New Year’s Day Hike
at Lusk Creek Wilderness
with Old Goat in the Woods
I like to end the year with a hike and begin the New Year with a hike. This New Year’s Day Hike was to Owl Bluff and it turned out to be a good one. The best part about it was that I was surrounded by good family and friends and that is what is important in the end.
Continuing the New Year’s Day
Michelle, our buddy Bryan, Old Goat and I did a New Year’s Day Hike in 2019 at Panther Den Wilderness. So doing a New Year’s Day Hike in 2020 makes this a tradition. We all agreed and hope to continue this tradition from now on. The only thing that might change is more people get added to the hike for the next years to come.
I’ve been hiking on New Year’s Day since 2017. I started Hiking with Shawn in December of 2016 and promised myself that I would spend my New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day hiking rather than attending some sort of celebratory event. To me, hiking the year to and end and beginning the year with a hike is a real celebration. I like waking up on New Year’s Day with a clear head and finding myself enjoying the trail. I highly recommend that you start this tradition as well. I do hope everyone had a good New Year’s Eve into New Year’s Day though – I was asleep by 10:30 PM which is late for me.
New Year’s Day Hike
Destination: Owl Bluff
So originally, Michelle and I planned to hike to Owl Bluff and Martha’s Woods in Lusk Creek Wilderness for our New Year’s Day hike. But the trip to Martha’s Woods would have required more daylight so in the end we hiked to Owl Bluff and created a loop using older trail systems around that area. We had to cross the creek twice – I did it once, barefooted and the other time, I decided to get my shoes and socks wet since it had warmed up later in the day. Overall, if you hike this route, you can expect to see bluffage, natural shelters, very nice scenic overlooks, the wild and scenic Lusk Creek and a diversity of different hardwood and pine forested lands. Lusk Creek is the largest wilderness in the Shawnee wilderness inventory – there is much to see there.
Tips for the Trail
at Owl Bluff
First and foremost, bring water shoes or crocs! Crossing Lusk Creek barefooted isn’t the best idea and I knew that from the get go. However, I still forgot to bring shoes I could walk across the creek in. The water was freezing and there were a lot of slippery, jagged rocks that my feet didn’t like that much.
When I was a kid, I could be barefoot all the time but as an adult, I’ve lost that ability! In most cases, you are going to have to cross that creek and in most cases, it is going to be up past your ankle or deeper.
My next word of advice is to at least pack enough hydration and food/snacks to last 24 hours. Lusk Creek is a large wilderness consisting of more than 6,000 acres of forested land. It is dense, rolling hills and challenging. If you get lost, you don’t want to be without food and water. Luckily, the creek stays running most of the time and you can filter water from it. On the topic of not getting lost, bring at least 3-4 items for navigation including a GPS, an app on your phone (Such as Avenza+R2R bundle, free!), maps and a compass. Always try to either mark where you started at or get the compass direction and always tell someone where you are going to hike before you visit the trail.
Lusk Creek Wilderness is often used for equine activities. You can expect horses and mules to be on the trails most of the time. During the months of winter, equines are prohibited from the trails, though. If you visit and you see an equine user, please yield to the pack animal and speak to the rider in a calm fashion. This is done to help the animal realize that you are human and not there to harm it. Horses are like cows, they are herd animals and often terrified of things that are unknown. To avoid putting you, the rider or the horse/mule at risk of potential injury, please yield to these animals.
Getting to Owl Bluff
in the Lusk Creek Wilderness
The route to the trailhead is in good shape all the way there. The roads are all paved and well used. The trailhead is very nice and there is adequate parking space for vehicles and horse trailers. There is signage and a very nice maintained restroom at the trailhead. If you are in a non-trailer vehicle, please park where the signage asks you to park to ensure equine users can also find a place to park to enjoy the trail along with you.
If starting from the Vienna, Illinois Ranger Station – Drive south on Highway 45 until you get to the 4 way stop shortly after the Ranger Station. Turn left onto Vine Street/Highway 146 and continue east, passing under Interstate-24 and turn left (north) onto Highway 147 shortly after the interstate. Continue on Highway 147 for about 13 miles until you reach the T. Turn left onto Highway 145 and follow for about 6 miles, passing through Eddyville. Turn right onto Straight Street and follow for about 2 miles. Circle B Equestrian Campground will be on your right and directly across from it on your left will be the Lusk Creek Trailhead that you want to park at.
While hiking from the Trailhead, take the Northern River to River Trail (blue and white “I” diamond blazes) and cross the road. Continue on the River to River Trail (R2R). After the switchback down and across the small creek, you will then have to cross the Lusk Creek. Please use caution! After crossing, continue on the River to River Trail going up the bluff. You will eventually reach a horse high-line (tie up area) with a sign that says Owl Bluff. The trail to your right will take you to the Owl Bluff overlook. Please use caution on the overlook! After seeing the overlook, now it’s time to loop back. Continue on R2R to Trail 490 on your left (Avenza app with R2R bundle or map is required). Take 490 to 457 – you’ll have to cross Lusk Creek again at this point. Trail 457 will get you back to R2R and you’ll need to head east at that point. Stay on the R2R trail to backtrack back to where you parked. This will be about 6-8 miles of hiking and is considered rugged.
New Year’s Day Hike
Thanks for checking out my article about my New Year’s Day Hike to Owl Bluff in the Shawnee National Forest. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share it, especially on your favorite social media sites. Consider following Hiking with Shawn on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more hiking fun in and around the Shawnee National Forest. You can also support me with a monthly donation or by purchasing official Merch. So 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.