Listed on the National Audubon Society’s Great River Birding Trail, Horseshoe Lake State Park’s 2,400-acre lake, an oxbow formation in the floodplain of the Mississippi, attracts some of the largest and most diverse populations of egrets and herons in the area.
This 3.8-mile counterclockwise loop begins at a small parking area just west of the causeway and circumnavigates Walkers Island. Begin by heading north from the parking area past wildlife cropland and along the wooded shoreline. Expect to see dense groves of silver maple, hackberry, and cottonwoods and great shoreline views as you round the heavily wooded islet before turning south at mile 0.7.
About one-third of the way down the island’s western edge, the trail turns away from the shoreline and enters a gated grove of oak and maple while passing the park’s 48-site campground. After re-connecting with the shoreline at mile 2.3, the trail turns east. Take the 5-minute side-trip to one of the island’s five bird-watching platforms on its southern tip to watch for Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons near the shore, especially abundant in July and August.
The final northbound stretch of trail passed beneath maple and cottonwood and though the adjacent south pool of the lake is drained and planted with millet in the late summer (one reason it attracts such large numbers of birds) during wet weather, this section of trail can be muddy and wet enough that you may prefer to walk some stretches of it sans shoes and socks.
-Mapped by Ted Villaire
- Distance: 6.1
Location: 38.6951778, -90.0737715
This counterclockwise route heads north from the parking area through a grassy field. Watch for swallows wheeling above the cropland on the left (these crops are never harvested, instead they’re left as food for wild turkeys, birds, and the 60 deer that live on the island).
Location: 38.6987072, -90.0770652
As the trail hugs the wooded shore of Horseshoe Lake, look for wildflowers such as violets, Queen Anne’s lace, and morning glories. Also watch for residents of the bluebird boxes alongside the trail and diverse waterfowl (mallards, loons, grebes cormorants and gulls) cruising the half-mile-wide lake.
Location: 38.7008759, -90.0823867
As you round the north tip of the island, you’ll see huge swaths of cattails growing on the opposite shore of the lake, as well some of the heavy industry common in the surrounding area.
Location: 38.6950731, -90.081979
Follow the trail to the left at the 3-way junction just past mile 1. The trail moves east, away from the lake, before turning south in less than 200 yards.
Location: 38.6953746, -90.0799191
Turn right at the 3-way junction.
Location: 38.6892448, -90.0811315
After passing through the gate, you’ll enter a dense grove of oak and maple trees. Scattered patches of wetland flank the trail through this area.
Location: 38.6861462, -90.0828481
Pass through another gate. The lake appears through the trees on the right and the park’s campground area is on the left.
Location: 38.6805015, -90.0824511
Follow the short side trail to the spot overlooking a marshy area, where you’re likely to spot great blue herons poised near the shore.
Location: 38.6882362, -90.0737915
The final stretch of trail traces the marshy shoreline of Horseshoe Lake underneath a canopy of maple and cottonwood trees. If the weather has been wet, you may want to kick off your shoes to get through the sometimes-flooded trail.
Location: 38.6997036, -90.0788569
The northeast corner of Horseshoe Lake extends more than 0.5 mile toward another corner of the park. © Ted Villaire
Location: 38.6981295, -90.082773
The wide, grassy trail skirts the lakeshore along its western side before turning inland up ahead. © Ted Villaire
Location: 38.6810626, -90.0829983
Shallow, smooth water in the oxbow lake’s southern end. © Ted Villaire