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On the Trail: Taking the Walk Away Trail



  • Mike Baltz photos

 
By Mike Baltz
updated: 11/16/2020 7:38 AM

Last week, I felt the need to walk away from all the election drama, so I took a hike on the appropriately named Walk Away Trail at Lake Murphysboro State Park.

I feel like this trail is kind of hiding in plain sight. I didn't know about it until I saw it in Alan McPherson's book "Fifty Nature Walks in Southern Illinois." And I could only find one review of the trail on alltrails.com

When I came out to hike it this summer, the sign at the trailhead was down and the trail was officially closed for maintenance, but the trail is open now and definitely worth the effort of finding and hiking.

The trailhead is near the entrance to the Big Oak Campground.

The trail itself is a three mile lollipop loop figure-eight. If that sounds confusing, I can simplify things by saying on this trail, always go to the left.

For example, when the trail splits the first time after about the first quarter mile, go left. Then when faced with a decision again, about another mile in, go left. That turn will take you along Razor Back Ridge and lead you to a nice bench at the end of the ridge. This is a great place to stop and do some forest-bathing.

From there you will go down a flight of wooden steps and circle back up to the ridge top where you will, again, go left. That last segment of the loop will bring you back toward the lake and the campground.

Although the trail lacks blazes, there are markers at points that are potentially confusing (where you should go left), and one of the numerous wooden bridges spanning little creeklets along the trail is almost always in sight to guide you.

The trail actually crosses a park road twice, so you are rarely very deep in the woods.

Having said that, hiking on the Walk Away Trail reminded me of some of my hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I say that because, no matter how busy the park (GSMNP) was, just taking an unpaved trail usually put me in the woods to myself.

Walking the trail last week felt like that. Even though I knew I wasn't in a wilderness area, it was pretty much just me, some birds and a few squirrels.

I was certainly excited to "discover" the Walk Away Trail. It was pretty and quiet and there were some inclines that got my heart rate up. In my opinion, it's another one of those Goldilocks trails: not too long or too hard but not too short or too easy. It's just right.

So, the next time you are looking for a pleasant walk in the woods where you can do some forest bathing, get in a few thousand steps, and see some of wild southern Illinois, I highly recommend the Walk Away Trail.

• Mike Baltz has a PhD in biology from the University of Missouri and writes about changing the world from his home in Carbondale.