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Hiking West Central Region  


Beaver Dam The staff at Beaver Dam State Park apologizes for there not being any beaver dams, or for that matter beavers, at the park. However, to prevent hikers from walking away mad, they remind you Beaver Dam is home to rare and unusual white squirrels. If youíre observant during your hike, youíll notice theyíre not albino squirrels, because they have dark eyes and their feet have dark pads. You should also notice Beaver Damís wildlife includes barred owls, marsh hawks and wood ducks, plus wild turkeys and muskrat. The parkís 4 miles of trails are moderate to difficult, and only one is a loop, so to prevent getting lost, itís best to pick up a trail brochure at the park office.

Edward R. Madigan When you need to stretch your legs, remember the easy 7-mile hike offered by Edward R. Madigan State Park. Salt Creek Trail at 4 miles and South Annex Trail at 3 miles take you through a geologically flat area thatís home to a variety of wildlife. If youíre quiet, you could see deer, which are plentiful in fall and winter, and if youíre lucky, you might see a great horned owl. Be sure to load up on water before starting out and take a good look at trailhead markers, which accurately depict the trail system. One final piece of advice: hikers are encouraged to wear long pants throughout the year because of the presence of poison ivy, stinging nettles and greenbrier, a small vine with obvious spines.

Eldon Hazlet Eldon Hazlet State Park at Carlyle Lake is for the birds, and thatís meant in the nicest way. Birds abound at Eldon Hazlet, and if youíre a hiker who likes to combine a little watching with your walking, youíve found the perfect place. Three easy loop trails, each about a mile long, take you through woods and along scenic Carlyle Lake. Thereís also a pre-Civil War cemetery marking the graves of early Irish settlers and an observation point overlooking the lake to add interest to your ambling.

Horseshoe Lake Did you know that the state of Illinois manages two Horseshoe Lakes? The one near Cairo in Alexander County doesnít maintain any hiking trails, however, so if you end up there for a day of hiking, youíre out of luck. On the other hand, Horseshoe Lake State Park near Granite City in Madison County, 125 miles to the north, has a nice 4-mile, self-guiding trail. Loops of 1.5 and 3 miles add a little diversity, and a causeway gets hikers to an island. Thereís even a trail brochure pointing out commonly seen birds, and the fairly uncommon European tree sparrow. Mourning doves and bluebirds reside at Horseshoe Lake as well, and during spring and fall migrations, look for snowy egrets, great blue herons and black-crowned night herons. Itís all waiting for you, as long as you show up at the Madison County Horseshoe Lake.

Kaskaskia River You might call it ìthe big easy.î The hiking trail at Kaskaskia River State Fish & Wildlife Area is a long 9 miles, but itís over fairly even terrain so walking it isnít too diffucult. Itís actually a combination of field roads, levees and fire lanes, so you wonít find typical trail structures like footbridges or stairways. There are several loops, but only one access at Dry Lake. Along the way are deer, wild turkeys and various species of ducks. Be aware that the trail is in a hunting area and that hiking is restricted during waterfowl season. At nearby Knobeloch Woods, thereís a 0.6-mile moderately difficult hike through one of the stateís few remaining stands of white oaks. Go at the right time in the spring, and, in addition to a pretty assortment of spring flowers, youíll be treated to a display of flowering dogwood. Knobelochís main problem is its limited parkingóthereís room for two cars. Max.

Nauvoo For observing wood ducks in their nests, hike Nauvoo State Park. Senior and disabled visitors appreciate the three-eighths-mile loop from the camping area, and thereís also a short one-way jaunt to Lake Hortonís Gilliganís Islandónot to be confused with the TV version that was home to seven stranded castaways. The parkís main trail of 1.5 miles offers ample opportunity for birdwatching and wildlife observation. The only disappointment comes to hiking geode hunters, who have to trek elsewhere for their crystalline quarry.

