Top 10 Places for Herping in Southern Illinois

Are you looking for good herping in Southern Illinois?

Get ready for an exhilarating adventure! This article is your gateway to the many thrilling spots across Southern Illinois, where you can discover and observe herps and other fascinating critters.

These are some of the best places to go herping in Southern Illinois. Please leave a comment below telling me which places you’ve visited, and which places you would like to visit.

 

What is Herping in Southern Illinois?

Herping is a unique form of wildlife watching that focuses on reptiles and amphibians, such as turtles, skinks, and snakes. These often-misunderstood creatures play a crucial role in our ecosystem, and their beauty is a sight to behold.

First and foremost, I want to note that I do not encourage the handling of wildlife. In most cases, it is illegal to handle wildlife in any of the public lands mentioned below without first obtaining a permit to do so. I don’t like handling it because it stresses out the animal enough to bite or musk on you. You should also stay on designated trails in the areas listed below to help preserve the ecological and fragile environments you’re visiting.

Please report wildlife harassment, handling, collecting, and harming to the proper authorities in the public land you’re visiting. If it’s in the Shawnee National Forest, report it to Forest Service Law Enforcement. If it’s in a National Wildlife Refuge, report it to Wildlife Enforcement Officers. If it’s in an Illinois state site, report it to Illinois Conservation Police. If you find this sort of criminal activity online, such as on social media, try to take a screenshot of the suspicious activity to help provide evidence of any wrongdoing.

Please exercise caution when observing wildlife. Many herps, especially snakes, may be venomous and can be harmful to even fatal if they bite you. Watch your step, give the animal plenty of room, don’t get too close, and use common sense. If you do encounter a venomous snake, back away slowly and do not attempt to handle it. It’s also a good idea to carry a first aid kit with you, especially if you’re venturing into more remote areas.

Please remember to Leave No Trace when visiting these areas. Pack out anything you pack in, including human waste. Leave the area better than you found it by removing any trash you might find, but make sure you look where you’re putting your hand first.

 

The Herping in Southern Illinois List

The following spots are great for herping in Southern Illinois. Please comment below with other areas in the region that are also worth visiting.

1 – LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road

LaRue Pine Hills is an ecological area managed by the US Forest Service. There is a 2.5-mile Forest Service Road known as Snake Road within the area. The road is closed twice a year so that snakes and other wildlife may cross it. Foot traffic is welcome when the road closes for migration.

LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road

You’ll see a variety of different herps along this road, mainly in the spring and fall months. There are over twenty different species of snakes, including the three venomous snakes of Southern Illinois, which are the copperhead, cottonmouth, and timber rattlesnakes. You can also see turtles, aquatic wildlife, and even armadillos.

Please check out my full LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road Guide for information on how to reach this great spot for herping in Southern Illinois. Please remember to stay on the road when visiting this area, as most wildlife can be observed while on the road.

Nearby lodging and dining are available in Murphysboro, Illinois. Other activities in the area include hiking in the Bald Knob Wilderness and the Clear Springs Wilderness. You can also visit Inspiration Point, a scenic overlook that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding area. Camping is available at Pine Hills Campground and Trail of Tears State Forest, providing a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the region.

​2 – Heron Pond Nature Preserve

Heron Pond is a Nature Preserve managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). It has around 2 miles of designated hiking trails. This area is a cypress swamp environment where herps thrive. Hiking on designated trails only is permitted at Heron Pond.

Safety Hiking Trails: Heron Pond

You’ll see a range of different herps at this location. There is an abundance of turtles and aquatic creatures. There are many snakes in this area, including rat snakes, cottonmouth, and even mud snakes. You’ll also find skinks and other related critters along this trail.

Please see my Heron Pond Nature Preserve Guide for information on how to reach this area. Access is only permitted during the day and on designated hiking trails within the preserve. Hunting and firearms are strictly prohibited.

Nearby lodging and dining are available in Vienna, Illinois. There are other hiking trails located within the area along the Cache River State Natural Area, including Wildcat Bluff and Big Cypress Access. Visit the Cache River Wetlands Center, too. You can enjoy cycling on the 50+ mile Tunnel Hill State Trail nearby. Camping is available at Main Brothers Campground in Karnak and Shawnee Forest Campground in Vienna.

