The River to River trail is a 160 mile long trail meandering East to West from the Ohio to the Mississippi river composing a leg of the Discover America trail and the original River to River trail.
This is my blog about my experiences hiking the River to River trail with descriptions, maps & photos. If you would like to ask any questions or comments, I also have a facebook page (River to River trail) that might be quicker. Most of the information I post will be on this site though with the Facebook page as a signpost.
Speaking of signposts…The River to river, or R2R is blazed with either a blue letter I (small case) or a 001 on a white diamond. If you see a white diamond with a 001 you are on it, and the forest service told me they are replacing the old wooden blazes when they are worn out with the 001. (boo) The first blazes were the letter “i” in a block style painted on the trunk. (The Forest service is coming out with some new white with blue “I” on plastic markers, and more of those worthless wooden engraved i’s for the wilderness areas) so they have smartly done away with the 001 inked makers plan for the most part and continue with the wooden unpainted ones in the wilderness areas (I guess in the hope that no one will be able to see them and thus interfere with being lost as nature intended!)
They were replaced with a white wooden diamond with a blue “i” painted on them and the most modern ones are plastic with a blue “i” on them. Myself, I hate the white diamond with the 001 because it looks like all the rest and the ink pen writing won’t last nearly as long as the blue “i”. Also, the “i” is tilted the direction the trail takes at an intersection or hard to follow area like rock. Try tilting your 001. Besides I’m thinking of running off some blue i T-shirts for support of the trail.
The history of the blue “I” (lower Case) Goes back to when the R2R was just the Illinois section of the American Discovery Trail (I) even though that explanation doesn’t take into account the alternative northern section of that trail system. I Wonder how they abbreviated Indiana? The other explanation is that it was the Morse Code abbreviation for End of Trail (Dot Dash) turned sideways which is also possibly true but a little farfetched as well. Whatever the explanation, the blue “I” is a welcome sight in the woods.
I would like this to become eventually, sort of a dynamic trail guide. While printed trail guides are great for taking along, they have one big drawback. They are often years or even decades out of date. The trail keeps changing. Conditions change, even the course changes. I would like it if people who have hiked a section and have encountered changes or problems would leave a comment so I could update the sections, and post a notice on the site. Things might even get done in problem areas. Stranger things have happened. On to the route…
At just below High Knob trailhead there is a spur heading South to Elizabethtown which is the more recommended route to the Ohio unless hard to find markers and walking paved roads is your thing. Actually, the Forest Service has cleared most of the over grown areas, especially West of Camp Cadiz, and I have added another 30 blazes, so the old Battery Rock leg is a good alternative if it has been especially muddy If you can get dropped off there. (check out 2 shuttle services on that page here) The only trail maps though are on this site. The older route continues West from Battery Rock on the Ohio and meets up with the trail from Elizabethtown West of Camp Cadiz and North of Elizabethtown. The main drawback is that there is no Road access to Battery Rock, so you will have to hike to the river, then return to wherever you can get a lift out or in.
The total route from the Battery Rock trailhead to the Ohio is maybe 1 mile roundtrip so we aren’t talking any huge distance and the gravel road there isn’t bad but check out my Battery Rock page. I think the Battery Rock leg is about 5 miles longer than the E’town leg, but the flatter road areas make up the difference in hiking time. Both legs are all uphill I swear, (partially true heading West since they start at River level).
If you haven’t been hiking in the Shawnee, you are missing a great experience. There are some sights and experiences here that will last you and your friends or family a lifetime. There are some very dangerous areas out there and not kid friendly at all. Just use common sense. Don’t expect guard rails like Niagra Falls, or Lookout Mountain. This isn’t Disneyworld, this is wilderness. You will appreciate the solitude.
Keep track of time if you are making a day trip. You don’t want to get caught in the dark. If it takes 2 hours to hike there it might take 3 to get back depending on elevation and how tired you get walking 5 hours. On my overnights, I have 2 LED flashlights and don’t go out after dark as a general rule since there really isn’t anything to see if you are in the deep woods. I did have an excellent night one warm night leaving the rain fly off the top of my tent watching the planes and satellites go by from my sleeping bag in the night sky in a clearing. I’ll post a page on what I take overnight.
