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Places We Protect

The Cache River Wetlands


Grassy Slough in the Cache River wetlands.
Grassy Slough TNC has worked with partners to protect the lands and waters of the Cache River. © Tharran Hobson/The Nature Conservancy

The wetlands here have been designated as a “Wetland of International Importance.”



Why You Should Visit

Throughout the Cache River Wetlands, in what is now more than 45,000 acres of protected land, cypress and tupelo swamps can be found, seeming to belong more to Louisiana than Illinois. Cypress trees that are more than a thousand years old raise their gnarled branches above the black waters here. The lower stretch of the river spreads out over the flat terrain of extreme southern Illinois and creates what early surveyors to the region described as "a drowned land."

Because of their rich biological variety, the wetlands of the Cache River have been designated a "Wetland of International Importance." This designation from the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ranks the Cache River Wetlands with other important wetlands, such as the Florida Everglades.

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site

The thick, lush vegetation of the hardwood forests and swamps in the Cache watershed were once home to many large mammal species that are no longer found in the region. Forest loss in the watershed due to logging and agriculture, especially along the lower stretch of the Cache, has been extensive.

Efforts to dry out the region have resulted in modifications to the Cache that have severely affected its natural flow. This has degraded the river and associated cypress and shrub swamps. Water quality of the river has suffered greatly, due in part to soil erosion from cleared land in the watershed. Up to 150 tons of soil per acre is washed into the river and wetlands each year.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing

The Nature Conservancy is part of the Cache River Joint Venture Program (JVP), a unique public-private partnership between the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited and the Conservancy. Through this partnership, nearly 35,000 acres of the Cache River Wetlands are in conservation ownership, despite changes to the river, deforestation and decades of wetlands loss. Additionally, local landowners have protected 13,500 acres of restored wetlands through NRCS’ Wetland Reserve Program. Also through NRCS, landowners are using a variety of conservation practices, such as no-till conservation tillage, grassed waterways and reforestation; many of these practices are through NRCS' Environmental Quality Incentives and Wildlife Habitat Programs. In all, more than 45,000 acres of private lands are using some sort of NRCS conservation program in the Cache River Watershed.

TNC is highly invested in the Cache River and owns natural areas in the Cache River State Natural Area and Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Our team is working in the region to create and enhance conservation partnerships, develop conservation practices and outcomes, and engage the local community. In addition, our five-person Southern Illinois Strike team conducts highly important stewardship activities on state and federal lands, including invasive species management, reforestation and prescribed burns. The Strike team works across 11 southern counties. In 2017 alone, this collaborative team treated and burned overmore than 14,000 acres.



Observe cypress and tupelo swamps on your visit to the Cache.


Southern Illinois near Cypress

Map with marker: The Cache River Wetlands are located in southern Illinois.

Explore our work in this region

What to See: Plants

Bottomland hardwood forests are dominated by overcup oak, pin oak, cherrybark oak and sweetgum that give way to red oak, white oak and shagbark hickory trees. Barrens occur on the highest ridge tops where soils are thin and bedrock is exposed. These sites are dominated by small post oak and blackjack oak trees, scattered about open expanses of land that are dominated by grasses and forbs more commonly encountered on dry prairies. Cypress and tupelo trees and thickets of buttonbush occur in areas of shallow water.

What to See: Wildlife

Restored wetlands attract a myriad of bird species, including migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, bald eagles, great blue herons and great egrets. Bird-voiced tree frogs, southern leopard frogs, spring peepers, western chorus frogs, bullfrogs and American toads are among the more vocal of the area's amphibian inhabitants. Mammals you can spot include white-tailed deer, squirrels, raccoons, beavers, gray foxes, red foxes, opossums, skunks and mink.

Begin your adventure at the Cache River Wetlands Center, which is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm. The Wetlands Center is located at 8885 State Route 37, Cypress, IL, 62923.

Next, visit the Jean Campbell Farwell Memorial Overlook, which TNC maintains, located on the blacktop between Karnak and Belknap. Enjoy the boardwalks at Heron Pond and Section 8 Woods, and bike along the historic Tunnel Hill Trail.

One of the best ways to see the Cache River is by canoe or kayak. The Cache River Joint Venture Partnership and the Friends of the Cache River Watershed offer canoe trips along the Cache, as well as various educational workshops about the flora and fauna of the area. Check out the Friends’ web site for an updated list of activities.


The Conservancy suggests wearing long pants, sturdy shoes and sun protection. Don't forget insect repellent and water, too!

Volunteer Opportunities

Please contact Tharran Hobson at for volunteer opportunities at the Cache River Wetlands.