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Featured National Recreation Trail

Tunnel Hill State Rail Trail, Illinois

A 543-foot long tunnel gave the nearby town its name, and now the National Recreation trail.

Photos from Illinois Department of Natural Resouces

Map of Illinois

The trail runs for 45 miles from downtown Harrisburg to Karmak in southern Illinois. The tail is managed by Illinois Department of Natural Resouces with an additional 2.5 miles is managed by the City of Harrisburg. A 543-foot long tunnel gave the nearby town its name, and now the trail.

photo of railtrail and tunnel
The trail runs on an old railroad right-of-way that dates to 1872

Beginning in Harrisburg, the trail is at 370 feet above sea level, rising to 680 feet at Tunnel Hill and then dropping to 340 feet at Karnak. The trail crosses 23 trestles ranging from 34 feet long to 450 feet. The longest, Breeden Trestle, is also the highest at 90 feet. The abandoned railroad right-of-way varies between 40 and 200 feet in width.

The Tunnel Hill Trail is part of a former railroad founded by Civil War General Ambrose Burnside. In 1872 Burnside and others began the Vincennes & Cairo Railroad, which connected Vincennes, Indiana and Cariro, Illinois.


Photo of bikes on rail trail
The central section of Tunnel Hill Trail passes through the Shawnee National Forest, Illinois' only national forest. The southern section of the trail traverses the Cache River State Natural Area, a significant state, national, and international wetland resource.

The railroad changed hands through the years and was operated as the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific; the New York Central; Penn Central; Conrail; and during its most productive years, the Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnatti & St. Louis Railroad, known as the Big Four. The last owners were the Southern Railway and following a merger, the Norfolk Southern Railroad.

The Tunnel Hill State Trail connects a number of communities, hamlets, and ghost towns. It is a day-use facility, offfering drinking water, privy toilets, and parrking in access areas. Several campgrounds are located nearby. The site office is in vienna in a former railroad station, which includes interpretive displays and other information.

photo of tunnel on trail
The 543-foot long tunnel that gives the trail its name

The Tunnel Hill Trail is crossed by several major trails, including the River to River Trail; Illinois' southern route of the American Discovery Trail: the U.S. 76 bicycle Route, which is part of the TransAmerica Bike Route; the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

Each spring and fall, the Illinois Department of Natural Resouces, in coopertaion with other agencies and organizations, sponsors a bike ride on the trail.

For more information about Tunnel Hill State Trail:

Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources
302 E. Vine, Vienna IL 62995
(618) 658-2168

The National Recreation Trails Program
American Trails, P.O. Box 491797, Redding, CA 96049-1797 (530) 547-2060 Fax: (530) 547-2035 nrt@americantrails.org www.AmericanTrails.org

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Photo of smiling bicyclist
Nancy Lakes Canoe Trail System, Willow, Alaska (Photo by Donna Armstrong)

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