A Slow Ride Through Southern Illinois
Ask a local bicyclist the best way to explore southern Illinois in the fall, and they’ll tell you to try it on two wheels. Southern Illinois has nearly 20 scenic bike trails, giving cyclists plenty of opportunities to take in the state’s natural beauty while boosting their health and physical fitness.
Tunnel Hill State Trail
One of southern Illinois’ most traveled bike trails, the Tunnel Hill State Trail stretches 46 miles through Johnson, Saline, Williamson and Pulaski counties. Loved by cyclists for its diverse scenery, the trail treks through forests, bluffs, trestle bridges, several ghost towns and its namesake 543-foot tunnel (a flashlight comes in handy).
Randy Ehlers opened a bicycle shop named You’re So Vane Bicycle & Portage Service along the Tunnel Hill State Trail in 2008. Located in Carrier Mills, You’re So Vane provides bicycle parts and repairs, bike rentals, shuttle and portage services, and even a small cabin built for overnight campers riding the Tunnel Hill trail. The shop also sells copper crafted weather vanes and weather vane parts.
Ehlers enjoys riding the Tunnel Hill trail because it suits riders of all tastes and abilities with both easy riding and inclines, sunny corn fields, the dark tunnel, and wildlife such as owls, hummingbirds, blue jays, cardinals and more.
10 Southern Illinois Bike Trails
• Carlyle Lake Multi-Use Trail (Clinton County)
• George Rogers Clark Discovery Trail (Massac County)
• Glen Carbon Heritage Trail (Madison County)
• Harrisburg to Eldorado Trail (Saline County)
• MetroBikeLink Trail (St. Clair County)
• Rend Lake Bike Trail (Franklin and Jefferson counties)
• Richland Creek Bikeway Trail Greenway (St. Clair County)
• Saline Valley Bike Trail (Saline and Gallatin counties)
• Tunnel Hill State Trail (Johnson, Saline, Williamson and Pulaski counties)
• Vadalabene Great River Road Trail (Jersey and Madison counties)
“We get plenty of people who ride it for bragging rights so they can say, ‘I rode the Tunnel Hill State Trail,’ ” he says. “But we also get those who come in and can’t stop talking about how awesome the trail is, saying, ‘We’ll be back.’ ”
Ehlers enjoys having a job that allows him to live in a small town surrounded by nature.
“All the smells, sounds and sights are easily overlooked with today’s wonders. Life for me is simple,” he says. “I’m always amazed seeing a fox trot down the trail or a deer being startled by me as I approach him on the trail – and the different snakes, turtles, birds and creatures you see here on a daily basis. I like seeing the expressions on my customers’ faces as they complete their ride and tour my shop.”
Fort Massac State Park
One of the area’s newest bike trails, the George Rogers Clark Discovery Trail at Fort Massac State Park opened in 2010. Beginning at the celebrated Superman Statue in Metropolis, the George Rogers Clark Discovery Trail winds 9 miles through Ohio River communities and ends in Brookport. About 4 miles of the trail go within the historic state park. The pedestrian-friendly trail also crosses two bridges.
“We have a lot of use on the trail every day,” says Chris McGinness, a site superintendent at Fort Massac State Park. “Most of our bike trails in southern Illinois are located within wooded areas, along river embankments and within hills, so they offer beautiful scenery.”
Fort Massac became Illinois’ first state park in 1908 and brims with history and recreational activities. The park hosts re-enactments and living history weekends throughout the year, including the popular Fort Massac Encampment, which takes place Oct. 17-18.
Horseshoe Lake & Vadalabene Bike Trails
The 5-mile Horseshoe Lake Bike Trail has an atmosphere all its own with bald cypress, tupelo gum, swamp cottonwood trees and wild lotus conjuring up memories of the South. Located in Alexander County at Horseshoe Lake State Conservation Area (a haven for waterfowl), the trail affords picturesque views of cypress swamp and the lake.
Cyclists can find more breathtaking scenery along the Vadalabene Great River Road Trail, which meanders through Jersey and Madison counties from Alton to Grafton, home of the rustic Pere Marquette Lodge. The Vadalabene trail rewards travelers with views of the mighty Mississippi River, towering bluffs and bald eagles taking flight. A stop in the historic storybook village of Elsah, often called “the town that time forgot,” makes the ride even more memorable.
For more bike trails that run along the Great River Road, visit greatriverscountry.info. Ride where the locals do at the annual Tour de Shawnee bike ride, which takes you through the Shawnee National Forest.