(Legend and Bicycle Level of Service Guide)
to Southern Illinois!
District 9 covers the
southernmost sixteen counties of Illinois, as well as small portions of
adjacent counties and states. Counties covered are Alexander, Franklin, Gallatin,
Hamilton, Hardin, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Massac, Perry, Pope,
Pulaski, Saline, Union, White, and Williamson, as well as portions of adjacent
Counties. While you are cycling, we invite you to stop and take in many of the
scenic and historic wonders of this portion of our state.
Enjoy your trip in
our beautiful state.
More than any other feature, the Shawnee Hills distinguish
southern most Illinois from the rest of the state. The only other large area
with terrain resembling the Shawnee region is the northwestern portion of
Illinois around Galena. These two areas
are the only unglaciated portions of Illinois.
Millions of years ago, a great geological upheaval, combined
with the pushing of material by glaciers to the north, produced the scenic and
picturesque hills, valleys, and bluffs that make this land so unique. Further
shaping of the land occurred from the action of wind and water, creating fantastic
rock formations and carving gorges and canyons. Most of these formations and hills
are within the boundaries of the Shawnee National Forest, Illinois' only
Rivers, and Other Bodies of Water
Water and Waterfalls
Rivers and streams add to the scenery of the Shawnee
country. The Big Muddy River carves a gorge through the western Shawnee area,
while the Cache River meanders through swamps and cypress stands—great for
canoeing. Dozens of other streams and creeks have helped carve out and shape
the landscape. If you explore a bit, you may come across waterfalls in such
areas as Pounds Hollow, Ferne Clyffe, and Dixon Springs. Some waterfalls are
intermittent, so the best time to see some of them is after a heavy rain.
Southernmost Illinois also contains a number of lakes. The largest lake is Rend Lake, but there are
many smaller lakes worth noting: Kincaid Lake with its spectacular views; Crab
Orchard Lake, home to a variety of wildlife; Devil's Kitchen Lake and its
scenic bluffs; and Horseshoe Lake with a large, graceful stand of bald
cypresses. Most lakes offer boating and swimming-great ways to cool off after a
hot bike ride.
Still water in cypress country has a different kind of
beauty. There is a peacefulness along the boardwalk that extends into the heart
of the swamp at Heron Pond (in the Cache River State Natural Area). This same
serenity can also be found at Horseshoe Lake near Cairo. This is a great place
to get off you r bike and enjoy a unique "southern" atmosphere under
the canopy of bald cypress trees.
For a pleasant diversion from bicycling, take a canoe trip.
The U.S. Forest Service recommends these rivers in and near Shawnee National
Forest for canoeing (check the larger towns for canoe rental):
- The Big Muddy River: 30 miles of
spectacular cliffs, bluffs, and Little Grand Canyon. The Big Muddy starts near
Murphysboro and empties into the Mississippi River.
- The Cache River: a great place to view
blue herons, the Cache winds south of the National Forest and eventually
empties into the Ohio River just north of Cairo. Serene cypress swamps and
forested lowlands surround much of the length of the Cache River.
- The Saline River: this unusual river
turns from brown to white at Eagle Creek due to a high salt content. It flows
into the Ohio River at the eastern boundary of the Shawnee.
- The Ohio River: from the Saline River southeast
to Cave-in-Rock and beyond. This stretch of the river passes scenic bluffs areas.
You can combine this stretch of the Ohio with a trip from the Saline River.
Southernmost Illinois is blessed with a
wide variety of native plants and animals—and a lot of them, thanks in part to
the Shawnee National Forest and many county, state, and federal public lands.
Here you will find a variety of northern species found elsewhere in the state,
as well as many southern species such as the bald cypress whose northern limit
falls here. Plant and animal species are most concentrated in the man y other
natural areas administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Southernmost Illinois' mild climate and
wide variety of ecological niches are responsible for the abundance of a broad
spectrum of plant life. It is here that north meets south. Many of the trees
found in the rest of Illinois are found here: oaks, maples, beeches, and ashes;
along with the northernmost extension of southern varieties such as the bald
cypress, tupelo, and rock pine.
Although forests dominate, there are
many wetlands along streams. Higher areas such as knobs and hilltops may be dry
enough to support grasslands. In between is a spectrum of trees, woody plants,
and other flora ranging from dryer loving black and blackjack oaks to water-loving
willows and cottonwoods.
In larger towns, you will find the
Southern Magnolia, a graceful broad leaf evergreen with beautiful white flowers
that bloom all summer. The Southern Magnolia is not native to this area; it has
been transplanted out of its native area from parts farther south.
Reptile species include three poisonous
snakes: the cottonmouth, the timber rattlesnake, and the water moccasin. Be
watchful of them. If you see one, leave it alone. If you don't bother them,
they will usually leave you alone, too. There are many varieties of
nonpoisonous snakes as well. Other reptiles and amphibians inhabiting the area
include many varieties of frogs such as the green tree frog.
Bird lovers will enjoy the variety of
rare species not found anywhere else in the state. Herons, including such rare
species as the blue heron and the yellow-crowned night herons visit swamp
lands. Flying overhead are black turkey vultures, bald eagles during winter,
and many kinds of hawks. Canada geese also winter here—more than a half million
according to the U.S. Forest Service. Thanks to excellent wildlife management,
there are increasing numbers of wild turkeys.
Of course, there is an abundance of
mammals: deer, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, as well as others. Pope County is
especially known for its large numbers of deer.
If you are camping and want to catch
your dinner, you are in the right place. Under the water, fish abound. Bass and
other game fish are found in many of the lakes, while channel catfish, gars,
and other river fish inhabit the Mississippi, Ohio, Big Muddy, and Saline
National Forest & Other Federal Sites
The Shawnee National Forest is the
largest federal holding in southern Illinois. Although much of the forest is
privately owned, there are many public areas for hiking and other outdoor
recreation. Mountain Biking is allowed on many national forest trails. For more
information, contact the Forest Supervisor's Headquarters.
state parks contain trails of varying lengths from short interpretive trails to
longer day hike and backpacking trails. Additionally, the Shawnee National
Forest contains many recreational areas with a variety of trails. Longer trails
also exist within the boundaries of the Shawnee. Although bicycles give you
greater freedom to explore southern Illinois, some things can only be see via a
hiking or nature trail.
recognition of Johnson County efforts to promote bicycling, the Illinois House
of Representatives passed House Resolution No. 780, which designated Johnson
County as the "Bicycling Capitol of Illinois".
you wish for a change of pace—or to experience a scenic, historic, or natural
feature up close, take a break and try a trail.
Enjoy your trip!