LaRUE PINE HILLS
Location: Union County
Managed: Shawnee NF
Road Type: Gravel
Nearest Town: Wolf Lake/Grand Tower
Scenic Winding Road, Excellent Overviews, Deep Ravines
Narrow Gravel Road, Steep Drop-offs, Potential Flooded Road at Bluff Bottom, Snakes
In April the forests of the Midwest begin to return from their winter hibernation. Wildflowers poke up from the forest floor as the upper canopy starts to fill-in. In among all this new green growth, is the showy white petals of the dogwood and one of the best places in southern Illinois to view them is LaRue Pine Hills.
LaRue Pine Hills, normally called just Pine Hills by locals, is a unique environment situated near the floodplain of the Mississippi River. Pine Hills covers 4.5 square miles and encompasses 3,457 acres and is home to deep ravines, high limestone bluffs, and a swampland that hosts ducks, pelicans, swans, not to mention the widest selection of snakes in Illinois.
On top of these 150 foot limestone bluffs winds a narrow gravel road, appropriately named Pine Hills Road. This 8-mile road starts just outside the town limits of Wolf Lake near the campground area. There are several sections that cross over streams, so if it has rained recently these areas require caution.
Slowly the road begins to climb to the bluff tops, which is where the dogwoods begin to appear. From this vantage point you are able to look down the steep ravines and see the brilliant white leaf petals of the dogwood. As you drive along there is plenty of opportunities to see different sizes and shapes of trees. In some spots there is enough room to pull off the road to take photos. Just remember to leave enough room for others to pass and do not park in a “blind spot”.
Several pullouts allow you to take in the vast Mississippi floodplain off to the west. In some areas the floodplain stretches for four miles to the banks of Missouri. Below the limestone bluffs is a large wetland, which is home to a variety of snakes. Unseen, running along the bluff-line is Snake Road. This road is well-know among herpetologists for the spring and fall migration of snakes to and from the bluffs. Each year Snake Road is closed off during these migrations for the protection of the snakes.
As you explore the scenic Pine Hills Road, here are some facts concerning the dogwoods being viewed:
- Their scientific name is cornus florida. Cornus is Latin for horn, which represents the toothed petals.
- They are native to the Eastern United States.
- Their blooms are long-lasting and take several weeks to disappear.
- They can range in height as adults from 10-40 feet.
- Bloom times are from April to May.
- They thrive in partial shade before the forest canopy becomes full.
- Their showy display can overlap the brilliant red blooms of the aptly named red bud tree.
- Although it is not Illinois’ state tree, just across the western border, it is Missouri’s state tree.
- In the fall the leaves turn deep red and produce a poisonous to humans fruit, but birds love them.
Pine Hills is one of those great places where you can spend hours viewing the natural beauty of a unique landscape. As you travel keep the following in mind:
- The road below the bluff is prone to flood in the spring, so if coming off the levee road via Route 3 be aware that you may not be able to get to Pine Hills Road.
- Never cross standing water. It can be much deeper than you think.
- This is venomous snake country, so watch you step and never harass any snake.
So remember, take your time and enjoy the sights and sounds of one of the best places in southern Illinois to view dogwoods and so much more.
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