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10 of the Best Hiking Trails in Southern Illinois

Check out 10 of the best hiking and backpacking trails located in southern Illinois featured by the Southern Illinois Hiking Forum.
  1. When people think about the State of Illinois, they might often create visions of skyscrapers and heavy traffic found in Chicago and larger cities scattered throughout the state. Or they might even consider the image of windmills across the plains of countless miles of farmland which is not a rare sight to see in the central portion of the state. However, many people lack the view and beauty of what Southern Illinois has to offer. Famously named Little Egypt for all of its references to Egypt, southern Illinois is a land vast with forest, bluffs and rolling hills making this part of the state the most scenic portion of Illinois.

    One particular feature of Southern Illinois is the enormous quantity of hiking back backpacking trails located throughout the region. Southern Illinois is really paradise when it comes to hiking and backpacking in the Midwest. People from all over the tristate region as well as folks from up north are constantly visiting southern Illinois to explore the many hiking trails, backpacking trails and natural areas that we have to offer and most of these areas can be accessed all year and free to anyone who wishes to enjoy them.

    This article displays 10 of the Best Hiking Trails located throughout the southern Illinois region based on the opinions of Southern Illinois Hiking Forum and residents who have shared their comments and reviews about these trails on the World Wide Web.


    1 – Todd Fink-Heron Pond Trail (Belknap, Illinois) 1.5 Miles
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    The Todd Fink-Heron Pond Trail is located in the vast swampland areas of the Cache River State Natural Area located in the most southern portion of the state of Illinois. This one and one half mile lightly-trafficked and easy hiking trail features an environment often found in the bayou of Louisiana but without the alligators. Visitors can expect to see swamp waters, cypress trees that are hundreds of years old, some of the largest trees in Illinois, unique wildlife and beautiful sights that cannot be seen anywhere else. Getting to the trail is easy and offers a scenic drive with an alternative of using a bicycle to get to the trail from the 40+ mile Tunnel Hill State Trail system popular among local cyclists and fitness buffs. If you haven’t visited Heron Pond or the Cache yet, then you are surely missing out on something you will probably not see anywhere else in the region.


    2 – Giant City Nature Trail (Makanda, Illinois) 1 Mile
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    Giant City State Park, a short drive from the Carbondale/Southern Illinois University area offers a wide variety of different hiking and climbing trails for different people of hiking experience. The Giant City Nature Trail is among the popular of the trails in this park. The Giant City Nature Trail offers visitors a unique view of the mighty bluffs scattered throughout the southern Illinois region. Hikers get a chance to see the Streets of Giant City which include street-like hiking paths in-between large cliffs and overhanging boulders. There is a lot of history on this trail including carvings of names of people from the 1800s. This trail is very easy to hike and intended for the whole family to enjoy. If you have not yet hiked this trail, you’re missing out on one of the better hikes right outside your backdoor.


    3 – Jackson Falls (Ozark, Illinois) 4.5 Miles
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    Jackson Falls is one of the most favored hiking and backpacking trail among hikers and climbers in southern Illinois. This unique and longer trail system offers wilderness styled camping, rural scenic views and a chance to disconnect from the world of technology as cell phone signal in this area is very scarce. Jackson Falls is unique because of all the waterfall features it has to offer hikers and climbers. You can see some of the largest waterfalls in the region at Jackson Falls and hike above and below them as well. Jackson Falls in located on an abandoned road full of potholes and features natural creeks that run over the roadway. There is parking and a vault-styled restroom at the trail-head. If you like waterfalls, then you would like Jackson Falls for sure – make sure you visit there soon!


    4 – Little Grand Canyon Trail (Pomona, Illinois) 3 Miles
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    The Little Grand Canyon Trail located near Pomona and Murphysboro, Illinois is one of the most iconic waterfall trails located in southern Illinois. A part of the Mississippi Bluffs Ranger District of the Shawnee National Forest, the Little Grand Canyon Trail has something for everyone. This trail as grand as it is can be challenging though as hikers will experience going uphill on the way back out of the 3-mile loop-type trail system. Hikers get a chance to hike down a waterfall system, see amazing views of the local cliffs and bluffs and check out some caves as well. The small communities of Pomona and Etherton near this hike are also worth checking out to really cherish the true beauty of rural living in southern Illinois. Why travel all that way to see the Grand Canyon when you are just a few clicks away from southern Illinois’ very own Little Grand Canyon?!


