Page 9. Panther Den, Giant City, Alto Pass, Clear Springs Wilderness. Maps 19-26








Map 21 is labeled by the FS as having Sheppard Road where Old Eastern Star Trail is. It is Eastern Star Trail Road North of Makanda Road and Sheppard Road South of Makanda Road. It doesn’t go through to Makanda anymore.  But the R2R follows the old roadbed.

I try to keep Makanda to RT 51 and the Alto Pass Waterworks to the woods Mowed, but I live 1 1/2 hours away, so there is a long time between mows and clearing. I do what I can.

I did the Panther Den to Giant City hike that was actually the 3rd day of hiking having started at the Clear Springs trailhead and hiked East. The Panther Den area is actually as good and with similar formations as the Giant City area without the crowd. . So heading West from Panther Den, some nice ridge hiking at first with spots of weeds in the lower areas.

This page has a good map & explanation of getting to Panther Den by Car, and some photos of the area. Heading West The trails travels along some ridges and down across some streams. Some places were weedy, some were great. It was a mixed bag but enjoyable. Hey, it was outdoors. walkabout oct 23-25014 230walkabout oct 23-25014 225walkabout oct 23-25014 222


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Some of the lower fingers of Crab Orchard Lake are close to the trail. I have written on the map “Line 9 Spur trail” Nice in that area, followed by another “weeds” further on. Rocky Comfort Road crossing. Coming from the Panther Den Direction, you won’t have a problem. walkabout oct 23-25014 219 EB

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This area was terribly overgrown this Fall. Hopefully the weeds have died.

You then get to an old homestead site with several huge maples planted in a square with a great rest area under them. Take a minute.

walkabout oct 23-25014 201walkabout oct 23-25014 203 You will cross a creek with beaver chewed limbs on the ground. I didn’t see a dam but you will see the limbs. Now we get to Antioch Cemetery and walk east a short way on a road…the cemetery you are supposed to see. I swear neither of these cemeteries have signs telling you the name of them. (Unless I missed them) You don’t know how confused I was when I got to one I couldn’t find on the map at first. I thought I had somehow circled and came back to this one and had to look at the photos on my camera to make sure they were different. walkabout oct 23-25014 187walkabout oct 23-25014 188 The Antioch lane turns South, but the Trail follows an old roadbed. and back to cross country a couple of times along here. Keep an eye out for trail markers. Some of this area is rarely traveled and the trail itself is hard to see. There were a couple of markers without much of a trail. The deer trails are about equally traveled looking. walkabout oct 23-25014 184walkabout oct 23-25014 183walkabout oct 23-25014 182

You will get to a creek crossing North Bound at this point headed West. The trail used to cross straight across and turn right. It now crosses about 50 feet West. Look left and you will see the blaze on the North bank. There is a faint creek showing where the red dotted line is on the map. The trail now follows that creek North on the right bank. You will get to a big sign at an old roadbed. Turn West and follow the old roadbed.


walkabout oct 23-25014 175walkabout oct 23-25014 176walkabout oct 23-25014 177walkabout oct 23-25014 178This will take you to an intersection with a trail to Giant City Campground. Good place for water.  Giant City Lodge is still a couple miles West.

At the intersection of the old roadbeds and the red dot trail, the R2R goes South. (left). Right is the red dot trail to Giant City Campground. Careful, It is easy to get confused and miss the R2R trail where it turns off the main road and heads into the woods west further on, and the red dot trail goes on South. The trail ends up at the front of the Giant City Lodge. They are a very nice & friendly business and I recommend the fried chicken. The potatoes are very good too. The desserts are too big.We rented a cabin and I stayed there that night. A real bed is something I rarely turn down if given the chance. Giant City 070 Giant City 071 Giant City 075 Heading out of the Giant City Lodge, the Trail follows the road downward and West until it heads into the woods. There is some old wall building left over from the CCC & WPA days at the first creek crossing. Or maybe its a natural formation?

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Onto map 19


Coming around the south of the lodge and curving north, the trail passes within earshot of the kids playing at another campground on the west side of Giant City state park.

