Wednesday, February 27

Cache River Trails

Continuing with our monthly series, "Adventures with Uncle Bob - Your Guide to Self-Adventure in Southern Illinois," we highlight the Cache River State Natural Area and National Wildlift Refuge. Directions: Take I-57 south to the Ullin exit. Travel approx 10 miles to Rt 37. Turn north on 37 and go 2 miles to the parking area for section 8 boardwalk access. This short walk thru swamp ends with a view of the state champion Water Tupelo tree. Continue north on this road to Barkhausen Wetlands Center (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays). The center has an impressive display of the natural and cultural history of this wetland. Note that the Tunnel Hill bike trail starts here. Backtrack a short distance and turn right onto Perks Road. At the first access area, turn in to note two eagle nests in treetops. Drive further on the road to the sign for the Lower Cache Access Area. Restroom and picnic facilities are here. One handicap accessible trail takes one to an observation platform over the swamp and a view of the state champion Bald Cypress. Back in the parking area, take the 2.5 mile swamp trail for a more intimate setting, bisecting Cypress and Tupelo swamps. Views are more limited in the first mile due to a forest of 8-20 ft tall Canebrake.

Drive back to the junction with Rt37 and Ullin road and turn left on to Rt 169. Near the town of Karnak, turn left onto Urban (formerly Porterhouse) Road. This delightful road goes 2 miles thru the middle of a swamp, crosses the bike trail, and comes to Big Cypress Tree Trail. Close to the parking area is the 1,000 year old Cypress tree with a base circumference of 40 ft.  correction: it is 1.3 miles to the access parking.

Take Rt 37 north to Rt 146, turn right and proceed to the sign for Wildcat Bluff. Follow this road about 6 miles (well marked) to the parking area. This is the Upper Cache River section. Two trails start here. The one mile observation trail on the left offers rim top views into the Cache River bottoms during leafoff. Note the pretty cliff walls and rock shelters below the trail. You will encounter one spot on the trail as an unmarked junction: go right on the spur trail to reach an overlook. Return to the trail and continue until it ends in a brush pile. Backtrack to the starting point at the signboard. Just to the left of the concrete wall is an easy place to descend to the cliff base. The signboard indicates that the other trail going west travels to Boss Island and Heron Pond. Expect to get your feet wet due to creek crossings. On that trail, I noted another place to descend to a nice shelter bluff line at the second DNR tree diamond.

Leaving this place, turn on to the road which takes you to Rt 45. Along the way, there is an unmarked fork: go right. At Rt 45 turn right and go to Belknap Road. Along the way to Belknap, there is a sign for Heron Pond swamp. (This was already described at Click outings and then scroll to the bottom for self-adventures with uncle bob.) At Belknap, follow the sign to the Cache River Natural Area office and then follow the one-lane road to the parking area. Two trails start here at Marshall Access. The Tupelo trail says 2.4 mile loop. After a mile, the loop starts at a junction. Take the left fork and descend the cliff line to the swamp with picturesque Tupelo trees. Forget the right fork-poor signage. Back at the parking area, the other trail heads northeast. Except for a pretty cliff line near its beginning, the remainder is a walk in the woods.

05-25-13: some of you have gotten lost upon leaving Heron Pond to access other areas. The road goes to Belknap. A sign points to the state natural area to the right. If you want to continue west to big cypress and lower Cache access, go straight ahead on this unmarked paved road which runs to Karnak. At stop sign,turn right. now you are on rt 169. The big cypress sign will be approx 1 mile out of town. Thereafter,continue on rt 169 to Rt 37. 

Trail brochures are available at Shawnee National Forest offices and any Cache River visitor center. More information from Bob Tyson at 684-5643 The GPS coordinates for Wildcat Bluff are 88 55' 46.32"W and 37 22' 35.05"N. The coordinates for Heron Pond are 88 54' 35.80"W and 37 21' 12.93"N. The coordinates for Big Cypress access are 88 58' 59.61"W and 37 18' 33.69"N.

We are eliminating the old website so Heron Pond is described here on this page. The signboard at the parking lot for this preserve says "no dogs on trail". Walk downhill and cross the bridge and turn left. We are on an easy 0.5 mile trail which runs along the side of the creek/swamp and brings us to the boardwalk. This will take you deep into the swamp and the water is often a vibrant lime-green color as far as you can see. Cypress and Tupelo trees abound as well as the Heron rookeries high up in the trees, as well as the bald knobs that protrude from the water surface. After that, walk another 0.25 mile ascending up to the state champion Cherry Oak Bark tree with a huge diameter. Upon return, there is a trail junction;However, both bring you back to the bridge. Restroom facilities are here. 05/08/2012: the section 8 boardwalk is back open and repaired.