A Little Time and a Keyboard: Mysterious Nature Intrigues at Heron Pond Inside Cache River State Natural Area in Southern Illinois

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Mysterious Nature Intrigues at Heron Pond Inside Cache River State Natural Area in Southern Illinois

 Mysterious Nature Intrigues at Heron Pond Inside Cache River State Natural Area in Southern Illinois

Magical Experience Wandering the Unique Bald Cypress Swamp of Shawnee National Forest

Heron Pond represents an incredibly distinctive collection of ecosystems for Illinois. Bald cypress trees only grow natively in Illinois in Southern Illinois. The many hundred year old bald cypress trees inside of Heron Pond inside Cache River State Natural Area craft a mysterious scene within the wetland. Wandering the paths of the Heron Pond unfolded an almost otherworldly experience during our recent visit to Shawnee National Forest -- one not to be missed!

Bald cypress trees and their knees emerging from the swamp paint an ethereal picture  at Cache River State Natural Area in Southern Illinois.
Bald cypress trees and their knees emerging from the swamp paint an ethereal picture.

A Muddy Confluence

Quickly after hitting the trails at Heron Pond, we encountered the confluence of Dutchman Creek and Cache River crossing over a bridge. If you are able, this is an interesting point to stop. During our visit, the rivers were overflowing. Fortunately, the trails were dry.

The muddy convergence of Dutchman Creek and the Cache River.
The muddy convergence of Dutchman Creek and the Cache River.

The preserve was carved out by the glacial meltwater of the Ohio River leaving Cache River meandering through the area. The Cache River actually has a pretty windy appearance throughout the preserve and part of Southern Illinois.

We scouted out wetlands throughout Heron Pond looking for wildlife.
We scouted out wetlands throughout Heron Pond looking for wildlife.

Heading into the Woodlands

After crossing, we wandered through the woodlands quickly reaching wetlands. We scouted throughout the wetlands looking for wildlife. However, we would only find a turtle in the Cache River at the end of our hike and a frog in the swampland surrounding the floating boardwalk through the large stand of bald cypress and tupelo trees.

Bald cypress trees and their knees emerge from the swamp inside Heron Pond in Shawnee National Forest.
Bald cypress trees and their knees emerge from the swamp.

As we walked, we noted a few bald cypress here and there. While we were excited to reach the magical natural wonderland surrounding the floating bridge, we marveled at the smaller collections of these mystical trees as well.

Hopping rocks at Heron Pond.
Hopping rocks at Heron Pond.

We did have to skip some stones on our journey but they were pretty manageable. The pavers made crossing a stream a little easier than trying to find rocks to get across.

Walking the floating boardwalk through mysterious cypress trees at Heron Pond inside Shawnee National Forest
Walking the floating boardwalk through mysterious cypress trees.

Soon, we reached the floating boardwalk. Of course, a bit of childhood joy emerged when approaching a boardwalk. The shadowy, mysterious figures of the bald cypress trees and tupelos enveloped us with an eerie charm. During our visit, the forest was fairly quiet save a few stray bird calls echoing throughout.

Wandering the world of bald cypress trees in Southern Illinois.
Wandering the world of bald cypress trees.

A walk along the boardwalk through the bald cypress and tupelo trees was full of impressive moments. We were particularly interested by the knees or knobs that protruded from the wetlands. The knees may help anchor the trees and help aerate cypress roots. They add another element of intrigue and texture to the scene. Meandering through the bald cypress swamp really mystifies and delights at the same time. The experience is amazing a truly worth a pause to absorb it.

After exploring the bald cypress trees, you may be tempted to turn back to the parking lot. However, I recommend hiking further on other trails. There are other treasures to be found in this amazing preserve. So, don't skip out! We enjoyed spotting some interesting fungus on our visit. I am totally amazed by all of the different designs of fungus Mother Nature has crafted. We had more luck spotting birds in this area than in the wetter areas as well.

Fungus emerging from the forest floor.
Fungus emerging from the forest floor.

Heron Pond represents quite a unique environment for Illinois. So, visitors will discover some truly intriguing flora and fauna here. The murky yet beautiful tableau of the bald cypress trees and tupelo trees rising from the swamplands intrigues and crafts such an amazing nature experience. Cache River State Natural Area represents one the most memorable nature experiences in Illinois.

Things to Know About Heron Pond:

  • The trails at Heron Pond are flat, so this is a great spot for any hiker!
  • Make a stop at nearby Barkhausen Cache River Wetlands Center to learn more about this fascinating region.
  • Canoeing and kayaking is permitted in the preserve. See website for more information.
  • There are restrooms by the parking lot which is convenient.
Mysterious Nature Intrigues at Heron Pond Inside Cache River State Natural Area in Southern Illinois


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