As you get to the bluffs you will see some interesting caves and rock formations. Now there are 3 trails crossing and criss crossing along here. The Mustang horse trail, the red dot trail, and the river to river. Of the 3, the Mustang Horse trail is the widest and easiest, and all 3 meet at the far end of the Bluff where the R2R leaves to the North West.

The Red Dot trail takes a turn to the North and climbs the bluff and goes along the edge. It is underwhelming, little traveled and hard to follow. Plus you miss all the caves in the bluffs as well as the bluffs themselves. Skip it. It is a loop trail from the Giant City campgrounds on the other side of the Lodge and is where I did get that photo of the mating copperheads. It is TOTALLY overgrown in places.

The Bluffs are neat and the R2R and Mustang trails follow an old roadbed and is pretty decent. At the North East corner of the bluffs, the R2R turns left and descends to a county road & trailhead.

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I asked about that sign. It is referring to horses. The R2R is always open to foot traffic. You go North to Makanda. At the intersection, there is a short boardwalk with some rustic shops. One has ice cream a deli and supplies. A nice little antique store there too. Heading West, cross the bridge and up the hill past the old house.

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(UPDATE) I cleared the Eastern Star Trail road to Makanda today.  I put my money where my mouth is and had at it today. The trail is cleared & opened from RT 51 to Makanda. It is safer, shadier and actually probably quicker than taking the dangerous Makanda road with all its blind curves and non existent shoulders. Its not a bad hike.

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Before & after at upper end of eastern Star Road (I’m standing right in front of the opening blocking it by mistake in the photo, and some brush in front of me that I hadn’t picked up.)


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Eastern Star trail is a rural road that is fine. I didn’t think 29 looked bad from the intersection but there are places around the curves with no shoulder at all. I’d recommend going south & sticking to the trail. Where Eastern Star crosses 29 (Mikanda Road) there is a tree with the i on it, and a badge with American Discovery Trail. This is the only marker I have ever found denoting that the R2R is part of it. (Ok, I’ve found several since then)

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The Eastern Star becomes Sheppard across 29. (Makanda road)

Follow Sheppard Road south and west for probably 3/4 of a mile. It will pass a Cemetery, curve West, then as you come to a Curve back South with a big grown up hump to the right, and a field access road, and a driveway with a nice assortment of no trespassing signs straight West at the curve.

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The trail marker is visible to the right (North). You are going to walk that field on the West edge North until the trail enters the woods in a couple hundred feet.

The trail will wind its way around a few hills, and come to a field. You want to cross it slightly Northwest until it enters the woods again. Now you do a few switchbacks cross a fallen tree, and end up down at a nice creek that usually has flowing water. You will wind your way West up a few more hills and come out at Rt 51. Cross at the near end of the guardrail.

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Make your way across 51 and walk the divider grass until you hit Makanda road again and head West. (On to Map 20)

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The walk out isn’t bad as far as walking roads goes. walkabout oct 23-25014 148

Back into the woods at Lirley Trailhead

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(NOTE: I traveled from Lirley trailhead to Alto Pass last Friday and posted 35 new blazes including at this and 3 other intersections previously unmarked. including the shortcut trail (379) under Cedar Lake (the East end peters out and you will be lost & bushwacking if you travel it) I also blazed through Alto Pass to the highway over pass, and the road from RT51 to Lirley Trailhead.

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This is where the R2R crosses one of the “Roads” on the map. As you can infer, they are no longer roads you can travel down.

walkabout oct 23-25014 136 walkabout oct 23-25014 135walkabout oct 23-25014 134 Some more trail hiking (as opposed to old road beds) and then more road beds. walkabout oct 23-25014 132walkabout oct 23-25014 130 walkabout oct 23-25014 129walkabout oct 23-25014 228 When the trail meets the bigger roadbed in the pine woods, it continues north on it and is very nice walking. Some of this is still used by 4 wheelers too. walkabout oct 23-25014 126 walkabout oct 23-25014 127 walkabout oct 23-25014 128

Not much left of that trail marker. The R2R turns left off  the northbound trail and heads past a clearing. I think this area was pretty well developed at one time before the Forrest service took it over.

