4 Longer Southern Illinois Trails
in or around the
Shawnee National Forest
There are many longer Southern Illinois trails in and around the Shawnee National Forest that caters to outdoor adventurers looking for something different. We will be taking a look at 4 of these longer Southern Illinois trails & each of them caters to the outdoor recreational needs of different types of outdoor users. From ultimate local through hiking to an easy century ride on the bike, the following 4 longer Southern Illinois trails should cater to any outdoor needs that you desire.
Longer Southern Illinois Trails
I’ve included Trail 049 in the longer Southern Illinois trails list because it is part of a loop system that I do each year for fitness. This trail loop will allow you to hike 10+ miles. You start at East Trigg Trailhead and head for Millstone Lake on River to River, then you’ll take Trail 049 and head into Jackson Falls. You’ll eventually loop back to the River to River Trail near the Tin Whistle and then make your way back to East Trigg Trailhead.
There are a lot of great sights along this trail. There are plenty of bluffs, scenic creeks and rolling hills. It is advisable that you pack adequate drinking water, snacks and wear proper attire and footwear for a rugged hike. Expect to cross multiple creeks, some of which may be fairly high pending the amount of rain the area has had. Mosquitoes, ticks, poison ivy and venomous snakes might be present in the area. Stay on the trail and respect private property.
This trail is suitable for hiking, overnight backpacking, horseback riding and quite popular for trail running. This trail has been featured multiple times as a part of the No Sleep Adventure Race that has occurred annually in the Shawnee National Forest. Some areas have been damaged quite severely by jeeps and ATV traffic. You may need to get slightly off trail to avoid hiking/riding in these particular areas. The damage is especially severe in between East Trigg and the Tin Whistle which is a tunnel that goes under the Railroad Tracks.
Longer Southern Illinois Trails
Tunnel Hill State Trail
Another of the better longer southern Illinois trails is Tunnel Hill State Trail. This trail is often used by cyclists and runners. The trail was previous a rail-road line and has since been converted into what is known as a rail-to-trail. The trail has a low elevation grade for the most part but does include some minor hills. The trail is wide enough for cyclist/runners on both sides and is mainly made up of crushed limestone with some areas having gravel or concrete. This is an out-and-back trail consisting of about 45-50 miles in total length starting at Harrisburg, Illinois and ending at Karnak, Illinois. The Tunnel Hill State Trail headquarters is located at the Vienna City Park. This trail is managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
This trail offers cyclists and runners many great sights. There are areas with bluffs and portions of the Shawnee National Forest along the trail. The River to River Trail crosses Tunnel Hill State Trail. There is an actual tunnel (located at Tunnel Hill, Illinois) that you can ride through and several trestles that you ride across along the trail. Just past the tunnel heading towards Vienna, the Sandburn Junction, a historical building offers bike rentals, snacks and has a nursery attached to it. Tunnel Hill State Trail is very safe for the most part. However, riders and runners should watch for other cyclists and trail users to avoid collision. There are dangerous bluffs present. Venomous snakes, poison ivy and ticks have been seen in the area. Please always stay on the trail and respect private property.
Tunnel Hill State Trail is suitable for cycling with mountain bikes or bikes with tires suitable for loose gravel and limestone. Road bikes can be used but the surface may be challenging for these bikes. The trail is also suitable for runners, hikers and pet walkers. All children should be supervised by responsible adults as there are dangerous areas present. Tunnel Hill State Trail is a day-use only trail meaning that you may not use it at night. There is camping availability at Main Brothers Campground in Karnak. Equestrians and motorized vehicles are prohibited from being on the trail. Horse riders may cross the trail where the River to River Trail crosses in-between Vienna and Tunnel Hill. Please yield for horses if they are crossing to ensure safety for you and the rider.
Longer Southern Illinois Trails
Heron Pond to Wildcat Bluff
Heron Pond to Wildcat Bluff is a great addition to the longer southern Illinois trails list because of its unique and diverse environment for the area. Heron Pond and Wildcat Bluff are a part of the Cache River State Natural Area which is made up of swamp and marsh environments that while look to have come from somewhere in Louisiana, were actually natural conditions covering much of the region many years ago before previous European settlement destroyed most of the environment. This 10-15 mile out-and-back hike offers foot travelers the experience to see an ever changing diverse natural environment each step of the way. The hike can start at Heron Pond or Wildcat Bluff; both areas have adequate parking available.