Pere Marquette When the views donít command your attention, the trails at Pere Marquette Sate Park certainly do. Intertwined through ridges and encompassing wooded as well as prairie areas along the Illinois River, Pere Marquetteís 12 miles of trails suit a variety of hiking levels. The main trail, Hickory, is 0.75 miles and considered easy. Another 0.75-mile trail, Dogwood, is a moderate, self-guiding nature trail. Experienced hikers also get their due on the half-mile Ridge Trail. Several mile and 2-mile hikes also are available. Rock stairways, wooden footbridges and lookout platforms make your hiking more enjoyable as you scout for wild turkeys, deer and chipmunks. Foxes, coyotes and raccoons also inhabit the area, but youíre not apt to see them during the day. Along with the parkís trail system map, be sure to obtain a bird checklist at the visitor center or the site superintendentís office before starting out. As always, stay clear of poison ivy, use insect repellent when going into wooded areas, and you should be blessed with an outstanding hiking experience.

Randolph County and Turkey Bluffs For observing wildlife in southern Illinois, itís difficult to find many places better than the state fish and wildlife areas at Randolph County and Turkey Bluffs. Randolphís songbirds, wild turkeys and deer often are spotted along its 10 miles of trails, which double as equestrian trails. Turkey Bluffs similarly has a combined hiking and horse trail about 10 miles long, plus one at 1.5 miles with an overlook to the Mississippi River. But watch out for snakes. All of these trails are moderate. More difficult trails can be found at nearby Piney Creek and Fults Hill Prairie nature preserves. Hikers on Piney Creekís 2-mile trail enjoy seeing one of the stateís two short-leaf pine plantations, as well as creeks, a waterfall and pools. Experienced hikers who take the 2-mile trail at Fults Hill Prairie are treated to eagles, hawks and buzzards soaring above the bluffs plus waves of prairie flowers.

Sand Ridge State Forest
Bluebirds, indigo buntings, tanagers and other birds with distinctive plumage are among the hundreds of species claimed by Sand Ridge State Forest, where 44 miles of moderate, multi-use trails are open for hiking. The trail system is color-coded, with loops ranging from 2 to 17 miles in length. Two marked trails, each about 2 miles long and used exclusively by hikers, wind their way through hardwood and pine forests, gently rolling hills, open prairies and high sand dunes. Wildflowers show up the first part of June and last through the summer months. Viewing changing leaf color from the oaks and hickories is usually best in mid-October. When venturing out on one of the longer trails, bring along water so youíre able to enjoy the forest to its fullest extent.

Siloam Springs Ramble along the 12 miles of trails at Siloam Springs State Park for a memorable encounter with woods and prairie. Forest and open land species of birds soar above as you admire the flowers. Youíll also be traipsing from valleys to flatlands and through oak and hickory forests, pine plantations and natural prairies. Most of the parkís seven trails, including Lakeshore and Prairie Hilltop, are easy, but Hoot Owl at 1.5 miles and Red Oak Backpack Trail at 4 miles are moderate. Every once in a while you may run into a steep grade just to test your dexterity, but itís probably nothing you canít handle.

Weinberg-King Mother Nature provides the woods and the wildflowers, while park personnel provide a lookout platform, a covered bridge and a log cabin to make your roving at Weinberg-King memorable. Blackberry Run is an easy 3-mile nature trail that winds along a creek and across three bridges, one of them covered; but if 3 miles seems too long, an alternate route cuts the hike almost in half. A jogging trail, also used by cross-country skiers, lets you take in the sights for 2.5 miles, and there are several smaller jaunts from one picnic area to another. A note to leaf lookersóthe bluff is awash with color in the fall.

More West-Central Trails Although specifically for bank-fishing enthusiasts, the mile of timbered trails at Coffeen Lake is well-marked and well-maintained. Beginning at Deer Run Campground, the 1.5-mile trail at Sangchris Lake State Park takes you away from the lake and off the beaten path. A moderate 7-mile trail at Washington County State Conservation Area gets quite a bit of use from Scouts who want to earn a hiking patch.

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