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You may or may not be able to see traces of the old trail to the south on the edge of the lake. DO NOT TAKE IT!!It is all overgrown. Go north and follow the new route. You will see the lower lake to the left and cross the lake on a built up area connecting what used to be points & islands.walkabout oct 23-25014 122 walkabout oct 23-25014 121 walkabout oct 23-25014 120 walkabout oct 23-25014 114 walkabout oct 23-25014 115 walkabout oct 23-25014 117 walkabout oct 23-25014 118 walkabout oct 23-25014 119walkabout oct 23-25014 110walkabout oct 23-25014 111walkabout oct 23-25014 112 When the trail hits the West Shore, there is a main trail going West. According to the old map, the R2R runs south at the edge of the shore. No one goes that way, and though I remember seeing a faint trail, there weren’t any markers. Just up the main trail heading West, there is a large trail heading south higher up the bluff than the old R2R and it is used by ATV’s. IT is the new leg South now. When I got to the lake and from the West this is the intersection I was faced with.

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(This is the shortcut trail (right) under Cedar Lake trail 379, it is ok until the east end where it fades to nothing and you will have to bushwack East to find the R2R. I blazed this intersection.)

Follow the trail left and uphill. (east bound hikers). walkabout oct 23-25014 109

As I was actually traveling from the West on this leg, I had camped just at the edge of the Map 20 on a rock outcropping. The perks of having a freestanding tent. walkabout oct 23-25014 102walkabout oct 23-25014 100   (going on to Map 21)



As you are traveling south you will see an odd transformer or man hole from time to time. The trail seems to follow an underground pipeline to the Alto Pass waterworks.

You will deviate from the map because the map shows the trail just to the east of a creek, where in real life it travels across the West side of a large square field on the West side of the creek. The photo shows where it enters at the North EAST corner of the field and it exits South at the South WEST corner of the field…the diagonal corner. Took me awhile to figure it out coming from the south. There are trails from the North WEST corner that are unmarked and NOT the R2R! It doesn’t run next to the creek anywhere until you get into the woods.

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As you continue to walk South you will pass through a gap between fields and approach a hill covered by Red Sumac Bushes. (Red in the fall) There is a R2R sign in the gap. You will travel the left (East) side of the hill. Pretty overgrown trail here but passable.

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ATTENTION! The area to the East of the hill is 7ft tall weeds, but I cut a wide path through it 8/8/16 that should do for this Fall & Winter.


There is a land owner cleared path shown here up the sumac covered hill to the West of the water treatment plant. It curves up and around the hill and is not blazed because it is not the trail. It IS an alternate that does take you to where it crosses the creek between to fields where it joins the R2R.

The R2R crosses the weedy low section between the creek and the sumac hill and enters the woods for short way, then follows the East side of the field until it comes to the creek crossing. The crossing is a short distance West along the creek where it joins the farmer field access path

Head north on the farmer path from the creek crossing, and when the farmer path turns left up a hill, you will see a blaze showing where the R2R crosses a ditch and skirts the North West corner of the field into the woods where you will find a blazed trail in the woods at the edge of the field that connects to the waterworks service road that takes you all the way to Cedar Lake.


This will take you to the intersection with Alto Waterworks rd. Take it South West (Right traveling Westbound.) The hill is visible from the road for a ways before you arrive traveling Eastbound in the fall with it’s bright red color.

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There was a lot for sale on the way into Alto Pass starting at auction pretty dirt cheap. Hey, I should have made a bid at that starting price. Not allowed to inspect it first though. The Alto Pass welcoming dog was on hand.

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There is a small park there with a porta potty. You get on Chestnut street and head West.

It forks at the edge of town. Milligan Hill road goes North West, Bald Knob Rd heads out West. Follow it out and around south to the Godwin trail head.

Look to the South West as you walk and you will see Bald Knob Cross on top of the ridge. You can continue on up the road to it past the trailhead if you want but it is a long hike. Great views up there though.