As stated, this is a lot to see along this trail. If starting at Heron Pond, expect to see swamp environments at the start, leading to a huge champion Oak tree. Then you’ll enter a native hardwood forested environment seeing signs of previous settlement. As you enter what is known as Little Black Slough, there are swamps and bluffs sharing the area with a diverse set of plants, flora and wildlife enjoying the natural area. Imagine an ocean of swamp in front of your eyes. Little Boss Island is host to a small cabin that once house 8 people and now serves as a wildlife shelter for different types of critters. Once you get into Wildcat Bluff, you’ll be in awe to all the awesome bluffage around you and even get to experience a great overlook of the countryside. Dangerous areas and hazards exist along this trail including cliffs/bluffs, venomous snakes, poison ivy, ticks and other biting insects and creek crossings. During flood and heavy rain conditions, crossing the creeks will likely be impossible. Please respect private property and stay on the trail.
This trail is suitable for hiking or trail running only. This is a day-use only area with no camping available along the trail. Most of the trail is wide and easy to follow. As long as you stay on the trail, you shouldn’t get lost. You will cross two active railroad crossings and two creeks. Bicycle racks are provided at Heron Pond. Maps and brochures are also available at Heron Pond. Heron Pond has two vault-styled restrooms available for trail users. There is no running water (besides creeks if not dry) along the trail. Responsible adults should watch children at all times if using this trail. Because of the swampy conditions present, snakes (including venomous snakes) will be presented here more so than other trails and often visible to trail users. If you encounter a snake, give it room and do not handle it to avoid an unwanted interaction. Hunting is allowed in this area during legal hunting seasons. This trail is for hiking only – bicycles, equestrians and motorized vehicles are not allowed on this trail.
Longer Southern Illinois Trails
River to River Trail
The River to River Trail is the longest of the longer southern Illinois trails in or around the Shawnee National Forest. This trails starts in Elizabethtown, Illinois and ends in Grand Tower, Illinois at Devil’s Backbone State Park. The trail is about 160 miles in length and is considered an out-and-back trail. This trail is a part of the American Discovery Trail. This trail mainly passes through much of the Shawnee National Forest but also goes through Crab Orchard Wildlife Refuge, Illinois State Parks and even private property in some areas. Please stay on the trail at all times and respect private property. Many people thru-hike the River to River Trail each year. The River to River Trail Society is an organization created to help support and maintain this trail. There are numerous trailheads, parking areas and diverse environments along the entirety of this trail. This trail includes forest environments as well as quite a bit of road walking requirements.
At 160 miles, you can imagine there is a lot to see on this trail. There are many bluffs, overlooks, rock formations, creeks and water holes, forest environments and so much more. Many folks will thru-hike this trail throughout the year. Usually, it takes about a week to completely hike the entire trail. The quickest hike (Fastest Known Time) was 3 days, 11 hours and 48 minutes. Some choose to complete the entire trail by horse. Some choose to section hike portions of the trail instead of hiking the entire length. Please understand the many hazards that are present along this trail. These hazards consist of cliffs/bluffs, venomous snakes, wildlife, potentially getting lost, forest fire possibilities, hunting, horseback riding, poison ivy and environmental hazards. It is advisable that you stay on the trail at all times to avoid getting yourself into a dangerous situation.
This trail is suitable for foot travel and horseback riding. Some areas of the trail can legally be accessed by bicycles. This trail can be used for overnight use or day use. There are many camping opportunities available along the trail. Some areas that the trail passes through have additional rules that must be followed. Some parts of the trail are closed to horseback riding during certain times of the year. In order to have a safe and positive experience on the River to River Trail, it is advisable that you download the free and frequently updated River to River Trail Guide. Previous guides may not be accurate. You are also encouraged to download the app known as Avenza and add the free River to River Trail bundle to the app. This will allow you to safely navigate the trail on your compatible smartphone without the requirement of cellular data as it relies on GPS.
Thank you for taking the time to read my article featuring 4 longer southern Illinois trails in or around the Shawnee National Forest. I hope these trails have given you ideas for longer hiking activities that you might wish to partake in. Please support my efforts of writing this article by sharing it with others – especially on your favorite social media sites. You can also support my efforts by becoming a Paid Supporter on my Patreon Page or by buying Official Hiking with Shawn Merch from my Online Store. Finally, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel for the latest videos and follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for exclusive content that you won’t find anywhere else. Thanks again for visiting Hiking with Shawn 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.