Little Grand Canyon Illinois
Forget what you’ve heard about Illinois being nothing but flat prairie land. Tucked away along southern Illinois’ scenic Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, the Little Grand Canyon trail offers a 365 foot climb from the canyon floor and a panoramic view of the Big Muddy River and the Mississippi floodplain.
Hiking Little Grand Canyon Trail
The 2.9 mile Little Grand Canyon Trail, which can take 3-4 hours to complete, starts off as an easy-going asphalt/gravel path along Hickory Ridge, the southern lip of the canyon. The ground drops off sharply on either side of the trail, allowing visitors to peer down on the oak and hickory forest from above. Several benches along the path give park-goers the opportunity to relax and enjoy the scenery at leisure.
At the high-point of the asphalt walking path, a short, slightly overgrown side-trail is worth the effort, giving hikers a sweeping view of the Mississippi and Big Muddy rivers on the far western horizon, and the majestic white face of Swallow Rock to the north. Sunsets over the wooded landscape make for an excellent photo opportunity.
Head Down into the Canyon
At the end of the asphalt trail, visitors can choose to turn back toward the parking lot, while more intrepid adventurers will want to continue along the rugged trail down into the canyon itself. Hikers can get up-close and personal with the exposed sandstone walls of the canyon, which tower up to 100 feet overhead. Kids of all ages will delight in scrambling around the weathered ledges and grottoes that mark the descent into Little Grand Canyon. Keep an eye out for the local wildlife, too. The canyon is home to deer, turkeys and all kinds of birds including red-tail hawks.
Follow the white diamond trail markers to the open north end of the canyon and up a natural stone staircase carved out by water over hundreds of years. The steps can be very slippery when wet, so look for the chiseled hand- and foot-holds added by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. At the top of the stairs, the asphalt path returns and climbs steeply back up to the parking lot.
Some parts of the trail may be challenging for a casual visitor. The stunning views rarely found in Illinois make the trip to Little Grand Canyon well worth a visit
Parking, Picnic Tables & Bathrooms
The parking lot is gravel and usually finding a spot is not a problem. During the summer months on weekends and holidays parking is more difficult. Buses are not recommended and large RV’s may also have some difficulty maneuvering through the area.
There are a few areas surrounding the parking lot that have several picnic tables. There are no pavilions or shelters located at this Shawnee National Forest hike. A vaulted public bathroom (aka drop pot!) is available, but if you are not a fan of these types of restrooms you may want to take care of your business before arriving.
Can I Bring My Dog?
Of course you can bring your dog on this hike! The Little Grand Canyon trail is a dog friendly hike in the Shawnee National Forest. The Forest Service does require your dog to be leashed in activity areas such as this hike, campgrounds, picnic areas and on developed trails.
Little Grand Canyon Camping
The closest primitive camping near Little Grand Canyon is called Turkey Bayou Campground in Pomona, Illinois. They do offer water nearby and several developed sites for tents. There is also a small lake for fishing. While Turkey Bayou is about a mile away from Little Grand Canyon as the crow flies, driving is almost a 30 minute commute. Turkey Bayou’s address is 1 Oakwood Bottom Rd., Pomona, Illinois.
The nearest full service campground would be Devil’s Backbone Park in Grand Tower, Illinois
What do I need to know before hiking?
- The canyon is prone to flooding during heavy rain, so be sure to check the forecast before loading up the car.
- Unfavorable plants, such as poison ivy, are found in the area. Long pants and closed-toed shoes are recommended for hikers.
- Mosquitoes and ticks are in the area during warmer times of the year. So wear a hat as ticks may fall from trees, and bug spray is advised for peak summer season.