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This is the last hiking leg I did west. I was coming the other way and had actually left myself 3 bottles of water hidden here. My car was parked at the small Clear Springs Wilderness trailhead. Of course I was going East, but it sounds like I’m almost back, narrating WB.

I found this section very enjoyable. The trail was nice, the weather was perfect and I saw no one on the trail. A ridiculous amount of loose brown deep gravel to start off with and then into the woods! Map 22.


I guess Ranbarger Trail is the black hashmarked one.

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Bridgeman trail too.

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Much of this is old roadbed with traces of homesteads. I have no idea what this post and engraved R2R sign was doing in the middle of no where, but it’s always nice to see a marker when the trail is getting thin & faint.

A lot of creek crossing. I had actually taken a wrong turn and just followed the creek south until I found the trail again.

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You will come to what I assume is clear springs at Hutchins creek. (Updated 8/2515, just there yesterday. Trail at the Pine Hills trailhead has been cleared recently. Nice walk but you need a Spider web stick to wave in front of you this week. (or let someone walk ahead of you). If you find an Estwing Carpenter hammer on the trail or at the washed out ravine on Hutchins creek, it’s mine)

I’ll ad some yesterday photos here. The confusing intersection 1/2 mile East of the Pine Hills road trailhead got another blaze from me.

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This intersection not far East of Pine Hills Road is where the Kings Hollow trail splits off and heads North. Back in I think ’97 there was a HUGE rain & flood and the leg of the River to River that used to turn North here and go to Pomona natural bridge, then come back South to Cedar Lake was abandoned due to the damage and blocked trail from the flood. I wouldn’t mind seeing if I could retrace it someday after leaf off in the Fall.


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Continuing on…

Its very beautiful here.

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If the water is low like this, spend some time looking around. That’s what you came for.

Pine Hills Rd. That’s where my car is.

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The markers are blue stencils along this way. Maybe this is where “What in the blue blazes?” came from. Somewhere about here it crosses into map 23


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Not much further.

Silly loop in the trail.

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It was getting equally weedy & loopy towards the trail head.

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When it gets so weedy you are starting to have second thoughts about this being a nice section, you are there!  (The Trail has been recently cleared as of 8/25/15)

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Enjoy the view from the bluffs!

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Onward for the final punishing stretch to the Mississippi.











6 thoughts on “Page 9. Panther Den, Giant City, Alto Pass, Clear Springs Wilderness. Maps 19-26

  • I have found one other American Discovery Trail marker near Camp Cadiz where it joins the R2R trail. If you are traveling to Etown you will not see it.

  • My husband and I just hiked from Makanda to Alto earlier this month. Some of the trail sections were great (Giant City, Lirely Trail Area), but we made several wrong turns (despite being familiar with the area and having hiked some parts before!). I noticed that the original River-to-River website/group is apparently defunct and that information is now available from the forest service. I will say we were using an older guidebook and had forgotten the quadrangle maps. We also didn’t print new maps, but figured we would be okay. We finished the ~20 miles easily (walk/run combo) and hope to finish the trail (Alto to Grand Tower) next summer.
    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your blog and noticed that you added blazes in some areas. We expected and were prepared for the grown over trail. It is summer in Southern Illinois, after all! There were four main issues with signage we saw:
    (1) After crossing the Makanda Highway, we went quite far past the trail turn off. The Blaze showing where the trail leaves the road and goes into the field is only really visible coming from the opposite direction. We went a ways before we realized our mistake. The abundance of no trespassing signs makes it a challenge here too. We definitely overlooked the hidden, overgrown blue i because the adjacent driveway was so abundantly signed.
    (2) Not all of the turns along the roads between Presley Tours and Lirely Trailhead had blazes. This section of road we had to rely on the map and directions.
    (3) After crossing the spillway between Cedar and Little Cedar lakes, we took a wrong turn. There are blazes on the info sign on the west side of the dam area, and they seem to indicate turning immediately onto what I now believe to be the old trail. Once on the faint, overgrown trail, there were still some signs, and we were following the lake and it matched where we thought we were supposed to be.. so we kept going. We ran into nettles and a rough creek crossing before finally making it back to the trail on the old waterworks roadbed. The area near the dam really needs better signage. Is the new trail further up hill? We went a ways and didn’t see any other trails to the west. Also, we have hiked a lot in the Cedar Lake area in the past, so we were kind of using our prior (perhaps incorrect) knowledge of the trail system.
    (4) After leaving the water works road (which has been recently bulldozed), we were completely lost. We could SEE the road about 100 yards across a field, creek, and yard, but couldn’t trespass. The trail through the field/sumac is completely unsigned and impossible to follow. The grass and weeds were well over 5 feet tall with no visible trail to follow. We had to bushwhack a quarter mile or so to the road. Not sure what can be done in regards to maintenance in this area, but it was awful!
    After several years in the west, we have become accustomed to the PCT and other well maintained forest service trails. It is so sad that Southern Illinois has so much potential to have a trail system to connect all these beautiful areas and that it really isn’t functional.

