Garden of the Gods Recreation Area is the result of millions of years of years of wild geological processes and extreme erosion. The area was once the shoreline of a giant inland sea that covered western Indiana, Kentucky and parts of southern Illinois. For millions of years great rivers carried sand and mud to the sea, where it settled along the shoreline. Over time, the weight of the sediments turned them into layers of rock thousands of feet thick. Uplift fractured the bedrock exposing it to nature's erosive forces. Since that time, windblown sand, rain and freezing and thawing actions have worn down the layers of sediment creating the beautiful rock formations at Garden of the Gods. To find out more read the signs along the Observation Trail.
The Observation Trail
The Garden of the Gods Observation Trail is a ¼ mile long interpretive trail. It is made of natural flagstone and leads to areas near the bluffs, where there are outstanding views of the Shawnee Hills and the Garden of the Gods Wilderness. Visitors will find many interesting rock formations with names such as Camel Rock, Anvil Rock and Devil's Smokestack. The Observation Trail has some short, steep grades and a few steps. However, as a whole, the trail is not tiring. Extreme caution should be used because there are high cliffs in the area.
Access is good from Garden of the Gods Recreation Area to the River to River Trail and Garden of the Gods Wilderness. Rocky streams, sheer cliffs, pine stands, hardwood forest, trickling streams, rock overhangs and scenic vistas are encountered along this trail system. Springtime offers abundant wild flowers and rushing streams. Autumn offers beautiful fall colors and ripe fruit, such as persimmons. Users are encouraged to obtain more detailed maps before entering the backcountry. Overnight parking is available at the backpacker's parking lot.
Camping & Picnicking
Pharaoh Campground is open year round. Facilities include 12 campsites, tables, fire grills, toilets, drinking water and trails. Nice views of the Shawnee Hills can be seen from the campground and picnic areas. The Pharaoh Picnic Ground is open year round as in the Observation Area. Call for fees.
Garden of the Gods Wilderness is 3,300 acres in size and is relatively undisturbed. The Garden of the Gods Wilderness borders the Recreation Area on three sides. No motorized vehicles or mechanized equipment is permitted in the Wilderness.
Observation Trail (stone path) - 1/4 mile
Total Trail System – 5.5 miles (excluding River to River segment)
Travel Time: 3-4 hours
Surface Type: Dirt
Difficulty Level: Easy - Difficult
Facilities: Picnic areas, restrooms, parking, camping, interpretive signs along the Observation Trail.
Safety: Trail tread may be slippery during and after rain.
Please Keep in Mind:
1) Pets are allowed only on a leash.
2) Picnic areas and Observation Trail are open 6am-10pm.
3) Use trash receptacles. Pack It In, Pack It Out rules apply to the entire trail system.
4) Camp only at designated sites in the campground.
5) Disposable food and beverage containers are not permitted on the Observation Trail.
6) Stay on the designated trail and leave the beauty of the rocks and plants for others to enjoy.
* Information courtesy of USDA Forest Service.