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Every kind of trail activity is represented in the listing of designated NRTs. Besides hiking and bicycling, the system includes water trails, motorized routes, snow tracks, greenways, and equestrian paths. The NRT program showcases the diversity of trails across America, from our cities and suburbs to the deserts, waterways, and high mountains.
This three-mile paddling and hiking trail is the result of a partnership between Illinois DNR, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Nature Conservancy to preserve, restore, and manage a 60,000-acre complex of wetlands.
Photos by Jonathan Voelz
southern cypress/tupelo swamp along the trail system
The Lower Cache is best known for its remnant examples of high quality wetlands which once were prominent in the Cache River Valley of Pulaski County, IL. This ecosystem is also the northernmost range of a true southern cypress/tupelo swamp in the Midwest.
The highlight of the trail system is an opportunity to view the state champion bald cypress tree (Taxodium distichum) which is over one thousand years old. You may also tour Eagle Pond, owned by The Nature Conservancy, which contains a 850 year old cypress tree that has 209 cypress knees, tallest knee over 11 feet and aged at 190 years old.
Among the quiet waters of the Cache River there exists a remarkable diversity of flora and fauna. There are excellent opportunities for viewing wildlife, especially birds. You may observe blue and green herons, pileated woodpeckers, black and turkey vultures, egrets and waterfowl during your visit. At dusk, bats frequently sweep over the water in search of insects, and tree frogs fill the night air with their rhythmic chorus. Two species of venomous snakes of southern Illinois may be found in the Lower Cache area; however, encounters with them are rare. It is best to be cautious and observant.
Wildlife viewing information is highlighted at the trailhead
For paddlers, car shuttles are not necessary since the river gradient and velocity are very small, allowing for an easy return to the access site. The trail is marked with international canoe symbols and arrows and/or yellow markers on trees. The Lower Cache River Access offers a parking lot with privy toilets, picnic shelter, and potable water, boat launch with floating dock, Lower Cache River Swamp hiking trail, and 3-6 mile Buttonland Swamp water trail.
For hikers, the Lower Cache River “Swamp Trail”, access to the east from the parking area, takes you into a true southern cypress/tupelo swamp. It is two miles in length, round trip distance, and parallels Cypress Creek and the Cache River on an earthen berm created by channel dredging. It is an excellent trail for wildlife observation, especially at dusk in the spring when you can hear the swamp come alive with the rhythmic croaking of numerous frog species. During periods of flooding, this trail may be impassable or have wet and muddy conditions.
The 1000 foot paved trail traversing to the west from the parking area leads to a viewing deck from which you may see a portion of Buttonland Swamp and the Illinois state champion bald cypress tree.
Boardwalk overlooking the misty river gorge
The Section 8 Woods Nature Preserve offers a 235-foot boardwalk that offers a view of the state champion water tupelo tree (Nyssa aquatica), with a circumference of 22.5 feet and believed to be over one thousand years old.
The Cache River State Natural Area (SNA) totals 14,489 acres and offers unique wildlife oriented recreational experiences for visitors. Three dedicated nature preserves exist within the SNA; these include Heron Pond/Wildcat Bluff, Little Black Slough, and Section 8 Woods, in addition to the two National Natural Landmarks. It is composed of two distinct management units: Little Black Slough and the Lower Cache, situated on the Cache River in Johnson and Pulaski counties.
There are currently 26 access areas. The Henry Barkhausen Cache River Wetlands Center, Heron Pond, Wildcat Bluff, Marshall Ridge, Big Cypress, Section 8 Woods, and Lower Cache River accesses offer various habitat and hiking experiences along developed trails. The other 19 accesses have grass, lightly maintained trails, which may be used by the general public, though most of the time these are primarily used seasonally by hunters.
To reach the Lower Cache River access, drive 4 miles south of Cypress, IL on Rt. 37, turn west, drive 1 3/4 miles on the Perks Rd., then proceed south 1 mile to the access.
Section 8 Woods is located on State Route 37, 1/2 mile south of Perks Road.
There are also boating opportunities on Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge on the Lower Cache River, south of Ullin, IL, for information call 618-634-2231.
For more information:
Cache River State Natural Area, 930 Sunflower Lane, Belknap, IL, 62908; phone: 618-634-9678 or 618-657-2064.