Cache River State Natural Area

Quick Facts

Cache River State Natural Area


(618) 634-9678

Map Directions

Things To Do


Cache River State Natural Area is situated in southernmost Illinois within a floodplain carved long ago by glacial floodwater of the Ohio River. When the Ohio River adopted its present course, it left the Cache River to meander across rich and vast wetlands. Among the outstanding natural features found within the area today are massive cypress trees whose flared bases, called buttresses, exceed 40 feet circumference. Many are more than 1,000 years old, including one that has earned the title of state champion bald cypress because of its huge trunk girth, towering height, and heavily branched canopy.

It is within southern Illinois that north meets south and east meets west. With its diversity of soils, bedrock and landforms, the Cache River Valley contains four distinct ecological regions. Its hodgepodge of ecological factors has resulted in a collage of natural communities, each with its own unique assemblage of physical attributes, plants and animals.Not surprisingly, people have rallied to protect the Cache River watershed. The National Park Service has designated two National Natural Landmarks within its borders - Bottomland Swamp and Heron Pond. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has identified three Nature Preserves here - Section 8 Woods, Heron Pond-Wildcat Bluff and Little Black Slough - and registered 10,367 acres of the area's 14,489 acres in the Land and Water Reserve Program.

Totaling 14,489 acres in Johnson, Massac and Pulaski counties, Cache River State Natural Area is composed of three distinct management units - Little Black Slough, Lower Cache River Swamps and Glass Hill.The Glass Hill Management Unit occurs about 3 miles north of Buttonland Swamp near the town of Cypress. An outstanding example of a rare landform called a sandstone knob occurs on this site. All around and on top of this inaccessible knob is relatively undisturbed upland forest dominated by chinquapin oak, red oak, white oak, shagbark hickory and pignut hickory.

Map of Cache River State Natural Area (IL)

Latitude, Longitude: 37.330870, -88.940280



  • Boating

    The Lower Cache River Trail offers paddlers a quality canoe experience, 3 to 6 miles in length, through magnificent cypress-tupelo swamp.Canoeists can begin at the Lower Cache River access area or at a private boat launch ($1 fee) south of Perks. Car shuttles are not necessary. The trail is marked with international canoe symbols and arrows and/or yellow stripes on trees. Canoe maps and fact sheets are available at the site headquarters or wetlands center.

    While canoeing the Lower Cache is enjoyable, paddlers should be aware that the Upper Cache River is difficult if not impossible to canoe. Severe bank erosion, which is responsible for trees tipping over and creating log jams, makes canoe portages very frequent.

  • Bird Watching

    If swamps are the Cache River's signature natural community, then birds are its signature species. Observant birders can expect to see bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, barred owls, great blue herons, great egrets, little blue herons, green herons, least bitterns, wood ducks, mallards, snow geese, sora rails, woodcock, quail, mourning doves, red-headed woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers, prothonotary warblers, black vultures and turkey vultures. Seasonal migrations bring multitudes of waterfowl and shorebirds to the area, as well as the occasional osprey, golden eagle and black tern.

  • Bicycling

    The Tunnel Hill State bicycle trail travels through eight miles of the Cache River State Natural Area terminating at the Henry Barkhausen-Cache River Wetlands/Visitor Center, 2 1/2 miles east of Karnak, Illinois near Rago and IL Rt 37.

    From the bicycle trail you can access the hiking trail heads of Heron Pond and Big Cypress access, where you can view a cypress-tupelo swamp and see 1000 year old trees. Visitors of the Barkhausen Wetlands Center can tour the interpretative exhibits and watch a 12 minute audio visual film on the Cache River wetlands.

  • Fishing

    Swimming under or on the tea-colored waters of the Cache are numerous fish, amphibians and reptiles. Channel catfish, crappie, bass and bluegill are prized by area fishermen. Less sought after but true swamp fish include the bowfin, needlenose gar, grass pickerel and yellow bullhead catfish. Pygmy sunfish and cypress minnows are two state-endangered fish found only in wetlands dominated by forested swamps.

  • Hiking

    There are more than 18 miles of designated foot trails within Cache River State Natural Area. Other than Little Black Slough Trail and Tupelo Trail which are considered moderate in difficulty, the trails are easy to walk.

  • Historic Sites

    Contact the park services for more information.

  • Hunting

    The Little Black Slough unit, containing 8,318 acres, lies 3 miles south of Vienna and north of Belknap between Il. Rt. 37 and U. S. Rt. 45. Little Black Slough has approximately 6,402 acres open to hunting and 1,916 acres that are dedicated nature preserves, or restricted areas. Dedicated nature preserves are restricted areas closed to hunting. There are currently 13 hunter access areas at Little Black Slough: Marshall Ridge, North Cypress, Snakehole, Belknap, Forman, West Belknap, Little Black Slough, North Belknap, East Bluff, Rt. 45 North, Cave Creek, South Cypress, and Glass Hill. (See map and fact sheet for locations.) The hunter access areas provide a gravel parking area, with a hunter registration box and information. All hunters are required to sign in and out at hunter registration boxes provided at the hunter access areas, and to report their harvest by species.

  • Picnicking

    Picnicking is permitted; contact park services for more information.

  • Wildlife Watching

    The diversity of wildlife and wild places found in Cache River State Natural Area provides food, cover and water for an incredible number of plant and animal species, more than 100 of which have been listed as endangered or threatened by the State of Illinois. Mammals often encountered include white-tailed deer, squirrels, raccoons, beavers, gray foxes, red foxes, opossums, skunks and mink. Lucky visitors might catch a glimpse of river otters, bobcats or tiny Indiana bats. Bird-voiced tree frogs, southern leopard frogs, spring peepers, western chorus frogs, bullfrogs and American toads are among the more vocal of the area's amphibian inhabitants. Other well-known residents of Cache environs are the cottonmouth, copperhead and timber rattlesnake. While the bite from these venomous species is dangerous, as long as visitors are both cautious and observant, they have little to fear from these reclusive, non-aggressive creatures.



To reach Cache River State Natural Area headquarters from the North, take I-57 south to I-24, go east toward Nashville, get off at exit #14 (Vienna), turn right at the stop sign onto US Rt 45, go south on Rt 45 through Vienna, 7 miles, turn right on the Belknap road for 4 miles to the stop sign in Belknap, turn right at the stop sign on Main Street and go 2,000 feet and turn right onto Sunflower Lane (past the Belknap Methodist Church) and go north 1 mile to the park office. The park office is located in the white metal pole building.

To reach the Henry Barkhausen Wetlands from Vienna, IL, go West 5 miles on Route 146 from the intersection of Route 146 & US Route 45, turn left or South on Route 37, then 9 miles to Wetlands Center entrance - follow signs.

Phone Numbers


(618) 634-9678