    5 – Ferne Clyffe Waterfall Trail (Goreville, Illinois) 2 Miles
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    Most adults in southern Illinois can remember going to Ferne Clyffe on school field trips due to one particular element of the trail – the waterfall. The Ferne Clyffe Waterfall Trail offers hikers a 2 mile loop-type trail system where many has accepted the challenge of riding the waterfall down while also needing a fresh new pair of pants. This trail system is located south of Williamson County and offers a variety of fun and excitement for trail-goers. The Ferne Clyffe park also have other trails to hike as well as camping for those wanting to make for a great weekend out of their visit to the park. There are plenty of areas for picnicking and chillaxing at the Ferne Clyffe park as well. Visit today if you haven’t already!


    6 – Cedar Lake Trail (Alto Pass, Illinois) 15 Miles
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    A 15 mile out-and-back trail seems like a lot unless you are a serious hiker or… you guessed it, a mountain biker. The Cedar Lake Trail is among one of the favored trails for mountain biking and longer hiking in southern Illinois. This 15 mile trail offers rolling hills, views of the lake area, jumps and technical biking single-track skill trails and more. Expect to see mountain bikers, trail hikers and trail runners along this trail. The trail is also used all year long by those who can’t get enough of it. During the wet months though, be warned that the trail can get pretty muddy so if you like to get dirty, then that trail is probably for you. If you can accept the challenge of a 15 mile trail, then I recommend you check out the Cedar Lake Trail today!


    7 – Tunnel Hill State Trail (Vienna, Illinois) 40+ Miles
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    The Tunnel Hill State Trail is a 40+ mile trail system that stretches from Harrisburg, Illinois to Karnak, Illinois. This trail was once a rail road system but has since been converted into what is known as a rail-trail. The trail is popular among runners, hikers, cyclists and families looking for weekend fun. There are many things to see along the Tunnel Hill State Trail including a long tunnel that you get to go through, the Sandburn Junction bicycle rental and snack shop, bluffs, bridges over creeks and more. The more popular portions of the trail is Vienna to Tunnel Hill which features the tunnel and Vienna to Karnack which features Heron Pond and swamp-areas located in the southernmost portion of the region. The trail is very well kept and big enough for bike rider and hikers on both sides of the trail to pass one and other. This trail is one of the largest rail-trails in the Midwest, check it out today!


    8 – Bell Smith Springs Trail (Ozark, Illinois) 4 Miles
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    The Bell Smith Springs Trail system located near Ozark, Illinois offers a special type of wilderness for the people and friends of southern Illinois. This trail is very popular among hikers, climbers and kayakers. There are springs throughout the multi-trail system where you can enjoy a nice cool drip during a hot summer day to even a full day of kayaking around the wilderness area. The trail offers stone staircases, bluffs and cliffs and even the Devi’s Backbone rock formation which are large rocks that have crashed into the springs around the high bluffs of the trail system. This trail is commonly used by hikers and kayakers and can be challenging for some levels of hiking. Getting to this trail is your first step, experiencing the trail is your priority!


    9 – Garden of the Gods Trail (Herod, Illinois) 1/4 Mile
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    The Garden of the Gods Observation Trail is a very popular and heavily used trail among residents and visitors of southern Illinois. This trail is located in the Hidden Springs Ranger District of the Shawnee National Forest. The trail offers easy to hike access to some of the coolest looking bluffs and observation points in southern Illinois. The upcoming 2017 Solar Eclipse is often said to be best seen at this location for the entire country. This unique observation trail features rock formations that look like camels, the Devil’s stovepipe rock formation and more. While climbing on the bluffs and cliffs on Garden of the Gods Observation Trail is frequently done, local officials to ask that you exercise caution as falling off these cliffs can be very hazardous to your health and safety.


    10 – River to River Trail (Elizabethtown, Illinois) 160 Miles
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    The River to River Trail is a 160 mile trail located in southern Illinois that stretches from the Mississippi River to the Ohio River. This trail features unique bluffs and rolling hills, scenic rural sightseeing, cliffs, waterfalls and everything you could imagine in terms of the forest and woodland beauties of the southern portion of the State of Illinois. The trail is commonly used all year by hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and equestrians. The trail is historic as it had originally started in the Battery Rock area of southern Illinois, a historical site where many Civil War type activities had taken place. 160 miles sounds like a lot because it is a lot. If you plan to visit this trail, be sure to check into camping and lodging along the way. Plan it out so you can enjoy the benefits of what the River to River trail has to offer you.


    That's 10 of the Best Hiking Trails of Southern Illinois!
    Don’t worry though, there are TONS more trails in southern Illinois that are worth seeing. There are trail like the Panther Den Wilderness area, Rim Rock, Pomona Natural Bridge, Rocky Bluff and more. Keep exploring the area to find more trails and be sure to discuss them on the Southern Illinois Hiking Forum as well. Look for more articles about more of the best trails in southern Illinois very soon. Thank you for reading this article and please share it with others to show your support for me taking the time to write it out.

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