VIENNA, IL (KFVS) - If the Vienna trail head was any where near a major city, you would not be able to find a parking spot.
As it was Sunday, runners, walkers and cyclists had half the lot filled on a chilly and cloudy morning. And for good reason.
The portion of the trail that I was doing is probably the most scenic portion of the 50 plus miles of the old railway turned rail-trail. Plus the leaves are at their peak of color. I couldn't wait to get started.
I had read stories and seen pictures of the Tunnel Hill Trail before I moved to the area. The iconic tunnel graced the cover of Rails to Trails magazine and many of my friends and co-workers spoke highly of the trail. I wanted to see how it compared to some of my favorite trails of the past - the Little Miami Trail in Loveland, Ohio, and the Springwater Corridor in Portland, Ore.
Going north from the parking lot the Tunnel Hill Trail reminds me of other trails I've traveled. You cross a small bridge and suddenly you are in the forest.
The trail is made of crushed stone and the small pellets tossed up by my wheels tickled my legs above the socks. My road tires had no problem on the trail but I wouldn't want to do the ride on anything smaller.
A trail bike with wider tires or even mountain bike would not have had any issues at all. In many spots the trail was covered by leaves but it was no problem making out the path. Across the bridge the trail runs straight into the distance. It looks like a tunnel made of trees.
It is just over 9 miles from Vienna to the tunnel. And people will tell you the trail is flat. You just need to ask, "Is it flat uphill or down?" Yes, there are no big hills on the trail which was flattened or graded for trains in the 1920s, but you are still going uphill.
My phone measured a 100 foot difference over the 9 miles so while I could tell the trail went up it wasn't overwhelming to get to the tunnel.
After passing under I-24 the trail winds along several reservoir of the Little Cache Creek. The trail cuts through several hills and bridges the creeks. Each bridge gets higher and longer so you feel you are climbing to the top of the forest.
Before you reach the tunnel there is a concession shop when you can buy a snack or rent a bike. It is about a quarter of a mile before the tunnel so a quick ride can be done from there.
A quick history of the tunnel and trail can be found on the DNR website. It is located on Sandburn Lane off of highway 45. You can ride north to the small town of Tunnel Hill where there is another trail head. That is also off highway 45 on Tunnel Hill Road.
The tunnel is the jewel of the ride. Built in 1929. Inside it is dry and dark - like you would expect in tunnel.
I used my bike light. While it is not too far to ride, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel it is probably best to walk your bike through. That way you don't lose your balance or hit a walker. There are restrooms and a water fountain at the trail head on the north side.
The return ride was flat and downhill. But not so much I could coast home. I still needed to pedal and I'm sure the trail went up some. As it was later in the day there were more riders on the trail.
Several groups or couples were making their way along the pathway. Plus other wildlife like the wild turkeys that were crossing then running from me as I attempted to take their picture.
The return trip was faster or at least felt faster because I was thinking it was all down hill. The whole round trip took about two and a half hours.
The longest part of the journey is the long straight areas of the trail. They seem to go on and on. And with fall leaves it reminded me of never ending tunnel. But soon enough I could hear interstate traffic and knew I near the end of today's ride.
As I was loading my bike back into the car a couple just arriving asked what should they know before they took off.
"Take water, the trail is flat but uphill, and enjoy the scenery."
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
I started at the Vienna Park trail head. It is at the Vienna Community Park. Click here for the Mapquest Link. It's just about an hour's drive on 146 East of Cape Girardeau, Mo.
Water and bathrooms were available at both ends of my ride.
The location of the Tunnel Mill trail head is available by clicking here.
And the location of Sandburn Lane shop is available by clicking here.
To visit the Department for Natural Resource page, you can click here.
You can click here to visit a local advocacy group. http://www.tunnelhilltrail.com/