River to River Trail yo-yo

In the spring of 2016, I yo-yoed the River to River trail in southern Illinois, hiking its length twice over 13 days.  This trail is particularly tough due to its wide variety of tread, but wet feet each day from fords, muddy trail, and rain didn't make things any easier. With no zero days and a 6-day westbound trip (including one 34.5-mile day), my mind and body were thoroughly exhausted upon completion. 

March 23 – April 4, 2016

301 miles

13 days – 7 days Eastbound, 6 days, 2 hours Westbound

Click to download my River to River Worksheet, which contains my gear list and meal plans.

I have compiled data I came across while hiking the River to River Trail (R2R), some of which I would have liked to know before I started. By no means is this a comprehensive guide, rather a general resource that may or may not assist you.

THE SIGHTS

The River to River Trail is a multi-use route that spans southern Illinois by way of the Shawnee National Forest. It passes through six wilderness areas, two state parks, a national wildlife refuge, two special management areas, a national natural landmark, Garden of the Gods recreational area (the most visited site in Shawnee National Forest), and an experimental forest. Furthermore, it is a small section of the American Discovery Trail, which spans the United States from coast to coast.

MAPS

Jeffery "Goose" Gosnell created maps (with beta!) for the entire trail in 2014. He is selling them to help fund a future hike on the Appalachian Trail. Email: tnsadventure@gmail.com

Jon O'Dell published a guidebook in 2002 and has revised it for 2011. I saw a few people using this on the trail. Obviously, it does not mention current re-routes of the trail, which can lead to confusion and irritability. 

John Voigt put out a GPS databook in 2007. I saw a few people using this for navigation, but they are not maps, just waypoints. 

The United States Forest Service has a website on the trail, with unmarked maps provided for free. 

The Friends of the Shawnee have an updated and detailed hiking/equestrian map of the trails east side. This map covers about only about 50 miles of trail, is large and cumbersome, and has no mileages of the trail, making it unsuitable for a thru-hike. Nevertheless, this is the most up-to-date map of the section from Eddyville to High Knob.

DIRECTION OF TRAVEL

I would recommend E–W travel, mainly because Elizabethtown (called E-town by locals) is a better ending point or halfway mark if you are yo-yoing. It also would save the R2R's hillier terrain, poorer blazing, and high point (High Knob at 929 ft.) for the second half of the trip. 

W–E isn't a bad option, but does end the trek with 10 miles of very long, flat boring road walking to a town with few services. 

Section hiking would be a wonderful way to experience what the trail has to offer. Good luck on the road walks.

SHUTTLES

I left my car at the Devil's Backbone Park in Grand Tower. I found the park president's number at the campground, called him, and he told me where to leave it for the next two weeks. Other than that, you're on your own!

Tread

The R2R is indeed a route connecting the great footpaths of the Shawnee National Forest with sections of road walking. I encountered a wide variety of walking surfaces, some of which are weather sensitive. The trail also has many fords, one of them over-the-knee after it had rained 3" in a 2-day period. 

TRAIL USERS

The R2R is a multi-use route that is used by hikers, equestrains, ATV's, cars and trucks, bicycles, and hunters. When the trail gets wet, equestrian and ATV users can have a serious impact on the trail. The large ruts and widened trails left behind make for muddy hiking and constant wet feet. 

TRAIL TOWNS

 The R2R crosses through many small towns, some have more services than others. From East to West, the trail crosses through these Illinois towns and places:

  • Grand Tower, 62942 – post office, gas station/convenience store
  • Alto Pass, 62905 – post office, Grammer's Market, Root Beer Saloon, cafe
  • Makanda, 62958 – post office, artist galleries, cafe
  • Giant City Lodge – restaurant/bar, cabins
  • Goreville, 62939 – full grocery (.5 mi N), post office (.9 mi NE)
  • Eddyville, 62928 – post office, Shawnee Restaurant and Lounge
  • Herod, 62947 – post office, The Gap bar (.5 mi S)
  • High Knob Campground – See Trail Angels
  • Elizabethtown, 62931 – Lodging, bars, gas station, convenience stores, restaurants

TRAIL ANGELS

JoJo over at High Knob Campground is a trail angel that is very friendly and helpful to hikers. She offers cabins, RV and tent camping, a friendly environment, and much more. 

BLAZES

The blazes on the R2R (otherwise known as Trail 001) are as varied as the walking surfaces you may encounter. Some sections are incredibly well blazed and straightforward, others are more confusing due to poor blazing, old/new trail blazing conflicts, heavy use/vandalism, etc. Generally, a blue "i" within a white diamond designates the direction of the trail. 

WILDLIFE

I hiked early enough in the year to avoid peak bug season, only seeing 3 ticks and mild spider webs near water sources. I encountered many animals: birds including wild turkeys and owls, bats, squirrels, rodents, frogs, lizards, snakes, domestic dogs, horses, and cows, not to mention bugs, caterpillars, critters and the like. I was told the Forest Service recently released a small number of black bears into the Shawnee National Forest and heard stories of cougar sightings as well. 

WATER AVAILABILITY

Water is abundant on the trail, and can also be refilled at the various towns the trail passes through. 2–3 liters proved to be plenty of capacity. 

social media

There are a few YouTube videos on the subject. 

Google it!