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Shawnee Region Bicycling

Welcome to Southern Illinois!

District 9 covers the southernmost sixteen counties of Illinois, as well as small portions of adjacent counties and states. Counties covered are Alexander, Franklin, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Massac, Perry, Pope, Pulaski, Saline, Union, White, and Williamson, as well as portions of adjacent Counties. While you are cycling, we invite you to stop and take in many of the scenic and historic wonders of this portion of our state.

Enjoy your trip in our beautiful state.

The Terrain

More than any other feature, the Shawnee Hills distinguish southern most Illinois from the rest of the state. The only other large area with terrain resembling the Shawnee region is the northwestern portion of Illinois around Galena. These two areas are the only unglaciated portions of Illinois.

Millions of years ago, a great geological upheaval, combined with the pushing of material by glaciers to the north, produced the scenic and picturesque hills, valleys, and bluffs that make this land so unique. Further shaping of the land occurred from the action of wind and water, creating fantastic rock formations and carving gorges and canyons. Most of these formations and hills are within the boundaries of the Shawnee National Forest, Illinois' only national forest.

Lakes, Rivers, and Other Bodies of Water

Flowing Water and Waterfalls

Rivers and streams add to the scenery of the Shawnee country. The Big Muddy River carves a gorge through the western Shawnee area, while the Cache River meanders through swamps and cypress stands—great for canoeing. Dozens of other streams and creeks have helped carve out and shape the landscape. If you explore a bit, you may come across waterfalls in such areas as Pounds Hollow, Ferne Clyffe, and Dixon Springs. Some waterfalls are intermittent, so the best time to see some of them is after a heavy rain.

Still Water

Southernmost Illinois also contains a number of lakes. The largest lake is Rend Lake, but there are many smaller lakes worth noting: Kincaid Lake with its spectacular views; Crab Orchard Lake, home to a variety of wildlife; Devil's Kitchen Lake and its scenic bluffs; and Horseshoe Lake with a large, graceful stand of bald cypresses. Most lakes offer boating and swimming-great ways to cool off after a hot bike ride.

Still water in cypress country has a different kind of beauty. There is a peacefulness along the boardwalk that extends into the heart of the swamp at Heron Pond (in the Cache River State Natural Area). This same serenity can also be found at Horseshoe Lake near Cairo. This is a great place to get off you r bike and enjoy a unique "southern" atmosphere under the canopy of bald cypress trees.


For a pleasant diversion from bicycling, take a canoe trip. The U.S. Forest Service recommends these rivers in and near Shawnee National Forest for canoeing (check the larger towns for canoe rental):

  • The Big Muddy River: 30 miles of spectacular cliffs, bluffs, and Little Grand Canyon. The Big Muddy starts near Murphysboro and empties into the Mississippi River.

  • The Cache River: a great place to view blue herons, the Cache winds south of the National Forest and eventually empties into the Ohio River just north of Cairo. Serene cypress swamps and forested lowlands surround much of the length of the Cache River.

  • The Saline River: this unusual river turns from brown to white at Eagle Creek due to a high salt content. It flows into the Ohio River at the eastern boundary of the Shawnee.

  • The Ohio River: from the Saline River southeast to Cave-in-Rock and beyond. This stretch of the river passes scenic bluffs areas. You can combine this stretch of the Ohio with a trip from the Saline River.

Plants and Animals

Southernmost Illinois is blessed with a wide variety of native plants and animals—and a lot of them, thanks in part to the Shawnee National Forest and many county, state, and federal public lands. Here you will find a variety of northern species found elsewhere in the state, as well as many southern species such as the bald cypress whose northern limit falls here. Plant and animal species are most concentrated in the man y other natural areas administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Southernmost Illinois' mild climate and wide variety of ecological niches are responsible for the abundance of a broad spectrum of plant life. It is here that north meets south. Many of the trees found in the rest of Illinois are found here: oaks, maples, beeches, and ashes; along with the northernmost extension of southern varieties such as the bald cypress, tupelo, and rock pine.

Although forests dominate, there are many wetlands along streams. Higher areas such as knobs and hilltops may be dry enough to support grasslands. In between is a spectrum of trees, woody plants, and other flora ranging from dryer loving black and blackjack oaks to water-loving willows and cottonwoods.

In larger towns, you will find the Southern Magnolia, a graceful broad leaf evergreen with beautiful white flowers that bloom all summer. The Southern Magnolia is not native to this area; it has been transplanted out of its native area from parts farther south.


Reptile species include three poisonous snakes: the cottonmouth, the timber rattlesnake, and the water moccasin. Be watchful of them. If you see one, leave it alone. If you don't bother them, they will usually leave you alone, too. There are many varieties of nonpoisonous snakes as well. Other reptiles and amphibians inhabiting the area include many varieties of frogs such as the green tree frog.

Bird lovers will enjoy the variety of rare species not found anywhere else in the state. Herons, including such rare species as the blue heron and the yellow-crowned night herons visit swamp lands. Flying overhead are black turkey vultures, bald eagles during winter, and many kinds of hawks. Canada geese also winter here—more than a half million according to the U.S. Forest Service. Thanks to excellent wildlife management, there are increasing numbers of wild turkeys.

Of course, there is an abundance of mammals: deer, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, as well as others. Pope County is especially known for its large numbers of deer.

If you are camping and want to catch your dinner, you are in the right place. Under the water, fish abound. Bass and other game fish are found in many of the lakes, while channel catfish, gars, and other river fish inhabit the Mississippi, Ohio, Big Muddy, and Saline Rivers.

Shawnee National Forest & Other Federal Sites

The Shawnee National Forest is the largest federal holding in southern Illinois. Although much of the forest is privately owned, there are many public areas for hiking and other outdoor recreation. Mountain Biking is allowed on many national forest trails. For more information, contact the Forest Supervisor's Headquarters.


Most state parks contain trails of varying lengths from short interpretive trails to longer day hike and backpacking trails. Additionally, the Shawnee National Forest contains many recreational areas with a variety of trails. Longer trails also exist within the boundaries of the Shawnee. Although bicycles give you greater freedom to explore southern Illinois, some things can only be see via a hiking or nature trail.

In recognition of Johnson County efforts to promote bicycling, the Illinois House of Representatives passed House Resolution No. 780, which designated Johnson County as the "Bicycling Capitol of Illinois".

If you wish for a change of pace—or to experience a scenic, historic, or natural feature up close, take a break and try a trail.

Enjoy your trip!