Find Adventure at Heron Pond
Located in Little Black Slough Nature Preserve is a wonderful piece of wetlands landscape unique to Southern Illinois: Heron Pond, located near Belnap, Illinois, and part of the Cache River State Natural Area. Heron Pond is home to over 100 endangered and threatened plant and animal species on the Ohio River flood plain. These wetland locations are an important resource for migrating birds and other unique plants and animals and are a prime location to view nature at it’s finest.
Hike Heron Pond
Hike the many trails that traverse the wetlands or enjoy the pristine views from a canoe. Fishing and hunting are also popular activities within the Cache River State Natural Area. Heron Pond ushers visitors into a wonderful semi-water world full of uniquely inspiring natural phenomena that you can only find in Southern Illinois. Restrooms and ample parking are available as well as Cache River Nature Area pamphlets that explain a little more about what you can explore. There are several interesting and insightful interpretive signs along the path explaining wildlife, history, and how the land surface has changed overtime in the area.
Follow the tree lined path from the trailhead that leads you down a terraced gravel slope. When crossing the trellised bridge, look to the North to see the confluence of two historical drainage waterways used to drain the area for logging at the turn of the 20th century. Markers along the trail give education-seeking tourists information on the historical background of the area.
Hiking the Boardwalk
Eventually you come to an area where you can distinctly see wetlands to your left, and the drainage way to your right. You are now closing in on the highlight of the hike: the Boardwalk. The boardwalk is just that; a floating boardwalk that takes you out into the cypress/tupelo swamp so that you can see up close and personal this breathtaking, other-worldly feel of this beautiful wetland. Keep a lookout for all kinds of wildlife, from Herons, to snakes, to thousands of sets of tiny frog eyes peeking out at you from under the ubiquitous duckweed. It is truly a unique experience, and not one you ever thought you would be enjoying in Southern Illinois!
Though the trail is not handicap accessible, it is easily navigated with a stroller for toddlers and is an easy hike for older children, and don’t forget your bug spray during the Summer months. The boardwalk keeps your feet dry while giving you prime views of the swamp land preserved for future generations. Look for herons, snakes, or frogs that make the Southern Illinois wetlands home. Hike an extra ¼ mile to check out the gigantic State Champion Cherrybark Oak Tree and take in all that Southern Illinois has to offer on this scenic family-friendly hike.
Wetland Bird Watching Paradise
The old bald cypress and water tupelo trees and being the largest natural area owned by Illinois State, makes this endangered wetland area a perfect resource for the avid bird watcher. Visit Heron Pond to view an array of raptors including the barred owl, the black vulture, and the red-shouldered hawk. A host of songbirds, like the Kentucky and yellow-throated warblers, also make this wildlife area their home.
Directions to Heron Pond Trailhead
Take Karnak/Belnap Road from Karnak, Illinois, for 5 miles. Turn Left onto Heron Pond Road and follow the road for 1 mile. Trailhead will be well marked and pay attention to the signage for Heron pond and Little Black Slough Nature Preserve.
Things to do near Heron Pond
Though located in a rural setting there are some unique stops to experience in the area. First, the Barkhausen Cache River Wetlands Center is a great hands-on experience for young and old, that explains the history of the area, as well as the flora and fauna you will find here. Expand your adventures and take in the Cache River via canoe or kayak. Bring your own and launch near Perks, Illinois, or rent them and/or be guided by White Crane Canoe Rentals & Guide Service. If you want to take in a unique, small town meal, you can stop in to Our Place in Karnak, Illinois for pizza or deli sandwiches. The Tunnel Hill Biking and Hiking Trail also passes through this area, with a spur out to the Wetlands center. Another hidden gem is the Cache River Basin Vineyard & Winery, with a nice local restaurant known as Wineaux’s.