Natural Areas Cache River State Natural Area

Cache River State Natural Area

Information courtesey of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources:

"Cache River State Natural Area is situated in southernmost Illinois within a floodplain carved long ago by glacial floodwater of the Ohio River. When the Ohio River adopted its present course, it left the Cache River to meander across rich and vast wetlands. Among the outstanding natural features found within the area today are massive cypress trees whose flared bases, called buttresses, exceed 40 feet circumference. Many are more than 1,000 years old, including one that has earned the title of state champion bald cypress because of its huge trunk girth, towering height, and heavily branched canopy.

It is within southern Illinois that north meets south and east meets west. With its diversity of soils, bedrock and landforms, the Cache River Valley contains four distinct ecological regions. Its hodgepodge of ecological factors has resulted in a collage of natural communities, each with its own unique assemblage of physical attributes, plants and animals.

Not surprisingly, people have rallied to protect the Cache River watershed. The National Park Service has designated two National Natural Landmarks within its borders - Bottomland Swamp and Heron Pond. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has identified three Nature Preserves here - Section 8 Woods, Heron Pond-Wildcat Bluff and Little Black Slough - and registered 10,367 acres of the area's 14,489 acres in the Land and Water Reserve Program. These designations assure that the site management will emphasize restoration and preservation of the area's natural characteristics.

Totaling 14,489 acres in Johnson, Massac and Pulaski counties, Cache River State Natural Area is composed of three distinct management units - Little Black Slough, Lower Cache River Swamps and Glass Hill.

There are more than 18 miles of designated foot trails within Cache River State Natural Area. Other than Little Black Slough Trail and Tupelo Trail which are considered moderate in difficulty, the trails are easy to walk. Trail length is based on round trip distances.

Todd Fink-Heron Pond Trail (1.5 miles) with access at the Heron Pond access area: This easy trail includes a truss bridge over the Cache River and features a floating boardwalk to the middle of Heron Pond's cypress pond. There are 10 interpretive panels located along the trail.

Little Black Slough Trail (5.5 miles) with access via Wildlife Bluff, Marshall Ridge and Heron Pond areas: Bald cypress and tupelo swamps, sandstone bluffs, floodplain forests and hillside glades highlight this moderately difficult trail that gives hikers passage to Boss Island. A rock ford on the Cache River, difficult to cross during high water, must be negotiated 1.5 miles west of the Wildcat Bluff access.

Lookout Point Trail (1 mile) with access east of the Wildcat Bluff access area: Taking visitors along the edge of a high-quality hillside barrens, this trail provides an overview of the Cache River, its swamps and floodplain forest.

Linkage Trail (2.4 miles) with access via Heron Pond, Wildcat Bluff and Marshall Ridge areas: Linking Heron Pond Trail and Little Black Slough Trail, this easy hike offers a chance to observe the state champion cherrybark oak tree.

Marshall Ridge Trail (2.8 miles) with access via the Marshall Ridge area: Winding through reforested fields, this easy trail connects with the Linkage Trail and provides a gateway to Heron Pond or Little Black Slough.

Tupelo Trail (2.5 miles) with access via Marshall Ridge Trail and access area: This moderately difficult trail begins a quarter-mile north of the Marshall Ridge access area and goes through rolling upland forest to the southern shoreline of Little Black Slough. It gives excellent views of cypress, tupelo gum trees and swamp.

Lower Cache River Swamp Trail (2.5 miles) with access via the Lower Cache River area: Paralleling Boardwalk through swamp Cypress Creek and Cache River on a high earth berm, this trail takes hikers to a cypress and tupelo swamp. It is a great place to hear the rhythmic croaking of tree frogs at dusk in the spring. With 3,000 linear feet surfaced in aggregate, much of the trail is accessible year-round, except during periods of flooding. A 1,000-foot handicapped- accessible trail, located west of the toilet, ends with a viewing platform overlooking the swamp. A 20' x 28' picnic shelter is available with privy toilets, water hydrant and drinking fountain.

Big Cypress Tree Trail (250 feet) with access via the Big Cypress area on the Lower Cache River: This short flood-plain forest trail takes visitors to one of the bald cypress trees older than 1,000 years and whose base circumference is more than 40 feet.

Section 8 Woods Nature Preserve Boardwalk (475 feet) with access via Section 8 Woods area: Passing through a cypress-tupelo swamp and a flood-plain forest, this handicapped-accessible boardwalk ends with a view of the state champion water tupelo. Along the boardwalk, 10 tree species are identified and there is an interpretive panel on nature preserves and champion trees.

Canoes on the Cache River 
The Lower Cache River Trail offers paddlers a quality canoe experience, 3 to 6 miles in length, through magnificent cypress-tupelo swamp. The highlight of the trail is Illinois' largest, and, therefore, state champion bald cypress tree. Like many trees within the Cache River State Natural Area, it is more than 1,000 years old.

Canoeists can begin at the Lower Cache River access area or at a private boat launch ($1 fee) south of Perks. Car shuttles are not necessary. The trail is marked with international canoe symbols and arrows and/or yellow stripes on trees. Canoe maps and fact sheets are available at the site headquarters or wetlands center. While canoeing the Lower Cache River is quite enjoyable, paddlers should be aware that the Upper Cache River is difficult if not impossible to canoe."

Cache River State Natural Area
930 Sunflower Lane
Belknap, IL

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