Trail of Tears State Forest lies within the southern section of the Ozark Hills, one of the most rugged landscapes in Illinois. The hills are composed of chert (a weathered limestone residue). Soils are shallow and susceptible to erosion. Ridge tops are narrow, rocky, and dry. Clear streams with gravel bottoms are in the narrow forested valleys, hemmed in by the steep terrain. The variety in plant communities is influenced by the terrain. Dry ridgetops and south-facing slopes have black oaks, white oaks and hickories. Extremely dry sites contain prairie-like openings (barrens and hill prairies) with a mingling of gnarled open-grown trees and shrubs like wild azalea, farkleberry and low-bush blueberry. The shaded north-facing slopes and protected coves support stands of American beech, tuliptree and sugar maple, or red oak, tuliptree and sweetgum. A rich understory of shrubs (including pawpaw, buckeyes, bladdernut and hornbeam), exists in moister sites. In stream valleys, a canopy of American elm, sweetgum, tuliptree, sycamore and sugar maple over a shrub layer of redbud, deciduous holly and spicebush, and thickets of wild cane (bamboo) occur. The wildflower flora of the Forest's lower slopes and valleys is lush and diverse. On a walk in the spring, a visitor can see many of the woodland wildflowers native to southern Illinois. In all, 620 species of flowering plants, ferns and fern allies are reported to occur at the State Forest. There are many species of songbirds, including those restricted to large woodland tracts. Two species of poisonous snakes, timber rattlesnakes and northern copperheads, occur here. They are no danger to cautious visitors and must be left as part of the Forest's natural environment; indiscriminate killing of snakes is prohibited. Woodland mammals such as fox and grey squirrels, chipmunks, flying squirrels, opossums, skunks and raccoons, are common. Larger mammals known to inhabit the Forest are whitetailed deer, red and grey foxes, coyotes and the wary bobcat.
The fire trails at this state forest provide many options for short or longer hikes (loop, out and back, point-to-point). The fire trails are wider forest roads with some connecting trails. The connecting trails typically drop down into the hollows and then climb back up to the ridge top to connect with the fire trails. So you can hike 1/2 mile or plot a 12+ mile route. The forest is awesome (yea I know overused) with old growth (huge trees). I hiked in August, so the views were not that spectacular but the that will change in the fall and winter. I hiked north on FT 31 (also referred to as north main) and then onto the Lost trail which looped back to hickory hill trail and then to red shale hill trail. Red shale dropped into the creek valley (down about 300 ft). The trail along the creek was over grown (which is typical in this area during the summer) but well marked with trail signs so you could follow it. I did miss a connecting trail to the hickory hill trail and looped back to the top of red shale (no problem). I put a link in the trail information to the park map. The fire lanes are clearly marked (at least they were on north main). I will hike the south portion of the main FT in the future and provide a track. I estimate that will be another 6 mile loop. So if you combined both loops, you could do 12 miles. Be sure and bring all of your water. I did not see any water sources at the park facilities. The bottom drainage of the hollows may or may not have water depending on the amount of rain.