Deep woods navigation
Without any topographical handrails (such as peaks or cliffbands) to sight on, plus blowdowns and spotty trail signage, navigating this forested route can be a challenge. Here’s how to avoid common problems and stay on track:
Route around blowdowns
Leaving the trail to avoid fallen trees can put you off route in no time. Do it right: Take your directional bearing, turn 90 degrees and count your steps to the end of the blowdown. Resume your original bearing until you’re past the obstacle, turn 90 degrees back and walk the same number of footsteps to the trail.
Beware unmarked junctions Unofficial spurs branch off of the main track in several spots along Hutchins Creek. Use your compass to check your bearing periodically. If you’re heading east but the map indicates you should be going north, backtrack to the last known junction.
Last resort If you’re lost, follow the nearest passable drainage down valley into Hutchins creekbed. If you’re still unable to find the junction you’re looking for, walking either north or south will deliver you to a road in just a few miles.
From the top of this sheer, 350-foot sandstone perch, hikers earn views over the LaRue-Pine Hills Natural Area, a 4.5-square-mile tract that houses 14 different ecosystems. This perch along the Mississippi flyway is a year-round draw for birdwatchers, who scope the skies for 175 resident and migratory species in the area—including vireos and warblers in spring, Mississippi kites and tanagers in summer, bald eagles in fall, and red-shouldered hawks, woodpeckers, and snow geese in winter. Locals Know Twice each year, thousands of reptiles and amphibians—about 57 different species—slither, hop, and crawl their way between LaRue wetlands and the sandstone bluffs of Pine Hills, where they hibernate through the winter. From September 1 to October 30, the 2.5-mile stretch of Pine Hills Road (aka Snake Road) is hiker-only to accommodate the snake parade. The third week of October sees the most activity—you could spot up to 30 individuals on a good day, including cottonmouths, copperheads, timber rattlesnakes, and red milk snakes. The wrigglers are most active from 1 to 5 p.m. Scan the road shoulders and watch from a safe distance. Not into snakes? Leaf peeping typically peaks the third week of October, too.