An Illinois State
Trail of Tears, one
of Illinois' state forests, is situated in western Union County, five
miles northwest of Jonesboro and 20 miles south of Murphysboro. Just over
5,000 acres are within the State Forest.
The State Forest System
in Illinois was established to set aside lands for the growing of timber
needed in production of forest products, for watershed protection and
to provide outdoor recreation. Trail of Tears State Forest is a multiple-use
site managed for timber, wildlife, ecosystem preservation, watershed protection
Trail of Tears State
Forest lies within the southern section of the Ozark Hills, one of the
most rugged landscapes in Illinois. The hills are composed of chert (a
weathered limestone residue). Soils are shallow and susceptible to erosion.
Ridge tops are narrow, rocky, and dry. Clear streams with gravel bottoms
are in the narrow forested valleys, hemmed in by the steep terrain.
The variety in plant
communities is influenced by the terrain. Dry ridgetops and south-facing
slopes have black oaks, white oaks and hickories. Extremely dry sites
contain prairie-like openings (barrens and hill prairies) with a mingling
of gnarled open-grown trees and shrubs like wild azalea, farkleberry and
low-bush blueberry. The shaded north-facing slopes and protected coves
support stands of American beech, tuliptree and sugar maple, or red oak,
tuliptree and sweetgum. A rich understory of shrubs (including pawpaw,
buckeyes, bladdernut and hornbeam), exists in moister sites. In stream
valleys, a canopy of American elm, sweetgum, tuliptree, sycamore and sugar
maple over a shrub layer of redbud, deciduous holly and spicebush, and
thickets of wild cane (bamboo) occur. The wildflower flora of the Forest's
lower slopes and valleys is lush and diverse. On a walk in the spring,
a visitor can see many of the woodland wildflowers native to southern
Illinois. In all, 620 species of flowering plants, ferns and fern allies
are reported to occur at the State Forest.
There are many species
of songbirds, including those restricted to large woodland tracts. Two
species of poisonous snakes, timber rattlesnakes and northern copperheads,
occur here. They are no danger to cautious visitors and must be left as
part of the Forest's natural environment; indiscriminate killing of snakes
is prohibited. Woodland mammals such as fox and grey squirrels, chipmunks,
flying squirrels, opossums, skunks and raccoons, are common. Larger mammals
known to inhabit the Forest are whitetailed deer, red and grey foxes,
coyotes and the wary bobcat.
The area was used
extensively by prehistoric Native Americans. Individuals and small groups
hunted game or gathered nuts within the Ozarks, but established their
settlements closer to the Mississippi River or Clear Creek. Chert was
mined (for making tools) at Iron Mountain, east of the Forest.
As settlers of European
descent entered (around 1803), Native Americans were pushed south and
west. In 1838-39 the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw nations were forced
by the U.S. Army to move from the southeast to reservations in Oklahoma
Territory. They overwintered at makeshift camps 4 miles south of the Forest's
southern boundary. Bitter cold and starvation claimed hundreds of lives.
The cruel trek came to be known as the "Trail of Tears." The
State Forest's name memorializes the tragic event.
In 1929, the State
purchased 3000 acres as the Kohn-Jackson Forest, later named Union State
Forest. During the 1930's the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp operated
in the Forest. The CCC constructed many of the stonework stabilization
walls and log stone shelters within the picnic area and along the Forest
The Trail of Tears
State Forest of today encompasses 5114 acres administered by the Division
of Land Management. The nursery is operated by the Division of Forest
Some of the State
Forest's natural ecosystems are permanently protected within the 222 acre
Ozark Hills Nature Preserve. As part of the Illinois Nature Preserves
System, Ozark Hills is a living remnant of our state's natural heritage.
One of Illinois' two
plant propagation center, the Union State Nursery, occupies 120 acres
of the Forest. Approximately 10 acres of the nursery are devoted annually
to growing nursery stock. The Nursery produces up to 3 million seedlings
a year! Certain tree plantations within the Forest are seed sources for
producing genetically superior stock.
The Forest is divided
into 27 management compartments where the relationships of different timber
harvest techniques to production of forest materials and their effects
upon ecosystem function are studied. Although proceeds from those sales
help support related programs at this and other State sites, research
and education use of timber sites on the State Forest have a value far
beyond any monetary gain from timber sales.
are managed to provide food and cover for upland game species and those
small mammals which are important food for predators. Some areas are planted
in small grains; others are burned or mowed to maintain grassy habitat
for nesting birds and the insects upon which they feed. Hollow trees are
left for cavity-nesting wildlife.
Two large shelters
in the main picnic area are ideal for reunions and group gatherings. Two
smaller rustic log shelters are suitable for small groups. Each picnic
spot contains a table and grill, with privies and drinking water nearby.
A ball diamond and smaller playing areas are also present. Other picnic
sites exist along the Forest's gravel roads.
Trails | Trail Map
The fire trails are
open all year for hiking. There are hiking trails at the Forest,
including one designed for cross country running. Other trails pass through
hills and valleys where one can appreciate the lush vegetation and abundant
riding is permitted along designated horse trails. Access and trailer
parking are available at the equestrian trailhead along the county blacktop
road. Horseback use and horse trailer parking is not permitted on or along
roads or fire trails (except where those are part of a horse trail), on
hiking trails or anywhere south of the blacktop road. The horseback trails
are open for use from May 1 to October 31st.
These trails may be closed temporarily in the event of heavy rains during
the riding season; it is best to call the site for a current report on
trail conditions (618-833-4910). A detailed map of the horseback trails
is available upon request.
Horseback Riding Map
and bicycles are not allowed off paved or graveled roads. All terrain
vehicles are prohibited. In winter and early spring, gravel roads are
closed to vehicles.
Both Class C (tent
camping with vehicle access) and Class D (backpack) camping sites are
available at the State Forest. Some locations have log shelters with adjacent
privies. Group camping is available at a few sites. The forest's
gravel roads are closed to vehicles from December 24 through the end of
the spring wild turkey hunting season (generally the second week in May).
All camping access is by foot only during that period (Class D).
For information on group camping or special access concerns (during the
winter-spring months) contact the site superintendent headquarters at
Reservations are accepted.
turkey and raccoon are common game species of the Forest. Please be aware
of the areas closed to hunting: the Ozark Hills Nature Preserve, the restricted
area around the main picnic and day-use area, within 300 yards of any
building or the tree nursery beds, or within any road right-of-way. Hunters
must report their harvest at registration boxes (provided at access points).
Please observe all State and Federal regulations when hunting the State
Forest. For additional hunting information see: Hunter
To extend your visit to Southern Illinois, there are a few local attractions you might want to see. These include the Southern Illinois Wine Trail, the Root Beer Saloon ( a unique restaurant) in Alto Pass, and the Bald Knob Cross in Alto Pass.
Access to the Forest
is from Illinois Route 127 (on the east) and Route 3 (from the west).
- While groups of 25 or
more are welcome and encouraged to use the park's facilities, they are required
to register in advance with the site office to avoid crowding or scheduling
- At least one responsible
adult must accompany each group of 15 minors.
- Pets must be kept on
leashes at all times.
- Actions by nature can
result in closed roads and other facilities. Please call ahead to the park
office before you make your trip.
- We hope you enjoy your
stay. Remember, take only memories, leave only footprints.
- For more information
on tourism in Illinois, call the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community
Affairs' Bureau of Tourism at 1-800-2Connect.
- Telecommunication Device
for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Natural Resources Information (217) 782-9175
for TDD only Relay Number 800-526-0844.