Best Places to Hike & Bike This Fall in Southwest Illinois

Isn't it time to take a walk?

As temperatures drop and summer ends, the deciduous forests of southwest Illinois dazzle with a transformation of their own. Immerse yourself in the best of the region's fall colors on an autumn hike or on one of many interlinking bike trails woven through the scenic Midwest countryside.

Autumn Views

The landscape in southwest Illinois includes rolling hillsides, sprawling farmland, and freshwater lakes.

Journey to Litchfield for recreation at the Lake Lou Yaeger Recreation Area. Hike at the Shoal Creek Conservation Area to see native plant and animal species surrounded by fall foliage, hike or ride the adventurous Route 66 Hike and Bike Trails on the west side of the lake, or bring your hooved companion to ride along the Lake Lou Yaeger Campground equestrian trails.

See fall leaves reflected in the still waters of Beaver Dam State Park of Plainview, or spend an afternoon at Coffeen Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, Silver Lake Park in Highland, or Otter Lake Park and Campground in Girard- the open clearings provided along the lakeside trails are a great way to see swathes of autumn trees and reflections in the water make for scenic photo opportunities!

H & B Bremer Wildlife Sanctuary is another fantastic place to see area wildlife and take a walk through the seasonal forest- watch for birds, travelling white-tailed deer, and go leaf peeping with the whole family.

Want a drink while you take in the autumn views? The Winery at Shale Lake in Williamson has a Wine Trail perfect for taking photos and enjoying the fall views and visitors can stay after for great food on their outdoor patio!

Fall Along the Rivers

Arguably the most popular fall viewing destinations in the region are alongside the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.

Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton, the largest state park in Illinois, is a titan of the autumn season, offering hikes with sweeping vistas of the changing landscape, self-led fall color drives, and rock climbing.

Pere Marquette Park is connected to the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail, one of the most aesthetic cycling paths in the country with open-skied views of the Mississippi River- a sight made even more spectacular with the bright hued trees topping the towering river bluffs.

Beaver Dam State Park Lake
Beaver Dam State Park

Travel Tip!

Take the Grafton Ferry, Brussels Ferry, or Golden Eagle Ferry to reach Calhoun County for even more views of the autumn riverscape- pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers are all welcome on the ferry boats!

Amazing Bike Trails

Much of southwest Illinois is linked by the Madison County Transit Trails system in a crisscrossing web of recreational possibilities - walk or cycle over 130 miles of trails featuring diverse rural landscapes, marshland, and old-growth forest, and connect to a multitude of charming communities along the way- breathe the brisk autumn air, crunch leaves under your tires, and connect to places like the Watershed Nature Center or SIUE Gardens in Edwardsville, and La Vista Park in Godfrey which all offer picturesque nature paths.

TIP: Make a stop at the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower in Hartford for great views of the autumn landscape along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway- the tower is along the bike trail and the perfect place to snap some photos!

Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts can also take the Great Rivers Bird and Bike Trail, an extension of MCT Trails, to see seasonal bird species and cross the iconic Clark Bridge in Alton to Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary and the Ted and Pat Jones Confluence Point to see the meeting of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
The Nature Institute
in Godfrey also has views of the Mississippi, as well as wooded hiking trails featuring living streams and waterfalls.

TIP: Looking for a bike to use on your autumn adventure? Try out Pedego Electric Bikes rental from Edwardsville, or rent or take a tour with Covered Bridge Bike Rentals or Crossroads Bike Tours in Glen Carbon.

Lake Lou Yaeger Route 66 Biking Trail
Biking trails in Litchfield

Hike Through History

Journey south for the most historic autumn walk in the region at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest Native American sites in the United States. Take a hike, climb Monk’s Mound for colorful autumn views of the site, and witness the annual Fall Equinox Sunrise each September.

Just a short distance from Cahokia Mounds is Horseshoe Lake State Park and Woodland Park which both offer wooded walking trails and Willoughby Heritage Farm of Collinsville is also nearby featuring fall activities, a nature trail, and more!

TIP: Want to see the changing leaves from a different perspective? Hike or bike across the historic Chain of Rocks Bridge in Granite City, crossing 60 feet above the Mississippi!

About the Author

Kayla Howland

Kayla Howland is a local writer and artist who lives in Alton, IL with her Cairn Terrier, Ripley. She enjoys fiction and non-fiction writing, graphic design, painting, drawing and photography. Kayla is a graduate of Southwestern High School and Lewis & Clark Community College. She has worked doing freelance graphic design, photography and commissioned paintings since 2012.