​3 – Wildcat Bluff Nature Preserve

Wildcat Bluff is another nature preserve located in the Cache River State Natural Area and is managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The area is different from the rest of the swamp-like area as it mainly consists of a bluff and glade-like environment.

You’ll definitely see various snakes in this area, including copperhead, cottonmouth, and rat snakes. You might also see salamanders and skinks, too. Aside from the wildlife, there are amazing bluffs and very scenic overlooks to enjoy in this area as well.

Check out my Guide for Wildcat Bluff for more information and directions to this area. As this is a nature preserve, please remember to stay on the designated trail when visiting.

​Nearby lodging and dining are available in Vienna, Illinois. There are other hiking trails located within the area along the Cache River State Natural Area, including Wildcat Bluff and Big Cypress Access. Visit the Cache River Wetlands Center, too. You can enjoy cycling on the 50+ mile Tunnel Hill State Trail nearby. Camping is available at Main Brothers Campground in Karnak and Shawnee Forest Campground in Vienna.

4 – Oakwood Bottoms Area

Oakwood Bottoms is located in the Shawnee National Forest across the river from the Little Grand Canyon area. The US Forest Service manages it. It is a floodplain area significantly managed by the Forest Service. It’s used for hunting and waterfowl activities during those seasons.

LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road

You’ll see a lot of water-based snakes in this area. You can expect to see plain belly water snakes and venomous cottonmouth snakes as well. This is near LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road, which is one of the top spots for herping in Southern Illinois. This is also a great place to see birds.

See this Google Maps Link for directions to the Oakwood Bottoms area. There are a few trails located within this site. Most herps will likely be seen around the banks of the river. Please use caution when around the river.

Nearby lodging and dining are available in Murphysboro, Illinois. Other activities in the area include hiking in the Bald Knob Wilderness and the Clear Springs Wilderness. You can also visit Inspiration Point, a scenic overlook that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding area. Camping is available at Pine Hills Campground and Trail of Tears State Forest, providing a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the region. You can also camp for free at Turkey Bayou which is located within the Oakwood Bottoms area.

5 – Woodland Trail

The Woodland Trail is a short and very easy hike located in Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge near the old visitor center. This area is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It features easy gravel trails through hardwood forests and some water locations.

Beginner Cycling Tips

The shores of the lake are the most likely spots to see most of the herps, including plain belly water snakes and diamondback water snakes. You can also see other assortments of aquatic life, and this is also a great birding area. Crab Orchard, as a whole, is a great place for herping in Southern Illinois.

See this Google Maps Link to get to the parking area and trailhead for this site. Please remain on the designated trail when using this area. There are a lot of access restrictions in place at Crab Orchard Wildlife Refuge in order to protect wildlife. You are legally required to abide by the restricted areas.

The City of Marion, Illinois, offers many great dining and lodging options. Crab Orchard has other great hiking trails and a very nice new visitor center. The nearby Autoloop is a great place to enjoy road biking safely.

6 – Limekiln Springs Trail

Limekiln Springs Trail is an out-and-back trail that stretches around 3.3 miles (or 6.6 miles out-and-back) within the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge. US Fish and Wildlife manages this area, which is mainly a mixture of hardwood and swamp environments.

Limekiln Springs Hike

There is a lot to see in this area, including plenty of herping opportunities with snakes and reptiles. You can also do a lot of birding in this area. However, as it is a swamp, after all, wear and bring plenty of bug spray when visiting this area. Use iNaturalist to help identify flora, plants, fungi, and wildlife along this trail.

Check out this Google Maps Link to find the parking area and trailhead start. Remain on the designated trail at all times and respect private property in the area.

Visit Ullin, Illinois for lodging and dining opportunities in the area. Camping is available in Karnak at the Main Brothers Campground. You can also access the southern terminus of the 50+ mile Tunnel Hill State Trail from the campground area and enjoy cycling or hiking.

