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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Cache River State Natural Area

Not your laid-back summer holiday -- canoeing and hiking galore.

by: Larry Rice

PAGE 1 2

Contact Information:

Cache River State Natural Area 930 Sunflower Lane Belknap, IL 62908 (618) 634-9678 Location: The Cache River State Natural Area is in southern Illinois, 145 miles southeast of St. Louis and 50 miles southeast of Carbondale.

Getting There: The canoeable section of the Lower Cache lies between Karnak on the east and Perks on the west. The best public put-in is 1.8 miles west of Rt. 37 on Perks Blacktop Road, then one mile south on a gravel road. (Follow the Lower Cache River Access signs.) There are four access areas for hiking; consult a park brochure for locations.

Seasonal Information: Spring and fall are the recommended seasons, when temperatures range from 40 to 70 degrees F.

Wildlife: The great blue heron, green heron, and the rare yellow-crowned night heron and egrets are regularly found here. Pileated woodpeckers and black and turkey vultures are also common. Migrating osprey and bald eagles are occasionally seen, and wood ducks nest in hollow trees throughout the swamps. Warblers and songbirds also make an appearance.

Beaver, muskrat, river otter, red and gray foxes, fox and gray squirrels, mink, swamp and cottontail rabbits, deer, coyotes, and bobcats live near the Cache. At dusk, you might glimpse bats as they sweep over the water in search of insects.

In the water, there are bowfin, grass pickerel, banded pygmy sunfish, cypress minnow, and channel catfish.

The melodies of frogs ~ bird-voiced tree frogs, green frogs, bullfrogs, and others ~ rise from the swamp.

Insects: No information available.

Plant Life: The Cache River watershed represents some of the best undisturbed swamp in the southeastern part of the United States. The Cache watershed is also the northern-most reach of the Mississippi Valley's cypress-tupelo swamps.

Floating or submersed plants like pondweed, coontail, and duckweed can be seen in the river, swamp, and pond areas.

A serpentine channel through buttonbush leads into a sunlit pothole framed by a majestic bald cypress measuring 34 feet 3 inches around. This tree is estimated to be more than 1,000 years old and is possibly the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi. At last count, the area contained eleven state champion trees.

The swamp border and low floodplain forests feature Drummond's red maple, red elm, overcup oak, pink oak, swamp white oak, and pumpkin ash.

The low ridges are a striking contrast to the wetlands with sweetgum, cherrybark oak, tulip tree, white oak, black oak and several species of hickories.

Little bluestem, side oats grama, big bluestem, prairie dock, and Indian grass can be seen on the barrens.

Facilities: No camping is permitted in the Cache River State Natural Area.

Camping and other recreational activities are available at a number of Illinois Department of Conservation and Shawnee National Forest ((618) 253-7114) sites within a 30-mile radius. Campsites also include Ferne Clyffe ((618) 995-2411), Fort Massac State Park ((618) 524-4712), and Giant City State Park ((618) 524-4712).

Pit toilets are available at the Heron Pond and Lower Cache River access only.

Private canoe rentals are available for $25 per canoe per day from: Cache Core Canoe Rental RR #1 Box 71AA Ullin, IL 62992 (618) 845-3817.

Parking: No information available.

Permits: No permits are needed for canoeing or hiking, day or night. Groups of 25 or more must pre-register.


  • Pets must kept on leashes at all times.
  • Camping and building fires within the SNA are not permitted.
  • Motorized vehicles ~ including off-road vehicles, trail bikes, horses, and ATVs ~ can destroy fragile habitat and are not permitted within the SNA.
  • Hunting and fishing are permitted in designated areas.


  • Watch where you walk; three types of venomous snakes ~ the copperhead, timber rattler, and cottonmouth ~ inhabit the region.
  • Poison ivy is common.
  • The Upper Cache River is very difficult or impossible to canoe due to the severe bank erosion that causes many fallen trees and log jams.

Leave No Trace: All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps: For maps, contact Cache River State Natural Area at above address.

Other Trip Options: There are a number of state parks a short drive away. See listing in FACILITIES.

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Mark Denzer
Jan 23, 2011

Dear, Backpacker

I wanted to report that i am currently renting canoes and pirogues on the cache river, near perks Illinois. John has retired from the business. My website is
my phone is 618-201-4090
thanks , mark denzer


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