What do you do when your are feeling like winter is dragging on and you get a sunny 50 degree day in February? If you are a Midwest Nomad, you go hike! We decided to head out Saturday morning to combine two short and easy trails near Alto Pass, Illinois into one morning adventure. These trails are both located in the scenic and diverse Shawnee National Forest boundaries. Both of these trails were new hikes for us which just adds to the level of adventure.
Pomona Natural Bridge Hike
- Length: 1/3 mile loop
- Difficulty: 2 out of 5
- Scenic Value: 3.5 out of 5
Located about 2 hours south of St. Louis is a great family hike to the 90 feet long Pomona Natural Bridge. This stunning geological formation is a rare find in the state of Illinois. A short drive down a well graded and winding gravel road leads to the trail head. (Note: There are no restroom facilities here.)
The trail starts out with a gradual descent from the parking area. You can go either direction to make the loop. We went clockwise and first made a kid requested stop at a short wooden bridge. A shallow pool of water had frozen over and the kids had a blast breaking through the ice with their hiking poles. With enough rain, this looks like it would be a scenic stream and tumbling cascade in warmer weather.
Soon after another passing over another small creek crossing, the natural bridge comes into view ahead.
The bridge is easily wide enough to walk across safely. Use caution here with children and pets though as the drop off is steep and high.
It’s worthwhile to make the climb down to see the bridge from below as well. Rock stepping stones make the descent fairly easy.
Impressive icicles like to hang out along the bluffs and bridge here in the winter.
Climb back out the way you came and continue on across the bridge to make the gentle climb back to the parking lot. An overlook area provides another view of the bridge from above.
- Length: 2.5 miles total out and back
- Difficulty: 1 out of 5, 2 out of 5 if you take the staircase
- Scenic Value: 3 out of 5
- Restrooms available in the town park near the trail head. There is also a small dinosaur themed playground in the park as well.
Continuing south on highway 127 from Pomona lies the tiny village of Alto Pass. This area was originally called Quetil Gap until the train connected to the settlement in 1876. The station here was part of a narrow gauge railroad route that ran between Cairo and East St. Louis, Illinois.
The train route was abandoned in 1981. The location of the old depot in town is now a small park and pavilion. A section of the old railroad bed has now been turned into a walking trail. Signs along the way tell of the interesting history and natural features of the area.
Since the route follows the railroad right of way, the path is flat and perfect for all ages.
The trail quickly approaches a scenic area of large boulders and rock bluffs.
Tucked in between the mammoth sized rocks is a stone staircase carved out of the rock. This steep staircase connects to Cliff View Park on the top of the bluffs.
If you don’t feel up to the climb, you can also drive to the park to take in the view from the pavilion and gazebo above. If you have been to Colorado or other mountainous areas, it may be a bit comical to see a sign boasting an elevation of a whopping 846′ above sea level. To Illinois though, this shows how much of a high point it is for the area.
The scenic overlook has a nice view of the Bald Knob Cross in the distance.
There is also a cool vintage sign left over from the railroad days.
After cautiously climbing back down the stairs to the trail, you can view other remnants from this trail’s former train days.
After passing the bluffs and large boulders on both sides of the trail, the path continues to pass through the woods for a little over a mile before it ends at a closed private property gate. We only hiked about 3/4 of a mile before turning around.
The kids really enjoyed the interesting rock formations on this trail along with walking where trains once chugged through.