7 – Mermet Lake

Mermet Lake is a man-made lake near Metropolis, Illinois. It is managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The lake is a no-wake lake and is best used for wildlife watching by hiking, biking, or driving slowly around it. There is a one-way, mainly gravel road that goes completely around the lake. You can also watch wildlife by kayaking in the lake.

Mermet Lake State Natural Area

You’ll see a variety of different things around this lake. This is a great spot for herping in Southern Illinois because of how easy it is to access without even having to leave your vehicle. Just be sure to watch for wildlife that might be on the road. There is a lot to see here, including plain belly, diamondback water snakes, cottonmouth, and even mud snakes. You can also see egrets, herons, bald eagles, and other birding opportunities.

Check out my full Guide to Mermet Lake for more information and directions on how to reach this area.

Enjoy many dining and lodging options in nearby Metropolis, Illinois. Mermet Lake has a few different hiking trails to enjoy as well. We like the one by the maintenance shop at the end of the first road on your right after entering the lake area. The roadway around the lake is great for scenic driving or gravel bike riding, too.

8 – Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake is located in Alexander County, Illinois, and is managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Because of its swamp-like environment, Horseshoe Lake is a great spot for herping in Southern Illinois. It is also the only natural lake in Southern Illinois.

Southern Illinois State Parks: Horseshoe Lake

You’ll see a variety of different herps in this area. There are various types of snakes, turtles, and other amphibians. You can see most wildlife by walking the shoreline of the lake or by kayaking around in the lake. There are also many birding opportunities in this area as well.

See this Google Maps Link for directions to Horseshoe Lake.

I recommend Horseshoe Lake Bar and Grill for dining. They have an excellent cheeseburger. As for lodging, there is electric and non-electric camping available within the state recreation area. Horseshoe Lake features a biking and hiking trail. The bike trail is rough in some places and is best for mountain bikes.

9 – Tunnel Hill State Trail

Tunnel Hill State Trail is a 50+ mile rail trail that starts in Karnak, Illinois, and ends in Harrisburg, Illinois. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) manages the trail until it reaches Harrisburg, and then the City of Harrisburg, Illinois, manages the remainder of the trail. This trail is a former railroad track converted into a bicycle and hiking trail.

A Copperhead Snake

This is a great trail for herping in Southern Illinois. The biggest copperhead I’ve ever seen was on this trail. I’ve also seen large rat snakes, cottonmouth, and speckled king snakes on this trail. My first mud snake was seen on this trail as well. Please look for these critters while biking along the trail. It’s also a great trail to see various types of turtles, too.

Check out my extensive free Guide for Tunnel Hill State Trail to get more information and directions to the various trailheads along the trail. Please respect the private property on both sides of the trail as you use it.

There are many dining and lodging opportunities throughout the length of the trail including those at Vienna and Harrisburg. Camping is available at Main Brothers Campground in Karnak and Shawnee Forest Campground in Vienna. Other opportunities for recreation along the trail include the River to River Trail and Heron Pond Nature Preserve.

10 – Your Own Backyard

You’d be surprised what you can find just by walking out your backdoor. We have a little fishless pond on our property where salamanders do a mating ritual every year, which is one of the most amazing things to witness. We also have tons of snakes in our woods. Have a look around your yard to see what sort of herps you can find.

Hiking in the Shawnee National Forest

You can also take steps to create herping environments within your backyard. You can dig ponds for fishless environments, transform old pools, or use kiddy pools to make amphibian water holes. You can lay tin sheets down, and eventually, wildlife will get under them to thrive. You can grow more trees and plants so that wildlife can shelter from them.

Always make sure that you put safety first when exploring your backyard for herping in Southern Illinois. You may have venomous snakes in your area. You should never handle them, and you should make sure they remain safe as well. Never look for herps without your parents if you’re under the age of 18 years old just in case something happens, and you need their support.

Consider downloading and utilizing iNaturalist on your smartphone as you herp your backyard. You can use it to help identify critters as you discover them. It also helps with science when you submit your findings.

Now, Over to You!

Thank you for reading my article about places for herping in Southern Illinois. I hope I’ve given you plenty of new ideas for places to visit on your next herping adventure.

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And until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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