Illinois Route 141 from Indiana Route 62 and turn south on Illinois Route 1. Follow Route 1 to Route 13, then west to Equality and the town's visitors' center. Proceed south on Forest Road to Glen O Jones Lake. From there, signs will lead you to Garden of the Gods, Rim Rock and Pounds Hollow, all off Karber's Ridge Road. The drive east on Karber's Ridge Road returns you to Route 1 southbound, which continues to Cave-in-Rock State Park and Route 146 west and south to Golconda. Southbound from Golconda on the Byway, you reach Bay City, one of the famous little river towns where "U.S. Marshals" was filmed. Past Smithland Lock and Dam, you reach Route 45 and proceed west through Metropolis, famous as the hometown of Superman and the annual "Superman Festival." The Byway continues westward on Joppa Road, County Route 2 and New Grand Chain to join Route 37, ending at the Confluence of the Rivers in Cairo.

The Scenic Byway route is shown on the Shawnee Forest Brochure Guide and Map, which you can obtain prior to your trip by contacting the Shawnee National Forest or the Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau.

For more information:

Ownership and Management: USDA Forest Service, Shawnee National Forest, Supervisor's Office (618) 253-7114, or (800) MY WOODS.

Closest Towns: Harrisburg, Marion, Equality, Shawneetown, Elizabethtown, Rosiclare, Golconda, and Metropolis, Illinois.