Hidden away in Southern Illinois is one of Nature's masterpieces.
The Cache River State Natural Area features more than 18 miles of designated hiking trails, providing opportunities to explore cypress and tupelo swamps, sandstone bluffs, floodplain forests, hillside glades and barrens. The Tunnel Hill State Trail, a 45-mile bicycle and hiking trail running between Harrisburg and Karnak, passes through five miles of the Cache River State Natural Area, providing expanded opportunities for hikers and cyclists.
Cypress Creek Wildlife Refuge offers two additional options: Limekiln Springs, a moderately difficult 2.5 mile trail featuring limestone outcrops, floodplain forest, multiple springs and two boardwalks for viewing the swamp; and Hickory Bottoms, a one-mile trail through a mature lowlands forest.
Other recommended trails include:
Todd Fink-Heron Pond Trail (1.5 miles). This easy trail crosses a truss bridge over the Cache and features a floating boardwalk in the middle of one of the most beautiful and accessible cypress-tupelo swamps in the Midwest. A signature destination for most visitors to the Cache.
Big Cypress Access (250 feet). This short trail through a floodplain forest takes visitors past the famous “Winnie-the-Pooh” tree, and to a bald cypress more than 1,000 years old with a base circumference of more than 40 feet.
Tupelo Trail (2.5 miles). This moderately difficult trail begins a quarter-mile north of the Marshall Ridge Access area and provides excellent views of oak-hickory forest and swamp.
Wildcat Bluff (1 mile). Running along the edge of a high-quality hillside barrens, Lookout Point Trail provides a spectacular view of the Cache River, its swamps and floodplain forest.
Little Black Slough Trail (5.5 miles). Reached via the Heron Pond, Wildcat Bluff or Marshall Ridge access areas, this moderately difficult trail features swamps, sandstone bluffs, floodplain forests and hillside glades. A rock ford on the Cache River, which can be difficult to cross during high water, gives hikers access to Boss Island.
Section 8 Woods Boardwalk (475 feet). The Section 8 Woods Nature Preserve includes cypress-tupelo swamp and a floodplain forest. The boardwalk ends with a view of the state-champion water tupelo tree. The boardwalk provides an accessible, barrier-free trail that offers visitors the opportunity to experience a cypress-tupelo swamp on the Cache River. In 2020, a wind-storm brought down the champion water tupelo tree, sadly.
Lower Cache River Access. The road dead-ends into a parking area that provides easy access to the Lower Cache River. Here, swamps form a contiguous corridor over nine miles long and nearly a half-mile wide. Canoe access allows an intimate encounter with ancient trees, some with over 200 knees, and a close view of the State Champion Bald Cypress. A short walk to an overlook offers photographers spectacular views of this watery wilderness. Visit on a foggy morning, a cold winter day, or even at night during a full moon. You will never be disappointed.
Turkey Feather Trail (0.5 miles). This trail provides access to over 150 acres of upland forests for hunting, wildlife watching and more. Turkey Feather Trail is just off of IL 127 on Olive Branch Road near Olive Branch.
Hiking in the Cache River Wetlands can be enjoyed throughout the year, as long as you dress for the weather and wear sturdy and comfortable walking shoes. Keep in mind that some trails may be muddy or inaccessible during extended periods of wet weather. For trail maps and additional information, call the Cache River Wetlands Center at 618-657-2064 or Cypress Creek Refuge Office at 618-634-2231.