This 15.9-mile, two section out-and-back hike crosses rolling, ravine-scored landscape that’s more Ozark than Prairie State. From the east Godwin trailhead (part of the 160-mile River-to-River Trail), descend west into hollows thick with maple, elm, and oak trees. Turn north at .1 mile to enter the Bald Knob Wilderness (1), then stay southwest at the junction with the Bridgeman Trail (2) .2 mile later. Wrist-thick wild grapevines (fruiting from May to June) dangle overhead as the trail drops 300 feet to the bottomlands paralleling a small, unnamed creek. Continue west, and you’ll crisscross the usually dry creekbed five times before reaching wide and shallow Hutchins Creek at mile 2.6 (3). Cross the creek (knee-high in spring; dry by September) into the Clear Springs Wilderness and head upstream to rejoin the Godwin Trail (look for the white “i” blaze just north). Continue another .1 mile to the junction with Hutchins Creek Trail (4). Turn right and follow the creek through thick patches of leatherwood fern and wild ginger. Stop for a dip at the seasonal swimming hole (5) at mile 2.9 (deepest in early summer). At mile 3.3, cross spring-fed Hutchins Creek and reach an early 20th century homestead (6). Continue to your next Hutchins crossing at mile 3.6; scout a campsite (7) on the wide gravel bars just above the deepest rivulets of water. (Tip: Conduct a thorough tick check.) Next morning, head back to the Godwin Trail and stash your pack. The trail west climbs steeply, adding 200 feet in .3 mile, to gain the top of a ridgeline (8). Thread between two sharp-angled ravines (beware abundant poison ivy on this stretch in summer and fall) for 3.3 miles, watching for deer, wild turkey, and bobcat. Turn right onto Pine Hills Road (9) and hike .4 mile along the dirt path to the Inspiration Point trailhead (10). Follow the .2-mile trail to the sandstone bluff (11), where a vantage point offers views across the wetlands and prairies below (“See This,” next page). Retrace your steps back to your car.
Get there Drive 14 miles south on IL 127 from Murphysborough to Alto Pass. Take Bald Knob Rd. west 2.5 miles to the trailhead parking.
Gear up Shawnee Trails Wilderness Outfitters, 222 West Freeman St., Carbondale. (618) 529-2313 Maps USGS quads Wolf Lake and Cobden ($8, store.usgs.gov)