If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I really wish I could combine the majesty of nature with the thrill of the StairMaster™” then boy howdy do I have the trail for you! Fox Ridge State Park Loop Trail is a moderately challenging five mile loop in Fox Ridge State Park in Coles County, Illinois. This wasn’t the most well-marked trail I’ve ever walked, but for those who don’t have the stamina or schedule flexibility to spend an entire day wandering the woods, it’s a good choice. My favorite things about the trail were the variety of terrain, the abundance of flowers, the lushness of the woods with a veritable cacophony of birds, and a generous amount of trash cans so I didn’t have to carry a bunch of candy wrappers back home with me.
Getting There and Parking
The drive from Champaign is more or less a straight shot down IL-30 South. It’s a fairly scenic drive with rolling farmland and a few small towns along the way. It takes just over an hour to get there from Urbana. Once you get in the park itself, I would exit Google maps (or whichever navigation app you might use) and pause to look at a park map. As is typical with All Trails, the directions embedded in the app are good enough to get you to the general vicinity but then they ultimately take you to some spot that is not really all that close to the trailhead. The park’s name for the trailhead is “Trail of Trees” and you’ll want to park in one of the several small parking lots available nearby.
The very first part of trail is a long staircase descending into the woods, which is a harbinger of things to come. The woods were lush and noisy with old trees, dappled sunlight, and thousands of little flowers dotting the forest floor. For the most part, the trails were well maintained with a few very overgrown exceptions. There were some places where the trail was very narrow and overgrown with grass and weeds, and also one spot crossing a narrow stream where the bridge was out. Fortunately the water was shallow and the gap narrow so it was perfectly navigable.
The biggest issue with the trail is the lack of trailmarkers apart from larger signs indicating specific trailheads or features. That coupled with some some narrow and overgrown paths meant that I had to rely on All Trails offline GPS function a few times to keep from getting lost. The middle loop near “Eagles Nest” was the most confusing section by far, so be ready to pay extra attention to navigation in that section.
The Bathroom Situation
This trail only takes about two hours to complete so if you stop at a gas station in Charleston to use the facilities and stock up on snacks, the lack of bathrooms along the trail shouldn’t be too onerous. I’m sure there are some camp toilets near the playgrounds or campsites, I just didn’t see any.
This trail felt very safe overall. It was moderately trafficked, with a few campers and RVs visible in the campsites, a handful of fellow hikers, and people enjoying views of the river. I also saw some park staff around which added an extra layer of comfort. I think the biggest safety hazard is probably ticks hiding in all that tall grass. Bug spray would be a necessity during the summer.
Wildlife and Scenic Views
This trail has a lot to offer in terms of scenic views. There are water views and part of the trail is even sandy terrain instead of the usual forest floor. There is even a special lookout tower called “Eagles Nest” up an especially long staircase (144 stairs!) that’s supposed to give a gorgeous view of the river. I mostly saw the tops of trees but it was cool nonetheless.
In terms of wildlife, I saw a huge variety of birds but nothing especially rare or noteworthy. Alright, fine, pileated woodpeckers are always noteworthy and there were more than a few out and about. More than seeing the birds though, hearing the birds was noteworthy. At times it was downright cacaphonous. It would be cool to walk the trail with someone who could tell you which birds exactly were shouting so much, but even without knowing it was kind of soothing.
Although this trail does not supplant the Lake Mingo trail as my top favorite local-ish trail, it’s a pretty special one. The trees feel especially dense and stately, and it’s cool to experience the different types of terrain. I also liked that all the stairs and slopes made it a good bang for your buck in terms of expending a decent amount of effort in a short amount of time. I will certainly revisit this park and check out the other trails that weren’t included on this loop.