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Hiking South Region  


Beall Woods Five self-guiding trails totaling nearly 10 miles highlight your hiking experience at Beall Woods State Park. The chipped surface of the 1.5-mile Tulip Tree Trail can accommodate wheelchairs, and a cassette tape noting 10 points of interest along the way is available for visually impaired hikers. Like Tulip Tree Trail, White Oak and Sweetgum trails are easy, while Schneck and Ridgeway trails are for intermediate hikers. Super-sized pileated woodpeckers are among the birds you may see among the equally super-sized deciduous trees. Deer, opossum and skunks are among the park's year-round inhabitants. Watch your step at Coffee Creek, where there's a 30-foot drop, and by all means, don't forget that autumn's explosion of color usually occurs the second or third week in October.

Crawford County State Fish and Wildlife Area If you're in search of something you just don't see everyday in Illinois, Crawford County Fish and Wildlife Area is a place you may want to hike. Botanically speaking, it's a southern bottomland forest community that's near the northern limits of its occurrence in the state. What it means is that Crawford features different types of ferns and other plants not widely seen. Keep this in mind as you hike the area's 5 miles of trails, which vary from easy to moderate to difficult.

Dixon Springs The main trail at Dixon Springs State Park has a split personality. It starts off as Pine Tree Trail, changes into Oak Tree Trail, and finally calls itself Bluff Trail. It doesn't take a Rhodes scholar to figure out what hikers pass through on this route, but you should know it's geared for folks with intermediate trail experience. Mosquitos and ticks can be bothersome here, but it's nothing a little diligence can't handle. The many, many wildflowers and the late-October leaf display are what you'll come back for.

Ferne Clyffe A splashing waterfall, intermittent and majestic at 80 feet high, is one of the soul-refreshing sights encountered at Ferne Clyff State Park. To view it at its best, take either the easy Big Rocky Hollow Trail at 1 mile or the moderately difficult Waterfall Trail at 0.75 mile. Because Ferne Clyffe is known for its unusual rock formations, it's nice to know some of the more impressive ones can be seen from the park's 10 trails. HawksCave Trail, an easy 1-mile hike, goes past a shelter bluff, which is the largest in southern Illinois. Those with more experience might want to attempt the mile-long Round Bluff Nature Preserve Trail. Equestrians use some of the 15 miles of hiking byways, but you're welcome to hoof it along with them.

Giant City It makes sense that a beautifully rugged place like Giant City State Park would have a few rugged trails, but how does more than 20 miles sound? The granddaddy of them all is Red Cedar Hiking Trail, clocking in at 16 miles. Several shorter trails, such as the mile-long Giant City Nature Trail, are great to hike when your time is limited. Trillium Trail, 2-miles-long, is a self-guiding nature hike with the spotlight on wildflowers. A blacktopped surface makes the Post Oak Nature Trail wheelchair accessible, and at one-third mile, seniors like it, too. Geology buffs love the bluffs, carved by nature from Makanda sandstone and towering up to 100 feet above the forest floor. Hiking horticulturists, amateur and pro, are smitten with everything from the prickly pear cacti to the virgin white oaks, so called because they were not felled during the settlement period of the early 1800s. Wildflower hikes are usually held the first two weeks in May, depending on rainfall and weather, and with Giant City as your backdrop, you couldn't pick a finer time to hike. Be sure to stop by the park office to pick up individual trail guides.

Lake Murphysboro Is there anything as stunning as a mature forest reflected in a quiet lake? Whether you hike during the green of spring and summer or in the gold of autumn, Lake Murphysboro is a beautiful setting. The park's only trail, Walk-away, starts at the campgrounds and stretches in a northwesterly direction for 3.5 miles. The trail is classed as a moderate, with one stairway having 50 or so steps. Watch for shore birds, like sandpipers and wood ducks, along a short section of the trail and enjoy the wealth of plant and animal life that characterizes the whole of Lake Murphysboro.

Mermet Lake Two interpretive nature trails are tucked into the waterfowl refuge known as Mermet Lake. The Mermet Swamp Trail is a half-mile in length, and a brochure accompanies the Mermet Faltwoods Trail, which is 1 mile long. Both trails are easy enough for family hikers to tackle. Fifteen trees are identified on each trail, and many types of waterfowl can be seen along the way. Eagles have been known to nest in the area in the fall. Because both trails are in a waterfowl area, they are closed during fall hunting season. Herpephobes should watch their step snakes just love swampy areas like this.

