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Hiking East Central Region  


Clinton Lake Eagles, ospreys, turkey vultures and many kinds of waterfowl can be seen as you hike the 23 miles of trails at Clinton Lake. Your travels here take you past a prairie restoration area, through pines, along rolling shoreline and across intermittent streams. Timbered hardwood areas make for some gorgeous fall scenery, but sights along one of the trails can be enjoyed only by seasoned, experienced hikers. North Fork Trail at 9.3 miles is long and difficult with very steep slopes. If peacefulness and beautiful country are what you crave, North Fork Trail at Clinton Lake could be just your ticket.

Eagle Creek and Wolf Creek at Lake Shelbyville. Five scenic miles of trails provide tranquil and refreshing sojourns in the forests at Eagle Creek State Park at Lake Shelbyville. Also at Eagle Creek is a 12-mile backpack trail and 3 miles of cross-country ski trails. Nearby at Wolf Creek State Park, there are an additional 9 miles of hiking trails, plus a 15.5-mile horse trail many people enjoy walking and snowmobiling in the winter. There is a 3-mile cross-country ski trail for winter fun. See where Unusual Tree Trail gets its name and enjoy a scenic coveís still waters from an observation deck. You may wish to bring your camera. Deer counting is a favorite pastime among hikers, and birders who come to view the bluebirds, purple martins and orioles are seldom disappointed.

Fox Ridge When it comes to hiking trails, Fox Ridge State Park is one of those places that literally has it all. There are nine interconnecting hiking trails totaling 6.5 miles that range from easy for beginners or family hikers to strenuous for those more experienced. (Everyone, by the way, is advised to pack along a canteen.) Fox Ridge also sports a physical fitness trail that challenges you to perform calisthenics and complete an obstacle course along its way. In addition, a team building trail, requiring a special facilitator and the permission of the site superintendent, is available to groups. A trail for the disabled has a hard and compacted surface for wheelchair accessibility. Wildlife observers love the area for its 140 species of birds, including pileated woodpeckers, its foxes, coyotes and flying squirrels, and its amphibians and reptiles. Each fall, wooded ravines feature the autumnal beauties of sycamore, basswood and maple. But donít think that because Fox Ridge is located in east-central Illinois, the area is flat. Actually, there are about a half-mileís worth of stairways along the trails, some of them more than 200 steps. As you hike, keep repeating to yourself, ìThis is central Illinois, this is central Illinois.î

Hidden Springs Rocky Springs and Quicksand Springs are only two of the many springs hikers encounter at Hidden Springs State Forest. The aquatic spring vegetation these areas offer is, to say the least, unusual, but to get there and elsewhere along the forestís trail system requires moderate hiking ability. Two nature trails, Possum Hollow and Big Tree, are self-guiding and feature their own brochures. In all, Hidden Springs offers four marked trails totaling 5.5 miles, but those who truly love to wander might take to the 25 miles of firelanes also available. Of the forestís 1,100 acres, 800 are in hardwood timber, the rest in pine, with wildflowers plentiful each spring. Stop by the park office for a bird checklist before you begin, then let songbirds serenade your journey through the forest.

Iroquois Wildlife Area Deer and upland game keep hunters coming back to the Iroquois County State Wildlife Area each fall and winter, but itís hiking country the rest of the year. More than 3 miles of marked trails, all easy to negotiate, invite you to observe prairie marsh and sand dune vegetation and accompanying wildlife. A quarter-mile portion of the Woodland Trail has a gravel-packed surface for wheelchair use. Among the areaís many inhabitants are rare Henslowís sparrows, pheasant and quail, and try to spot sandhill cranes as they migrate in the spring. Summer splashes the prairie with colorful wildflowers and causes big bluestem to grow taller than Abe himself, while fall color usually occurs in late September or early October. Hikers are restricted to the Nature Preserve Trail during November and December.

