Hiking The Rim Rock National Recreation Trail And Ponds Hollow Lake Trail In Shawnee National Forest
The Rim Rock National Recreation Trail is part of the Pounds Hollow Ecological Area and is located in the Shawnee National Forest of Illinois.
It is Illinois’ only National Recreation Trail.
The trail is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and there is no overnight parking allowed at the trailhead (37.60072, -88.27733).
Bathrooms, trashcans, and picnic tables are available for use at the trailhead.
Pets are allowed on the trail as long as they are leashed and please pick up after them.
Rappelling and rock climbing are prohibited here.
The trail was constructed in 1962 and in the early 1980s, the original gravel pathway was replaced with a flagstone walkway by the YACC (Young Adult Conservation Corps).
It was officially designated a national recreation trail in 1980.
Rim Rock has an upper and lower trail both of which form loops. The upper trail is the paved flagstone walkway while the lower path is dirt.
The upper trail features interpretive signs on the area and takes you past remnants of a stone wall built by prehistoric Native Americans and a CCC plantation.
An observation platform on the upper trail gives you the option of descending wooden stairs and stone steps and then squeezing between two giant rock slabs (Fat Man’s Misery) to reach the hollow and Ox-lot Cave below.
This descent looked really cool and it’s just the kind of thing we love doing during hikes unfortunately, it was closed during our visit.
Apparently, it’s not the safest structure anymore and they are rebuilding it.
Ox-lot Cave can still be reached by way of the lower trail that leaves the parking lot and is completely worth checking out. It’s a large and very cool-looking recessed cave.
In fact, the lower trail is much cooler than the upper.
On the lower trail, you will hike past impressive sandstone rock formations while traveling through massive bottomland hardwood trees.
The upper trail leads you around the rim of a rock escarpment and travels through the woods. There are a couple of spots to check out the views, but most of it is overgrown.
Part of the upper trail is on the edge of a cliff so don’t get too close and fall off.
Since one section of the upper trail was closed we did the hike a little differently.
From the trailhead (37.60072, -88.27733). We took the path for the upper trail first and did that loop. That loop was almost one mile long.
We then took the lower trail to the cave. To the cave, it was 0.6 miles.
As I mentioned earlier this is the far superior trail. You pass so many massive and cool-looking rock formations on your way to the cave.
Once you reach Ox-lot Cave there is an interpretive sign giving you its history. There’s also a piped spring in the cave, see if you can find it!
From the cave, we decided to take the Ponds Hollow Lake Trail.
This trail takes you to Ponds Hollow Lake which has a boat ramp, a small beach, picnic tables, and bathrooms.
The Lake isn’t that large, but it’s super pretty.
If you walk past the beach and dock the trail follows the shore for a bit more before just kind of ending. We took the cat hiking on his leash in this section and he loved it.
The trail from the cave to the main part of the lake is a pretty easy hike traveling through the woods and strolling along the lake’s banks for a short period.
The trail from the cave to the lake and then back to the trailhead parking lot totaled 2.3 miles. Add that to the 1.6 miles we already hiked here and you get an almost 4-mile hike in this area.
If you’re short on time I would skip the upper trail and just do the lower trail and Ponds Hollow trail.
If the stairs are opened back up on the upper trail though don’t skip it. That descent down to the cave looks epic.
I will note when hiking the lower trail it’s pretty much a gradual uphill climb from the cave to the parking lot. Nothing too strenuous, but it will get your heart pumping.
If you are in the area visiting Garden of the Gods I really recommend taking a couple of hours and exploring the Rim Rock National Recreation Trail And Ponds Hollow Lake Trail.
They are great trails that should not be missed.