Grapevine Trail is one of many colorful highway names in Southern Illinois. For a lot of people, the highway is a shortcut to Shawnee Community College or Metropolis from Cape Girardeau. With its many grapevine-like twists and turns, it can be a frustrating drive.
The busy railroad crossing at McClure adds to the frustration, thanks to a variation of Murphy's Law which guarantees that the closest approaching train will always meet you at the crossing.
Nevertheless, Grapevine Trail also provides access to a scenic portion of the Shawnee National Forest that is frequently overlooked by visitors. The Horse Creek Hiking Trail, located off Grapevine Trail only 12 miles from Cape, is a quality trail that doesn't require a long drive.
Horse Creek doesn't offer any spectacular rock formations or natural wonders, but I wouldn't call it "boring." It's a challenging 5-mile hike that loops through ridgetops on the west and then returns through a deep hollow on the east. In winter, the Mississippi River floodplain and Missouri hills can be seen in the distance.
The trailhead is located at the end of Oxford Road, a gravel road that was closed earlier this year for an extensive reconstruction project. It's now one of the fanciest dead-end roads in the Shawnee National Forest.
Beginning at the locked gate at the end of the road, the trail climbs and follows a ridge toward the west.
At the highest point on the Horse Creek Trail, the trail turns to the southwest, still following the ridge. Glimpses of the river bottoms can be seen to the right through the trees.
After staying in the hills for about two miles, the trail turns south and begins descending into the Horse Creek valley. Keep your eyes peeled for a tranquil man-made pond on the right.
Soon the trail makes a final drop to the valley floor and reaches a T-intersection with an old road. Turn left. The landscape is much different here, with the trail passing between deciduous trees on the left and evergreen trees on the right.
A fork in the trail to the right leads to Horse Creek and connects with a network of other forest roads.
Back at the main trail, the route runs parallel to the creek, following it upstream. It's an easy walk through the woods, although the trail does enter the creek bed a few times toward the end. This would not be a good place to visit during wet weather.
Quickly the trail turns away from the creek and climbs a steep hill to return to Oxford Road. Back at the road, turn left and follow the road a short distance to return to the trailhead.
The trail map lists the entire loop as 6 miles long, but it's probably closer to 5. While only modestly scenic, the Horse Creek Trail is a good chance to enjoy nature and get some exercise without driving very far.
[Google map] [Printable trail map (PDF)]
From Cape Girardeau, cross the Emerson Bridge into Illinois and turn left at Highway 3. At the school in McClure, turn right on Grapevine Trail. Go 4.7 miles and turn right on Oxford Road. This turnoff is a bit hard to see in advance -- it comes immediately after the left turn for County Line Road.
Climb to the top of the hill on Oxford Road and bear right at the intersection to stay on the main road. Park at the end of the road. You'll pass a trailhead on the left, but I recommend continuing to the second trailhead at the end of Oxford Road.
As always, be sure to print a trail map in case you take a wrong turn somewhere.