Bulge Hole Waterfall Trail…

There isn’t enough space on this blog post to write everything I could about the Bulge Hole Waterfall Trail, even if I tried my best. The trail is absolutely amazing, unlike any other waterfall location I have been to in the Shawnee National Forest and southern Illinois combined. I literally stumbled into waterfall after waterfall, all with a couple of hours of hiking this Forest Service ecological area. I’m sure I saw at least 12 to 15 different waterfalls in a single day. That is a lot of waterfalls!

Join me in this blog post to learn more about the Bulge Hole Waterfall Trail and how to check the place out yourself!

Directions to the Bulge Hole Waterfall Trail

Look at the map to the right to see where the trail is located. Click here for directions to Bulge Hole from Marion, Illinois. Click here for directions to Bulge Hole from Saint Louis, Missouri. Click here for directions to Bulge Hole from Nashville, Tennessee. Once you get to the trail, there will be an old horse ranch/camp looking area to the east and the forest to the west. The trail is on the west side in the forest. It may have a few Shawnee National Forest boundary signs but no official trailhead sign is present. Walk the trail about an eighth of a mile passing the power-line right-a-way until you get to the Bulge Hole EA sign on your right. Continue past it about 20 feet until you see a trail to your right passed the creek. Take that trail. Try to keep the creek in sight at all times to your right even if you have to follow it off trail. When wet, you’ll hear and see the waterfall with the huge cave shelter attached to it. Edge the bluff until you find a safe way down. Continue to explore on the bottom of the ravine by following the creek. When the creek makes a T, go left (west) and follow the creek up to another large waterfall. Go to the left of that waterfall and follow the bluff line until you can safely climb up it. Then bushwhack straight through the forest until you get on the forest road and take a left. You’ll eventually pass old settlement to your right and connect with a forest road at the end of it, turn left and it will take you back to the road where you parked.

Bulge Hole Ecological Area

Bulge Hole Ecological Area

Shawnee National Forest

Dutchman Lake Area

My Journey into the Bulge Hole Waterfall Paradise

It started on a Saturday morning waking up to the warning siren tone I have set as my alarm on my iPhone. I woke up hearing the rain hitting the roof above my house. Rain… Yay, I thought to myself. My first day off after a long week of working and it’s pouring outside. I got out of bed and looked out the window to confirm that it was indeed raining and everything was starting to pond up on the roadways and ditches.

Right when I thought my plans to go hiking were washed away, I remembered something unique about southern Illinois – WE HAVE A LOT OF WATERFALLS! Now I’ve known of Bulge Hole to exist but kept forgetting about it. I don’t always make my way near the Dutchman Lake side of the forest so I tend to forget all about it. But the night before, an active fan of Hiking with Shawn and friend, Ancient Stone had told me on Facebook Messenger about a spot near Dutchman Lake with nice waterfalls. So the rain made me remember Bulge Hole and then my plans were set for that day’s hiking trip at that point!

So I got motivated, grabbed my filming equipment and day pack and set out to get to Bulge Hole as quickly as I could while being a safe driver of course! I stopped by Grassy General Store to get some beef jerky. That is one of my favorite stores to visit. It is near Lake of Egypt/Goreville and this is not a sponsored ad to them, haha. Then I stopped by the Dollar Store in Goreville to buy a cheapo rainsuit (which I never wore the entire hike) and head to the trail after that point.

Upon arriving at Bulge Hole, I parked on the side of the road and began hiking the trail. I quickly learned that the trail was very wet and soggy so I returned to the truck to get my waterproof socks. They really made a difference, folks. It was extremely wet out there – more on that throughout this blog post.

Walking down the trail, based on the instructions given by James Baughn from the Southest Missourian blog, I made my way to the power line cut-out area in the middle of the forest. I headed north underneath the cut-out. For the most part, I stayed on that path but the massive amount of sticker bush made me wonder into the forest to my east to escape the thorns going into my legs. Don’t wear shorts out there, you will regret it. I wore pants and it still hurt! While bushwhacking through the trees, I started hearing the water and knew I was either coming up to a creek or a waterfall. It turned out to be a series of waterfalls, a few smaller ones feeding into a few larger ones which eventually fed into a much larger one.

The area was so perfect that I noticed I had a small amount of cellphone signal on my phone, so I did a live stream which you can check out below! 🙂

And during the live stream above, Ancient Stone mentioned a cave below a waterfall. I figured it was below the waterfall system I was currently one. Folks, I figured that waterfall system was Bulge Hole and the only waterfall out there. Boy, was I wrong! In hopes to find the save, I eventually went off trail and started to explore the area by bushwhacking, something I don’t often do. I need to do it more now apparently because that is how you find the really unique things. DisclaimerDon’t attempt to go off trail if you are not equipped with tools to easily find your way back. You can get lost in the Shawnee and due to lack of cellphone signal in most areas and hazards present, it could turn out bad for you. I am not advocating getting off trail with this blog. Upon bushwhacking, I found more waterfalls but I was at the top of them all and I couldn’t find a safe way down. So I kept going north, crossing a creek and finally making my way to a fenced up property line but I heard more water, found a creek and followed it to a massive waterfall. I had to get down to these falls and check them out, I just had to.

