Bay Creek Wilderness (499)

Ozark Road
Stonefort, IL 62987
United States

Bay Creek Wilderness trails are not as aggressively maintained or marked as other portions of the Shawnee National Forest.  Riding Bay Creek Wilderness requires advanced wilderness navigation skills and tools such as topographic maps or GPS.  Access is indirect and horse and rider should be prepared for at least a 10 to 12 mile ride with several miles of traffic road riding to reach Bay Creek Wilderness equestrian trails.  This trail is not recommended for first time Shawnee visitors.  It is recommended that you contact the local National Forest Service office, consult with the proprietors of Hayes Canyon Campground, or hire a local equestrian guide before embarking on the Bay Creek Wilderness trails.

Bay Creek Wilderness is a heavily wooded stretch of rolling hills that surrounds Bay Creek, its tributaries, and the Scenic River Study Corridor. Bay Creek Wilderness is a central hardwood ecosystem including oak, cedar, ash,  dogwood, redbud, wild cherry, and plum.  The area was once homesteaded and remnants of old farms, fruit trees, cemeteries, and abandoned roads can still be seen from the horse trails.  The area was adopted into the National Forest System in the 1930s and was reforested.  Tucked into the hills of Bay Creek Wilderness are bluffs, sandstone formations, and shelter caves. Without easy access and slightly removed from the more heavily visited portions of the Shawnee, riding Bay Creek can feel like having your own little Southern Illinois secret.

Open Dates

April 1st to November 30th.

Distance and Terrain
8.0 miles

Natural surface.



Standard car parking for Bay Creek Wilderness is shared with Burden Falls Wilderness at the Burden Falls trailhead on Burden Falls Road/Mc Cormick Road.  Direct equestrian trail access is not available from this parking lot and trailers are not permitted in this lot.  Approximately 1000 feet to the east of the Burden Falls trailhead on Burden Falls/Mc Cormick Road, there is a gravel pull off on the north side that may accommodate one to two horse trailers.  From the pull-off, it is an approximately one-half mile ride down the heavily trafficked Burden Falls/Mc Cormick Road and another three-quarters of a mile down Ozark road to reach the junction of 499 with 499 M and the western-most entrance to the horse trails for Burden Falls Wilderness.  Burden Falls/Mc Cormick Road can have heavy tourist traffic.  This approach to Bay Creek Wilderness equestrian trails 499 should only be taken by experienced horse riders on traffic safe horses using extreme caution.

Alternatively, Teal Pond campground is an abandoned National Forest Service campground off of Ozark Road, just before Bell Smith Springs Road.  Dirt roads around the campground may provide enough room for horse trailers.  The 499M Bay Creek Wilderness horse trail entrance off of Ozark Road is then a three-quarter mile ride north on Ozark Road on the east side.  This parking area is unconfirmed and the campground was being allowed to grow over.  Investigate this potential parking area thoroughly on foot before entering with a truck and trailer.  Proceed at your own risk.

Private day parking is available at Hayes Canyon Campground.  From Hayes Canyon Campground, open trails on private land can be followed to Mustang Lane, an unimproved forest service road, which ends by crossing across Water Tower Road and immediately entering Bay Creek Wilderness on equestrian National Forest Service trail 499F. Riding from Hayes Canyon Campground will add at least 2 miles to the total mileage ridden. See the Hayes Canyon Campground Local Area Map for more details.


From the Burden Falls Trailhead on Burden Falls Rd. travel west.  Take your first left to head south on Ozark road.  One of four entry points to the equestrian trails (499) in Bay Creek Wilderness will be located on the east side of the road just before a slight bend.  If you reach the turn for Bell Smith Springs, you've passed the trail entrance.  This trail entrance is where 499 and 499 meet on the farthest west portion of the Bay Creek Wilderness horse trail loop.

Alternatively, the Bay Creek Wilderness trails can be reached from Water Tower Road on the southern boundary of Bay Creek Wilderness.  The first trail entrance will be on the north side of Water Tower Road just at the field's edge (499G) the second trail entrance will be another half mile up the road in the small patch of forest between the farm fields, just before reaching County Road 5 north.  The second trail entrance is 499F on the National Forest Service maps.

The final trail entrance is 499M, about one mile north of the intersection of County Road 5 and Water Tower Road.  The entrance is on the west side of County Road 5 just after passing the farm land. 

Trail Map

National Forest Service Recreation Map

Friends of the Shawnee National Forest Equestrian and Trail Map - West Side. Bonus, proceeds from the sale of the map go to a not-for profit that helps to protect the Shawnee Forest and establish further recreation opportunities!

Contact Info