Southern Illinois' Tunnel Hill State Trail is a gem of a route, with 23 trestle bridges (including one that is 450 feet long), several ghost towns, a beautiful park, a comfortable trailhead in Vienna Station and, of course, its namesake tunnelan impressive corridor that once measured 800-feet-long until a collapse in 1929 shortened it by some 300 feet. The first railroad tracks laid on this corridor caused such a stir that in 1870, local farmers, anticipating shipment-ready crops, planted orchards even before the line's tunnel was complete. In 1991 the corridor was donated to the state, and just 10 years later, the entire 47.5 miles was opened to the public as a multiuse trail.
Begin at the Barkhausen Wetlands Center, which serves up instant trailside gratification within the first 2.5 miles, already showcasing a bridge and scenic overlook before even reaching the town of Karnak (restrooms, drinking fountain, and ample parking). A few miles farther in you will come to the "ghost town" of Forman (to your left) that hints at a scary movie set from a Hollywood backlot.
The scenic trail passes more bridges, as you make your way to the town of Vienna Station. There is a nice park here that provides an ideal rest and picnic spot, especially if you have children along. Leaving Vienna Station, head toward Tunnel Hill and the trail's midpoint. In the 9 miles between Vienna Station and Tunnel Hill, there are four more bridges before the landmark tunnel. It's handy to use a flashlight as you travel through the cavernous, 543-foot tunnel. If you're on bike, you may want to dismount and walk it through. Be especially careful of other trail users coming in the opposite direction.
After Tunnel Hillthe highest point on the trailthere is a gentle 2-percent grade downhill for the remaining 25 miles. Soon after leaving the Tunnel Hill trailhead, you'll travel through the Shawnee National Forest, a stunning landscape with a high tree canopy that shades a trickling brook on the right. You're more likely to hear the birds here than you are to see them, but the local rabbit population is everywhere. The journey here is amazingly quiet and rural.
After 6 miles you arrive in the town of New Burnside, which takes its name from Civil War General Ambrose Burnside, a founder of the original railroad. The terrain here is marked by looming bluffs, providing a dramatic contrast to the forest you traveled through earlier. Another 4.4 miles of travel takes you out of the forest and into a very flat section along US 45 to Stonefort, whose trailhead includes a well-restored railroad depot.
The next 6.7-mile stretch remains within sight of US 45 most of the way to Carrier Mills. Keep an eye out for turtles and snakes, which also like to use this trail. After Carrier Mills, the last 7.5 miles of trail into Harrisburg meander past farm fields and neighborhoods. The route for the final 2.5 miles in Harrisburg is a mix of trail and sidewalk, ending at the trailhead on the north side of town.
Parking and Trail Access
To access the Barkhausen Wetlands Center in Cypress, take Interstate 57 to State Route 146 and proceed east for about 9.5 miles. Turn right on State Route 37 and continue for 9 miles. Pass through the town of Cypress and look for the wetlands center on the left.
To reach the trailhead at Tunnel Hill (the midpoint), take I-24 to US 45 and head north. Turn left on Tunnel Hill Road and look for the trailhead on the right, just before Possum Rd.
To reach the Harrisburg trailhead from Interstate 57, take State Route 13 east about 24 miles. Turn left on US 45 and head north for just 0.15 mile. Turn left on Walnut Street then right on Industrial Drive. The trailhead is on the right.
Great ride! The Harrisburg to New Burnside leg of this trail is pretty flat and not that scenic, but the rest of the trail is great. When you hit the tunnel don't be fooled, that's a fairly long tunnel and about 1/3 of the way in you're in the dark! The ...
A friend and I rode this trail in July, 2012. We decided to ride 34 miles from Harrisburg to Vienna. I was really impressed with the trail! There were mile markers all along the way and dedicated rest stops built just for the trail! The trail is mostly ...
Great trail in a number of categories
I rode this trail on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 8 & 9th beginning the wetlands center in Cypress. I rode it to Stonefort. It was a gradual easy climb to the tunnel. The tunnel wasn't that impressive when compared to the many significant tunnels on trails ...