Hiking with Shawn’s
Guide to the Wilderness Areas
Shawnee National Forest:
Bald Knob Wilderness
Bald Knob Wilderness is a 5,973-acre designated wilderness area within the Shawnee National Forest. This wilderness area is located in the Mississippi Bluffs Ranger District in rural northwestern Union County, Illinois. Most of the land acquired within the Shawnee Purchase Units took place in the 1930s when the National Forest was being established. Bald Knob Wilderness is managed by the US Forest Service for the Shawnee National Forest.
Bald Knob Wilderness is made up of a second-growth forest. The area was once farmland and settlement by early pioneers. Previous signs of farming, home sites, orchards and cemeteries can be found throughout most of the wilderness areas in the Shawnee National Forest. Bald Knob Wilderness gives visitors a glimpse into what nature may have looked like before modern civilization from human interference was introduced.
HOW TO GET TO THIS WILDERNESS AREA
Check out this map to see the area of Bald Knob.
There are two Trailheads for this area which are Godwin-East and Bald Knob Trail:
Godwin East Trailhead: Take Rt. 127 to Alto Pass, follow signs to Bald Knob Cross. It is 6 miles from Rt. 127. Trailhead is approx. 100 yards off the road at the edge of the tree line. This is the best way to access the wilderness area. There is enough room to park a few vehicles. Horse trailer parking will be very challenging at this location.
Bald Knob Trailhead: Take Rt. 127 to Alto Pass to Brown Section Road. Go 1.6 miles to Rhine Road. There is a sign and pull-off for parking. In the summer months, the trail is usually very grown up in this section. Most of the trail up to the cross is uphill and steep in some places. This area would likely be the best area to access from a horse trailer.
TRAILS WITHIN THIS WILDERNESS AREA
The main trail that runs through this wilderness area is the River to River Trail. The trail starts at Godwin-East and goes to Hutchins Creek which separates Bald Knob and Clear Springs Wilderness areas from one and another. Check out this forest service map to see some of the trails in this area. There are other trails in this wilderness area as well. It is recommended that you use a map for navigating this area. Paper maps can be purchased from Friends of the Shawnee National Forest or you can download the free smart-phone application Avenza and use the free River to River Trail Bundle for accessing the R2R Trail or the low-cost Multi-Day Hiking Bundle to access other trails in this wilderness area.
The blaze for the River to River Trail will consist of a White/Blue diamond with an “i” in the middle in non-wilderness areas and a wooden diamond with an “i” in the middle within the designated wilderness area. The white diamond blazes are for the other hiking/equestrian trails present in the area such the 7-mile out and back trail for Ranberger Trail (626’ elevation gain) and the 3-mile Bald Knob Trail (698’ elevation gain). Both of the previous 2 mentioned trails are also on the All Trails app but do note some users report errors and false directions with that app.
WHAT THIS WILDERNESS HAS TO OFFER
The main use of this wilderness area is hiking and equine riding along the River to River Trail from the Godwin-East Trailhead to Hutchins Creek. The out and back portion of the trail consists of about 5 to 6-miles of well-marked, well-used but rugged and hilly conditions.
Hutchins Creek itself is worth seeing from wilderness users. The creek is unlike most other creeks in the Shawnee National Forest and looks more like something you’d find in the Missouri Ozarks. Hutchins Creek is said to be spring-fed (heavily dependent of rainfall) and its floor is red-rock type rocks. When water is present but low along Hutchins Creek, there are small pools of clear blue water that make very nice wading pools for wilderness users.
As Bald Knob Wilderness was once the property of farmers and early settlers, the area has signs of previous settlement within it. This may include wells, foundations, cemeteries, abandoned cars, old litter and orchards. We recommend using the ‘Historic Topo 1930’ map layer for Gaia GPS to see where some of the previous homesites may have been.
Wilderness users commonly perform the following activities in Bald Knob Wilderness: Hiking and backpacking (difficult), horseback riding (difficult), camping (dispersed, no reservation or fee), nature viewing, hunting (big game, small game) and scenic driving (roads around the wilderness). What will you do in Bald Knob Wilderness?
SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR THIS WILDERNESS AREA
Bald Knob Wilderness follows the same guides listed on our Main Wilderness Guide article.
There are no restrooms or trash services at trailhead for this wilderness. Please practice Leave No Trace ethics and pack out what you pack in.
Three venomous snakes occur within this and nearby areas including the copperhead, cottonmouth (water moccasin) and timber rattlesnake. Avoid a negative experience with a venomous snake by watching where you step, staying on the trail, giving snakes plenty of room and never attempting to handle or harm a snake.
This area consists of rugged and steep terrain, rolling hills and sometimes very muddy conditions. Accessing this area can be a challenge and is often considered a difficult level of recreation. Please plan accordingly before venturing into this area.
Cell phone signal may not be available in many areas of Bald Knob Wilderness.
EMERGENCY INFORMATION FOR THIS WILDERNESS AREA
The nearest hospital from Bald Knob Wilderness is located in the City of Anna, Union County Hospital which is about 15-miles from the Godwin-East Trailhead.
For emergencies – dial 911 and follow the instructions of the 911 operator.
WHAT’S CLOSE TO THIS WILDERNESS AREA?
Alto Pass is the closest community to Bald Knob Wilderness. Alto Pass has many different points of interest worth seeing. The area is famous for its Root Beer Saloon and Alto Vineyards winery. There are other stores within the community that would be deemed appropriate for wilderness and forest users needing supplies. Visit Cliff View Park for an excellent scenic overlook which includes the world-famous Bald Knob Cross. Quetil Trail provides a short out and back hike along an old railway with views of bluffs and more. Rock climbing is also allowed on this trail.
Clear Springs Wilderness Area is also near Bald Knob Wilderness and provides more hiking, equine and other outdoor recreational activities as well. Other areas of the Shawnee National Forest near this area include LaRue Pine Hills, Pine Hills Road and Inspiration Point.
Non-Shawnee attractions include the world-famous Bald Knob Cross of Peace, Holy Boulders and the Trail of Tears State Forest.
VIDEOS OF THIS WILDERNESS AREA
Check out the following video footage of this particular wilderness area.
Thank you for taking the time to read this Wilderness Area Guide. This and the other 6 guides took a while to create and are offered for free of charge. Please consider supporting my efforts of making these guides by sharing them with others, especially on social media. You can also support my efforts by following me on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the Official Website for Hiking with Shawn. Consider becoming a Patreon Member or purchasing some official merch from the Hiking with Shawn Online Shop. Thanks again for checking out this guide and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
Shawn J. Gossman
Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.