The Maps I’m using are public domain and excellently detailed, though the actual route takes several different paths since these were first published. They can be found & downloaded from the USDA Forrest service web page in PDF form at http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/shawnee/maps-pubs/?cid=stelprdb5268913
There is also an excellent map of the side trails and main trails at Friends of the Shawnee National Forest which at $10 is a lot better than wandering along wondering where that trail goes. (Or what trail you just came upon while busy being lost) This is the most detailed & best map you can get as far as I know. You will be glad you paid $10 the first time you need to know what that white diamond with the 245 means and where am I? No, I can’t post that one but google the Friends of the Shawnee National Forest and look up the map. Hey, 1/4 of the revenue goes towards trail upkeep, so you will also be doing yourself a favor.
There are a lot of interesting side trails around the High Knob, Garden of the Gods areas that you might want to explore as well. Indian Kitchen, Jackson Hollow and Saltpeter cave are must sees. I’ll post some pages on those side trips later. A lot of the Shawnee Government websites still insist it travels to Battery Rock to the Ohio, though most hikers travel to the Ohio, by way of South to Elizabethtown.
There are fantastic views to be seen that you can just drive to. There are other places that you have to hike several miles of rough hilly trail to get to. The Garden of the Gods is one that is easy to get to if you want good views and rock formations (not on the R2R trail, but an easy 1/4 away).
The Pine Hills Rock Bluffs East of Grand Tower have the best views in my opinion of anywhere in Southern IL. Also not strictly on the trail, but you pass them if you are driving to the Clear Springs trailhead.
The River to River trail passes through many areas that aren’t mentioned on the maps which are also great to discover.
Yes, I even think taking photos of leaves on the ground is worthwhile. I take an annual Fall trip to the Shawnee just to walk the trail solo for 2 or 3 days depending on my obligations and the weather. Sometimes I hike it with my wife or a friend. But I love to do it alone for the solitude. Most of these photos were solo overnight hikes.
Last year I got 3 hikes in. One in the Spring & two in the Fall. I just have a couple more to do to have the River to River covered. I’ll show you the results of bad fitting shoes, socks. You find out on a rugged 3 day trail whether your shoes fit. You know the blister scene from “Run Fat boy Run” ? Been there. I do have a trail tips page. Also a page on where the trail today, and the trail on the maps are different. Go have fun, be safe and get in touch with Illinois.
4 months into 2015 and I finally post a facebook community page for the River to River trail. I’m surprised I was first. Just type in River to River trail in your facebook search. The key to finding THIS website is to search for ‘ rivertorivertrailhike ‘ all one word no spaces. (rivertorivertrail works too no spaces)
The trail miles from Elizabethtown west are (rounded up or down to nearest mile)
1. Elizabethtown (Ohio River) to the Old leg to Battery Rock Junction, 15 mi.
2. Junction to High Knob 2 mi.
3. High Knob to Garden of the Gods. 4 mi
4. GOG to Herod. 6 mi.
5. Herod to One Horse Gap 6 mi.
6. One Horse Gap to Lusk Creek Trailhead. (circle b ranch) 13 mi.
7. Lusk Creek Trailhead to Eddyville 3 mi.
8. Eddyville to Cedar Grove Road 5 mi.
9. Cedar Grove Road to Trigg Tower Road 6 mi.
10. Trigg Tower Road to Gilead Church 7 mi.
11. Gilead Church to Rt. 45 6 mi.
12. Rt. 45 up to Goddards crossing then west to Dutchmans Lake. 7mi.
13. Dutchmans Lake to Ferne Clyffe tent campground 7 mi.
14. Ferne Clyffe Tent Campground to Panthers Den 15 mi.
15. Panthers Den to Giant City Campground 9 mi.
16. Giant City Campground to Cedar Lake Spillway 13 mi.
17. Cedar Lake Spillway to Godwin Trail East Trailhead. 7 mi.
18. Godwin Trail East trailhead to Pine Hills/Larue Road Trailhead. 7 mi.
19. Pine Hills trailhead to Rt. 3 8 miles (cross Bridge, follow Levee on North Side from here)
20. Rt. 3 to Devils Backbone Campground & Mississippi 7 mi.
I believe the Battery Rock leg is about 5 miles longer, but has some more road walking and possibly less hills so that it takes about the same amount of time to hike to the junction.
The following Waypoints and their GPS coordinates according to Wikipedia.
Following are waypoints on the trail:
|Junction E’Town & Battery Rock|
|Garden of the Gods State Park|
|One Horse Gap|
|Bay Creek / Millstone Bluff|
|Tunnel Hill State Trail|
|Goreville / Ferne Cliffe|
|Panther Den Wilderness|
|Giant City State Park|
|Bald Knob Wilderness|
|Clear Springs Wilderness|
|Big Muddy River / IL 3|
|Devils Backbone Park / Grand Tower|