So I went back towards the way I came and found a ledge with a fairly high drop but not too high for a jump down. Filled with excitement and joy, I made the jump knowing that it was too high to climb back up. But I didn’t care at that point. During finding this ledge, I went through so many briers that I was all scratched up in the end. I went through some pain to get this footage for you folks, LOL, subscribe if you haven’t today to help show me some support for it, haha.

After making the jump, I made my way down to all of the falls. It was breathtaking and magical each moment. I was so in awe and amazed that I felt like a little kid again at one point, you know when you were young and finding new things that really made you shocked with joy? That was me on the Bulge Hole Waterfall Trail.

Enjoy some of the sights I had below with some photos I took of the area…

You can see more photos of my Bulge Hole Waterfall Trail experience by following Hiking with Shawn on Instagram! To follow me on Instagram to see exclusive photos and videos, click here now!

So after checking out a huge waterfall a bit north of the first system of falls I did the live stream at, I went towards the fall at the edge of the very northern end of the property line. I had to cross a creek a few different times to make it to the bottom of the fall. Waterproof shoes, boots and/or socks come in handy out there. When I finally made it, I was quite happy with my choices. It had a nice natural shelter under it which I what I figured Ancient Stone had meant by a cave. After taking some photos and footage for the videos, I decided to head back for the truck to get home and start editing the fun I had on that day.

I knew I wasn’t going to climb back out of the area I had jumped down into so I decided to cross the creek again and stay on the west side of it to hopefully find a spot to get back above waterfall level, LOL. I bushwhacked until a found a trail and decided to take it. It zig zagged around the creek and made me cross it again and again, several times.

Then something amazing happened…

I found yet another waterfall but this time the natural shelter around it was so big and deep that it resembled a cave which I now know is what Ancient Stone was telling me about. It was so awesome folks, there was fog everywhere and it made the place even more magical that what it was before. It was an experience that I feel made me appreciate the Shawnee National Forest and the Great Outdoors more so than I did before that.

After enjoying the place for quite a while, I decided it was time to go, as depressing as it sounded. I climbed up some bluffage (small bluffage, nothing too dangerous) to the west of the huge shelter and remained on that side of the creek. I bushwhacked for about a fifth of a mile, probably. Finally I found a point in the creek that was above the falls and very easy to cross. Small waterfalls were popping up everywhere, too! I crossed the creek and bushwhacked my way back out into the area of the power line cut-out and eventually back to my truck.

Overall, it was one of the best hiking experiences I have ever had. If you live near or plan to visit, BULGE HOLE must be on your list of places to visit! Jackson Falls, Burden Falls, Ferne Clyffe, Giant City – all places with awesome waterfalls but they can’t beat Bulge Hole, not even by a long shot, folks! Bulge Hole takes the throne and crown for waterfall capital of southern Illinois by far!

Check Out my Video Series on the Bulge Hole Waterfall Trail

Bulge Hole – Episode #1

Bulge Hole – Episode #2

Tips for the Trail!

Hiker Tips:

  • Don’t wear shorts unless you have those pants that zip off into shorts. Bulge Hole is infested with sticker bush and briers. It’s everywhere! If I went back, I’d wear those convertible pants that zip off into shorts so that I can protect my legs but also cross the creek in shorts-mode.
  • Bring plenty of water and something to eat. There is some hills, climbing and rough hiking terrine. Stay hydrated and bring a nice protein-filled snack to stay healthy and strong on the trail.
  • Be careful! When wet, everything is slick! Wear appropriate shoes and cleats if going out when ice and snow if present. Always tell someone where you are going before you do go in case you don’t come back.
  • Cell phone signal is very spotty out there.
  • Stay to the west of the creek that runs south and north to get to the bottom of the falls or stay to the east of the creek to remain on top of the falls.
  • Take pictures and share them on The Shawnee National Forest facebook group. We love seeing them!!!
  • And most of all, have fun!

Area Facts:

  • Bulge Hole is a Forest Service managed Ecological Area which is the equivalent of a state-managed Natural Area. Therefore, only hiking is allowed. No camping. No equestrian usage. No bikes. No fires. Hike only and be sure to tread lightly to help protect the area and keep it very natural and beautiful!
  • Bulge Hole is managed by the Shawnee National Forest on the Hidden Springs Ranger District side. The Ranger Station is located in Vienna, Illinois and the Forest Headquarters is located in Harrisburg, Illinois.
  • The nearest hospital from Bulge Hole is located 26 miles away in Anna, Illinois.

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Shawn J. Gossman

Shawn J. Gossman


Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.

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