The River-to-River Trail
|The bluffs of Shawnee National Forest, home to the River-to-River Trail, are perfect for sunset contemplation.|
Alto Pass/Bald Knob Blacktop to Pine Hills/Clear Springs
Alto Pass is a beautiful little mountain town with antique shops and great views. It can be accessed by Illinois Route 127. The River-to-River Trail runs to the southernmost end of Cedar Lake and leaves on a southbound road (Possum Trot Road) that turns into Cedar Road as it enters Alto Pass. It then crosses Main Street and connects to Chestnut Street, which then turns into Bald Knob blacktop at the edge of town. Take this road west for about 3/4 mile.
The trail leaves the blacktop at Collins Cemetery, goes off-road for about a mile, and then rejoins the blacktop for another mile until a curve going to the top. At this point, the Godwin Trail goes off to the right or west.
Take the Godwin Trail for two miles, cross Hutchins Creek, do a dogleg left for about 200 yards, and turn west and up. When you get to the ridge top, this will turn out to be a single trail with sinkholes on either side for about 2 1/2 miles. You are actually going from Bald Knob Wilderness to Pine Hills National Natural Landmark, where the trail comes out on a blacktop road at the entrance to Clear Springs Wilderness.
Turn north on the blacktop and go downhill until the intersection with the next blacktop, where you turn left (south). This will take you to Winters Pond. The rock outcroppings above you are much photographed Pine Hills bluffs. The road at the base of the bluff is sometimes closed in reptile migration season.
The blacktop road comes up from the levee road from Route 3 and has many nice vistas overlooking the Mississippi Valley and the bayou.
Pine Hills to Devil's Backbone
At the bottom of the Pine Hills bluffs there is a picnic area; the parking area at Winters Pond is a nice waiting space if you are not daring enough to shoot for Inspiration Point at the top of he bluffs.
Take the levee to the west which makes a wide loop to Route 3. Turn right at the bridge. After crossing the Big Muddy River, turn left and continue on the north side of the levee, which leads into Grand Tower. This last stretch of levee borders Grand Tower Island, which has been cut off by the Mississippi. You are now in Missouri. Devil's Backbone Park has an odd rock formation and a nice beach on the Mississippi. It is adjacent to Grand Tower. The park is a real kid's park. This last part is a long flat stretch of about ten miles, but different enough and worth the miles if done in the context of the full trail.
The American Discovery Trail leaves the River-to-River Trail at the park and travels on the levees up-river to St. Louis.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication