Trail 105-105A | 1.0 Mile Loop
High Knob Location | Google Maps
Like a lot of people visiting the Shawnee National Forest, I was on a quest to explore all of the big names in the area such as Garden of the Gods, Rim Rock\Pounds Hollow, Jackson Falls, and Bell Smith Springs. Throughout my research I had somehow missed the small overlook and picnic area atop High Knob until several fellow hikers recommended it as a place I needed to see. Following the brown road signs pointing the way to this local landmark in Karbers Ridge, I turned off County Rd 2 into the entrance of the High Knob Campground. To reach the U.S. Forest Service run High Knob Overlook Picnic Area, you have to drive through the privately owned campground. A staple in the outdoor community since 1961, High Knob Campground is the oldest trail camp in the Shawnee National Forest.
Mostly accommodating those looking to explore the dozens of bridle trails in the area, this is also the only full service campground the 151-mile River to River Trail crosses throughout its entire journey. Theres a ton of history here intertwined with the Shawnee National Forest and the people who helped protect it, including its historic general store serving as a tavern for those early U.S. Forest Service Agents.
Soon after completing its first official project creating the Pounds Hollow Recreation Area, the Civilian Conservation Corps turned its attention to one of the tallest peaks in Gallatin County, High Knob. Here during the 1930’s, the men of C.C.C. Camp Caditz cleared a parcel of forest atop the summit of High Knob and erected a fire tower. As the most northeasterly fire tower in the national forest, it was manned for 50 years, until its decommissioning and removal during the 1970’s.
Passing through the campground, the gravel road begins it ascent to the 922 ft summit while passing two separate trailheads, one for the River to River Trail and the other for the High Knob Trail (105-105A). At the top you’ll find picnic tables, grills, and a wide stretch of lawn overlooking the far reaching views that have brought people here for almost 100 years. There is no trash service at High Knob so all trash must be packed out.
An informational poster near the site of the former fire tower explains some of the areas history and provides a map of the 1.0 mile loop surrounding High Knob. The start of the loop begins at the far end of the gravel parking lot as it spirals down the back of the hill. Walking through a stretch of near pristine woodland, this area is full of blooming wildflowers. Various colors of phlox, lush ferns, and the rare shooting star adorn both sides of the trail.
As you cross the road, a stone carved staircase leads through a crevice in the bluffs and winds down into the forest below High Knob. The cliffs here are almost identical to those found while hiking the Indian Point Trail at Garden of the Gods Wilderness. Their rounded and knobby appearance are also attributed to the fact that this was once at the bottom of a vast inland sea 320 million years ago. As the sandstone has weathered, it has created joints in the cliffs where caves, tunnels, and even small windows have formed. With the use of a flashlight, visitors can travel through one of these tunnels which bisects a part of the trail. The most popular and exciting hike at High Knob by far is a multi day excursion created by the Friends of the Shawnee National Forest and Shawnee Trail Conservancy, which highlights some of the unique history of this area.
Spanning 17 miles, it leaves High Knob and travels through various remote canyons and hollows as it loop through Pounds Hollow Recreation Area. On the way you’ll encounter an abandoned homestead and cemetery, several large natural arches, and a prehistoric pictograph site known as the “Javelina”. A link for this excursion is provided above and a physical copy may be purchased through the Friends of the Shawnee National Forest website for a small $10 fee. This non-for-profit organization has been instrumental in not just advocating for the protection of the forest, but for spending its money building and maintaining trails that we all get to enjoy for free. So if you’re in the area and just want a quiet place to relax and leisurely explore, I recommend putting a stop at High Knob on your itinerary.
Up next, we’re headed to another historical site in the southern portion of the Shawnee National Forest commemorating the areas industrial history. Much like High Knob, the Illinois Iron Furnace Historic Site occupies an idilic picnic area overlooking the rapids of Big Creek. Showcasing a rebuilt iron blast furnace from the early 1800’s. Aside from providing picnic shelters, grills, and a vault toilet, its access to Big Creek makes it a great place to swim and fish. Stay tuned for this upcoming article and as always, see y’all on the trails!