    • #1 I need to get back out there and clear it again between the Makanda road crossing and RT51. Yes, if you miss the trail going to the right at the curve where the no trespassing, any time, anybody etc. signs are you are a gonner. I’m a good hour and a half away and it’s way too hot this week. It was getting grown up but still visible last time I was past there. I think I took a photo of that guys driveway signs and the trail marker in the same photo to give reference. I’ll post it plainer.
      #2 I did post a new blaze or 2 at the road intersections where I noticed the blazes were missing or faded out.
      #3 YES! the new trail is about 200 ft. further up the hill. Nobody travels the old section there, but the old blazes are still there, and I’m pushing it reblazing on my own. I’m not going to be pulling down old blazes. I don’t have any authority to. There are several old sections I’ve been on and didn’t know I was on a disused section until I hit the new trail and smacked my forehead. All I can do is give my take on it here. It’s like the old trail over the creek below the spillway at Millstone Lake. It SHOULD be rerouted over the dam and the creek crossing be made upstream of the spillway discharge but I can only recommend it here.
      #4 I know exactly what you are talking about at the waterworks. I had my walk behind trimmer all ready to go when I was at Alto Pass and I couldn’t get it running. I wasn’t looking forward to pushing it up that sumac hill, and didn’t walk the trail there, though I could see where someone had mowed a path earlier this year. When I walked it before it went on the left side of the creek, to the right of the hill (traveling from Alto Pass) As you say, it was impassable jungle now. I’ll make it a priority to do something there when it cools off and post the results here, whether it’s up the sumac hill or between the hill and the creek.
      The trail has a lot of potential and I love it, but one volunteer can only do so much. I am a member of the River to River Trail Society, but they don’t seem to be interested in doing any trail maintenance anymore. I think they have pretty well aged out. They were the only ones doing it that I know of on the non State or Federal Park lands.
      You will like the next section a lot more. Before I started taking care of the Makanda to route 51 section, you couldn’t find the trail from Sheppard Road (the private property curve) to Rt 51 at all until you crossed the big creek. That section across the second field I didn’t find until I was clearing it. Hopefully things will stop growing soon and cool off and I can catch up.

    • I cleared the Waterworks trail 8/8/16. It was an adventure for sure. I put blazes showing to turn right along the field in the woods along a faint trail there instead of entering the field. You cross the North West tip of that field and walk a short stretch of access road By road, I mean where the landowner drives)across the creek, then turn left where the road goes right and over the sumac hill (it will take you to the trailhead over the sumac hill but isn’t blazed). I cleared a path and blazed it the rest of the way. Check out the photos on the trail conditions page.

  • First I would like to thank you for blazing the trail around Panther Den. My father and I visited this weekend and found the hike quite enjoyable. I was also curious were you camped while at Panther Den. Did you circle around and camp on top of the rock formations?

    • I missed this one too Chris. I didn’t camp at Panther Den, I did pass a guy who was camping at the sand cave just West of Panthers Den on the trail. My wife picked me up every afternoon on the blazing trip.

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