Backpack the Yellow Trail at Sand Ridge State Forest

Rate this Adventure Sand Ridge State Forest

You'll be shocked you're still in Central Illinois while backpacking through Sand Ridge - sandy hills, prickly pear cacti, and a beautiful pine barren make this a spectacular outdoor oasis in the middle of the Midwest!

Park in Parking lot 2 on E. Co. Rd. 2300 N - from there you'll find the trail head for the Yellow/Red Trails. The Yellow Trail is the large 14.8 mile loop you'll follow for the whole trip. Start your hike by heading north on the trail; at this point the Yellow Trail is combined with the Red Trail. The Yellow Trail combines and intersects with the park's other trails along the way, so make sure to follow the Yellow blazes as you go - they are clearly marked at all intersections. Camping in the park is designated dispersed, and you'll pass several sites along the way, but I recommend hiking to Back Country Site 7 - which is just about halfway and is in the middle of a gorgeous CCC pine barren built in the 1930's. 

You might think backpacking in Central Illinois should be super easy, with flat trails - but the sandy conditions at Sand Ridge make even the flat stretches strenuous - combined with the hills of the Illinois River Valley, some parts of this hike can get pretty hard. Give yourself some extra time due to the sand.

Take some time to stop and observe the cacti and other unusual flora and fauna that live in the park. Thousands of years ago, receding glaciers left this large swath of sand making Sand Ridge a micro ecosystem that has conditions more similar to the Southwest than the rest of Illinois.  

Pack List

  • Water - Although you can fill up at some of the campsites, there aren't sources to filter from along the way
  • Camera - especially when the prickly pear are in bloom
  • Backpacking gear, tent, etc.
  • High hiking boots to keep the sand out
  • Extra socks  - you'll get super sandy
Show More
RT Distance 14.8 Miles
Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly


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