Tucked among the bluffs and hollows of the Illinois River, the 940-acre McCully Heritage Project is packed with wildlife: Bobcats, white-tailed deer, foxes, and wild turkeys roam the natural area’s prairies and forests. A 15-mile network of trails gets you into the heart of the habitat—warm up with this easy 3-mile loop to the Illinois River Overlook.
From the main parking lot, take the McCully Wetland Trail; you’ll cross Crawford Creek, passing a 50-foot outcropping of blue shale jutting from the surrounding limestone. The trail climbs a steep, short hill, then levels out until the overlook—from this scenic spot, you’ll find 20-mile views of three counties, the twisting river, and, if you’re lucky, soaring hawks, kestrels, and pelicans. Hike back through open upland meadows. Another steep hill brings the trail down through a wooded hollow to the trailhead. Haven’t seen enough? Make a night of it on one of the preserve’s three primitive hilltop campsites.
Info: Donation suggested for group camping. Maps available at main kiosk. (618) 653-4687; mccullyheritage.org
Hike provided by Michelle Berg Vogel, director of the McCully Heritage Project