Trail of Tears, one of Illinois' state forests, is situated in western Union County, five miles northwest of Jonesboro and 20 miles south of Murphysboro in southern Illinois.
Trail of Tears lies within the southern section of the Ozark Hills, one of the most rugged landscapes in Illinois. The hills are composed of chert, a weathered limestone residue. Soils are shallow and susceptible to erosion. Ridge tops are narrow, rocky and dry. Clear streams with gravel bottoms are in the narrow forested valleys, hemmed in by the steep terrain. The variety in plant communities is influenced by the terrain. Dry ridgetops and south-facing slopes have black oaks, white oaks and hickories. Extremely dry sites contain prairie-like openings, barrens and hill prairies, with a mingling of gnarled open-grown trees and shrubs like wild azalea, farkleberry and low-bush blueberry. The shaded north-facing slopes and protected coves support stands of American beech, tuliptree and sugar maple, or red oak, tuliptree and sweetgum. A rich understory of shrubs, including pawpaw, buckeyes, bladdernut and hornbeam, exists in moister sites. In stream valleys, a canopy of American elm, sweetgum, tuliptree, sycamore and sugar maple over a shrub layer of redbud, deciduous holly and spicebush, and thickets of wild cane occur. The wildflower flora of the Forest's lower slopes and valleys is lush and diverse. On a walk in the spring, a visitor can see many of the woodland wildflowers native to southern Illinois. In all, 620 species of flowering plants, ferns and fern allies are reported to occur at the State Forest.
Trail of Tears State Forest provides excellent habitat for breeding forest species including Broad-winged Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Mississippi Kite, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Wild Turkey, Barred Owl, Eastern Screech-Owl, Whip-poor-will, Chuck-will's-widow, Fish Crow, Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and 15 species of warblers including Hooded, Cerulean, Black-and-white, Yellow-throated, Pine and Blue-winged along with Yellow-breasted Chat, Ovenbird and American Redstart.
Trail of Tears contains exceptionally large populations of these forest-interior dependent birds: Acadian Flycatcher, Worm-eating Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush and Scarlet and Summer Tanagers.
Also nesting within the State Forest are Wood Thrush; White-eyed, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos; and Baltimore and Orchard Orioles.
Large numbers of neotropical migrants and other species use Trail of Tears for shelter and food in fall and spring.
This site was chosen as an IBA because it met the criteria for breeding Kentucky Warbler and Worm-eating Warbler.
Trail of Tears State Forest consists of gravel streams surrounded by steep terrain. Hills are composed of chert and covered with loess. The ridges are narrow, rocky and dry, whilte the soils below are shallow and susceptible to erosion.