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Southwestern Illinois Bicycling

Welcome to the Southwestern Illinois!

District 8 covers a region from Carlyle Lake, Illinois’ largest inland lake, west to East St. Louis and French Illinois, and northwest to Pere Marquette State Park and Calhoun County where the Illinois River flows into the Mississippi. Counties covered are Bond, Calhoun, Clinton, Greene, Jersey, Madison, Marion, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair, and Washington, as well as portions of adjacent counties. While you are cycling in this region, we invite you to stop and take in many of the scenic and historic wonders of this region.

The Terrain

The Mississippi River has helped shape this region. Around the St. Louis area and south, the Illinois side of the river is a broad flood plain with a ridge of bluffs a few miles away. The floodplain is partly cultivated, with important sections protected as wetlands and wildlife refuges. Many of these protected areas are in Calhoun County. Farther south the land is hillier. At Alton, the bluffs abut the Mississippi. Scenic limestone cliffs follow the river west to Grafton where the Illinois River flows into the Mississippi. Pristine Calhoun County is hilly, dominated by a ridge between the rivers. Only one bridge crosses into Calhoun County at Hardin; four ferries—two across the Illinois and two across the Mississippi into Missouri—cross the rivers in other locations. Further east, the land is level to gently rolling terrain with more farmland. Along the bluffs and cliffs are hollows—areas where the bluffs fold inward to surround a narrow valley on three sides. Some of these hollows have small villages, such as the picturesque town of Elsah off Illinois 100 between Alton and Pere Marquette State Park. Waterfalls are a rarity in a generally flat state like Illinois, but these bluffs offer the best chance to see one, such as the one near Dupo in southwestern St. Clair County.

Lakes, Rivers, and Streams

The Mississippi River is the dominant body of water in this region. It marks the western boundary of Region 8, except in one location: at Kaskaskia, the Illinois state line follows an older bed of the river. Thus Kaskaskia Island, jutting westward into Missouri, is the only accessible part of Illinois west of the Mississippi.

The next best thing to a beach is found scattered in spots along the Mississippi River. Sandbars form “beaches” along parts of the Mississippi, especially in southern Calhoun County where public access is provided. These roads to the river at the National Wildlife Refuge in Calhoun County provide access to these sandy areas. The roads are dirt and sand, so exercise caution or take a mountain bike. Please respect private property rights.

The other major river in the areas is the Illinois River flowing south from northeastern Illinois. Like the Mississippi, the Illinois is surrounded by scenic bluffs and hills. Waterfowl, eagles in winter, and other wildlife are abundant here (see next section). The Illinois River is found in the northwestern portion of this region.

The largest lake entirely within Illinois is Carlyle Lake, located in the eastern portion of this region. Boating of all types, swimming on a mad-made beach, bird watching at the wildlife management area, and, of course, fishing are popular activities at Carlyle Lake

Plants and Animals

Like much of Illinois, this area was covered by a vast prairie, broken by wooded areas near rivers, streams, and more hilly areas. Most of the prairie—mainly in the eastern portion of Region 8—has been converted to farm land. Wooded areas are predominantly oak-hickory in the uplands with cottonwood, maple and willow in the bottomlands.

Calhoun and Jersey counties, bordering the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, are home to much wildlife. A number of conservation areas, wildlife management areas, and Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge exist in this area. Deer, waterfowl, birds of prey such as many hawk species, and an abundance of other animals live in or visit these protected lands. In the winter months, a number of bald eagles roost in the wooded bluffs along both rivers. Please respect these lands so that they remain a good home for these animals.

Enjoy your trip in our beautiful state!