Spending five days a week in the woods as a park ranger is a great gig, but since I work in an urban area, by the time my weekend rolls around I’m looking to escape the noise and crowds. So when the Friday night whistle blows, I lace up my boots, roll up my sleeping bag, strap on my backpack, grab my chocolate Lab, Pooch, and head for the Trail of Tears State Forest.
Hikers are treated to deep wooded ravines, rocky ridges in Trail of Tears State Forest.
Located in the Ozark Hills, the 5,114-acre forest is one of the most scenic and least visited outdoor areas in Illinois. Hikers are treated to deep, wooded ravines, rocky ridges, and clear gravel bottom streams that highlight one of the most diverse ecosystems in the Midwest.
Wildlife sighting may include whitetail deer, coyote, turkey, and bobcat.
Many Dayhiking Options
Day hikers can trek the Ozark Hills Hiking Trail, the Conservation Corps Heritage Trail, and the Main Street Trail. And the backpacker is not forgotten — the forest has over 40 miles of fire trails to explore.
If you’re looking to camp, the forest has nine maintained sites for $7 a night, while walk-in sites (primitive) go for $6 a night. Hunting is allowed in the forest, so check with park staff while picking up your camping permit.
But there’s more: No trip to Trail of Tears State Forest would be complete without hiking the Little Grand Canyon (Shawnee National Forest, 618/687-1731). Replenish those spent carbs and sample the best fried chicken in the state at the Bald Knob dining room located at the nearby Giant City State Park; and if you need outdoor gear, trek into the college town of Carbondale and shop at Shawnee Trails (618/457-4836).
Alan McPherson’s Fifty Nature Walks in Southern Illinois ($13.95, www.cacheriverpress.com) is a great guide to pick up and carry in your pack while exploring the most scenic area of Illinois.
For More information
For more information, contact Trail of Tears State Forest, 3240 State Forest Road, Jonesboro, IL 62952, 618/833-4910.
Directions From St. Louis
Trail of Tears State Forest is a two-hour drive east of St. Louis (about 27 miles south of Carbondale, Ill.). Take Interstate 64 east to IL 127; go south on IL 127 to the state forest.