It’s spring in southern Illinois and the Shawnee National Forest has awoken from its winter slumber in the loveliest of ways.
The spotted hillsides of fragrant flowers and blossoming trees offer hikers a comfortable, more visible environment than that of summer, with moderate spring temperatures better suited for longer hikes and camping.
The River to River Trail Society has six hikes left this spring season, and with summertime on its way, guided hikes can serve as great way to learn about and discover the natural beauty of southern
The 80-mile River to River Trail runs through the Shawnee National Forest between Elizabethtown on the Ohio River and Grand Tower on the Mississippi River. The trail links together many places of geographical beauty and historical significance across southern Illinois, with the trail itself having a deeply rooted history of its own.
The River to River Trail Society was founded by John O’Dell in the early 1990s to complete and maintain a trail once used by some of Illinois’ earliest immigrants.
O’Dell has published multiple River to River Trail Guides since the society’s founding, and though no longer coordinating group hikes, he remains the groups’ acting founder.
“This perspective is not the interpretation of this generation,” O’Dell wrote in the third edition of the River to River Trail Guide. “It has been regarded with the same feeling as previous generations, some of which have left their names upon the land.”
The trail is divided into 24 sections, each assigned a director to maintain their section of the trail. As trail directors and other explorers of the Shawnee set out to lead a series of hikes scheduled through June, trail leader Eric Johnson said groups usually tend to average around 15 people, and membership is attained only by showing up.
The group’s most recent venture from Hogg Bluff to Cedar Falls marked the second of the eight scheduled hikes this spring season.
“I’ve hiked in the hills since college,” Johnson said. “And after nearly 40 years I never stop finding places that amaze me.”
Johnson said the outdoor enthusiasts that make up this spring’s trail guides are people from many different walks of life, all sharing a common love for the Shawnee National Forest.
Mart Watson, an attorney from Eldorado, led the spring season’s first hike March 10 to an area in Pope County known as The Promised Land.
Watson said the weather thus far has been perfect, but as spring gives way to summer, the bugs and heat that follow make the early months of spring the best times to hit the trails of southern Illinois.
“If you’re looking for urban entertainment, you’re in the wrong place,” Watson said. “If looking for a good time in a rural setting, you have to go out into the woods and find it.”