Newton Lake Some thought definitely went into the trail system developed at Newton Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area. A 12-mile path starting at the north access parking lot winds its way south along the shoreline and is also used as an equestrian trail. Points along the way note your mileage, and there are rest rooms and a picnic area on the trail. You can either retrace your steps for an approximate 24-mile round trip, or you can use a 3.2-mile shortcut, making your hike about 15 miles. Of course, you can customize the length of your route to suit your individual hiking abilities, but the trail's only access is from the north parking lot. Maps are available at the lake office, and at the boat ramp. Trails may be closed when the soil is wet, but when it isn't be prepared to see deer, wild turkeys, quail and foxes, plus waterfowl in the fall. In addition to going through forested areas, some of the trail borders the prairie, guaranteeing a diversity of scenery. Serious hikers really couldn't ask for more.

Pyramid With its large Canada goose and beaver populations, Pyramid State Park is a natural for wildlife enthusiasts. The park features a long, interconnected system of trails for both hiking and equestrian use. A portion of the 16.5-mile system is called Rugged 10-Mile Trail, but before you think you need to be a tri-athlete to attempt it, you should know it got its name for its length rather than its severity. It's actually rather moderate. Keep in mind trails are closed during firearm deer season. Trails are closed to equestrian and biking use October 15, April 15 each year. Pyramid's forested hills and scenic lakes may leave you doubting this is a reclaimed strip mine area. Once you take to the trails, you'll know why this is such a popular place.

Red Hills The vibrant colors of redheaded woodpeckers, bluejays and wild canaries flitter through the trees and over the lake at Red Hills State Park. More than 5 miles of trails are maintained here for the intermediate hiker. Indian Treaty, Robin and Tulip trail loops overlap each other on the hilly north side of U.S. Route 50, each being about a mile long. An equestrian trail on the south side of the highway also is used by hikers who enjoy a walk down the bridle path. Oak, hickory and walnut trees make this a showy place for autumn colors in middle to late October, but at no time will you find the park lacking for scenic charm.

Saline County Rugged and rocky hills bordering the Shawnee National Forest make for difficult hiking in Saline County State Conservation Area, exactly what many people want. Try Lake Trail at 3 miles, River Trail at 1 mile, or self-guiding Wildlife Nature Trail at 0.75 mile. The first fourth-of-a-mile of Cave Hill Trail is on state property before it leads onto US Forest Service property for the next 10 miles. Your travels here take you lakeside among the woods, including a walk through an extremely old stand of white oaks on the lake's west side. Your trek on River Trail starts on a forested hill and ends 200 feet lower on the Saline River. Ospreys, wild turkeys and deer are among the abundant wildlife encountered along the way. Geologic rumblings millions of years ago made this the only place in the Midwest where Pennsylvanian slate is exposed above ground. Not to belabor the issue, but steep grades and rugged terrain make trails at Saline County unsuitable for the tenderfoot.

Trail of Tears Surrounded by the Shawnee National Forest, Trail of Tears State Forest is Eden to many a hiker. Ninety percent of the area is mature hardwood forest, offering spectacular fall color and a gold mine of natural treasures. Nearly 5 miles of trails guide the intermediate hiker through a rugged series of ridges. Horse trails and fire lanes offer hikers almost inexhaustible challenges. Watch where you step - venomous snakes, including rattlers and copperheads, inhabit the area. Take note of the 1930-era shelters and other structures found throughout the forest.

More Southern Trails If you work up an appetite while on Hickory Ridge Trail, a 0.75-mile self-guiding loop at Cave In Rock State Park, simply stop by the park restaurant located near the trail exit. Two self-guiding trails, easy Long Knife at 1.5 miles and moderate Hickory Nut Ridge at 2.5 miles, abound with wildlife at Fort Massac State Park. Nearly 4 miles of family hiking trails laced among immature woods, rolling hills and prairie areas are available at Hamilton County Conservation Area. A 1.5-mile-long, self-guiding nature trail plus 10 miles of fire lanes keep hikers occupied for hours at Ramsey Lake . A moderate hiking trail with three loops totaling 4.5 miles at Sam Dale Lake Conservation Area is a good place to catch glimpses of deer and rabbits as well as spring wildflowers. Lakeside Trail, a scenic 2 miles at Sam Parr State Park, is used not only by hikers but also by cross-country runners. Oak Ridge Trail, a 2.7-mile loop that's convenient to campers, highlights the 3-mile trail system at Stephen A. Forbes State Park. Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park at Rend Lake offers a rolling, wood-chipped trail a mile long with scenery ranging from woods to wetlands.

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