Moraine View Two half-mile trails (one is a self-guiding nature trail) are part of the hiking system at Moraine View State Park. Another trail, moderate Tall Timber at 1.5 miles, has 10 primitive campsites along its route. Join the birdwatchers who find Moraine View such a great place to engage in their hobby. Wood ducks and Canada geese nest here, and beavers have been known to build a dam or two. From its rolling terrain surrounding the lake, to its woods, prairies and marshes, Moraine View is a pleasant spot for a day of hiking.

Shelbyville Wildlife Management Area For viewing marsh, woodland and prairie birds, few places can top Shelbyville Wildlife Management Area. Fishhook Nature Trail is a 4.5-mile, self-guiding hike that takes you completely around a waterfowl area and to an observation deck. The best times to observe a variety of wildlife are in October, prior to waterfowl season, and in April. Trails are not closed to hikers during hunting season, so wear blaze orange during that time. Thereís poison ivy, but the wildflowers and re-established prairie areas more than make up for it in the vegetative scheme of things.

Spitler Woods You may think of Spitler Woods Natural Area as a good place to observe and appreciate nature. Youíd be right, of course, since Spitler Woods offers 2.5-mile Squirrel Creek Trail, whose brochure guides you through the areaís very old timber groves and woodland wildlife habitat. Wheelchair access is offered on another trail, Red Oak Ramble, and visually impaired hikers can request an audio cassette to guide them along the way. But in addition to the typical sights and sounds associated with a natural area, there are those usually associated with a health club. A half-mile-long exercise and jogging trail at Spitler Woods offers you a complete 12-station cardiovascular workout. Just remember, although your dog may jog with you elsewhere, pets must be leashed at all times in the stateís natural areas and parks.

Weldon Springs Birders love Weldon Springs State Park, which tells you something about the variety of birds found there. But wildlife observers and nature lovers of all kinds enjoy the parkís wealth of beauty. Self-guiding Lakeside Nature Trail winds for 2 miles around the lake and features 29 interpretive stations. Its stairways and footbridges give it a moderately difficult rating. Salt Creek Backpack Trail, also moderate, is 4 miles long. In all, there are approximately 7 miles of trails, some of which double as cross-country ski trails in winter, something to keep in mind next time the white stuff falls.

More East-Central Trails At Kickapoo State Park hikers will find the 7.6-mile Out and Back Trail a real challenge. The trail is marked every quarter-mile. As the trail winds through prairie, meadows, woodlands, up and down hills and across the Middle Fork River, you will see all types of wildlife. Try Clear Pond Trail or River View Trail to view the natural reclamation of the strip mines at Kickapoo. Over 12 miles of signed trails are available. Varying grades lend half-mile-long Beech Tree Trail and 2-mile-long Sand Ford Nature Trail a lot of interest at Lincoln Trail State Park, where spring and autumn are always colorful. A hiking trail winds along the Sangamon River at Lincoln Trail Homestead, where a variety of interesting birds, small animals and wildflowers may be observed. The trail may be reached via any of three stairways leading down into the river bottom. Care should be taken when walking near the river bank as undercutting by the river current may cause unstable areas. Hikers can glimpse into the past as they hike the 1.75-mile Whispering Pines trail at Walnut Point State Park. This moderate trail winds through the Upper Embarras Woods Nature Preserve giving hikers a view of a forest at or near presettlement condition. The nature preserve is home to a state champion Pignut Hickory, and with the Embarras River as its southern boundary hikers may catch a glimpse of one of the Pileated Woodpeckers that can be found here. Lakeside Trail is a .5-mile handicap accessible trail. The asphalt surface makes it a good choice in all weather conditions. The trail meanders through a good quality forested natural area situated between Walnut Point Lake and a prairie restoration. The location and quality of the site make this an ideal choice for birders or someone wanting to learn more about Illinois trees. A self-guided trail map identifying some of the trees is available at the trail head.

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