While vacationing in the Shawnee National Forest, we decided to check out Panther Den Wilderness. This area is actually not far from Interstate 57, but if searching on Google Maps, be sure to search for “Panther Den Trailhead”.
The trailhead is at the end of Panthers Den Lane which is a narrow, rock road. Most cars should be able to navigate this road easily. The trail starts out from the parking lot and heads deep into the surrounding forest. We visited in October and the trees were beautiful!
It is about a mile and a half hike to the rock formations, but well worth it. The first notable trail feature was a dried up creek bed. Cross the creek and continue to head deep into the forest. I have seen pictures online where there was water in the creek so plan accordingly if visiting in the spring etc.
There will be an intersection in the trail with a River to River Trail sign. Keep an eye out for this marker. Here you will want to go left.
The trail will start to switchback and eventually some bluffs will come into view. You are almost there! Keep hiking along the bluff line and Panthers Den will come into view.
If you go all the way to the end where it seems like the trail dead ends, there will be a narrow passageway that will open up into another section of towering walls. You can explore and climb around in all of these rocky areas.
From here, the trail does continue on to make about a 2.5 mile loop, but from what I had read online, the trail is poorly marked and quite overgrown in places. We chose to hike back the way we came and did this trail as an out and back rather than a loop.
I absolutely loved this place and was so grateful we got to experience it. As we were hiking, we were talking about how many times we have been to Shawnee together over the years and we were thinking it was about 10 between multi-day vacations and day trips. The Shawnee National Forest has so much to offer and no matter how many times you visit, there is always something new and amazing to see!
Below is a map that I found online from the Forest Service.