Hiking Little Grand Canyon

in the

Shawnee National Forest

Little Grand Canyon is a popular destination in the Shawnee National Forest where thousands of visitors hike on an annual basis during all seasons. Little Grand Canyon is a great hiking spot in southern Illinois but it is important that new users understand the trail before venturing down it. This guide was created to help you prepare for a positive hiking experience at Little Grand Canyon in the Shawnee National Forest.

What is the

Little Grand Canyon Trail?

Little Grand Canyon is a popular hiking trail located in the Mississippi Bluffs Ranger District of the Shawnee National Forest. The area is within Jackson County, south of Murphysboro, Illinois. Little Grand Canyon is what you call a box canyon where there are bluffs of three sides allowing visitors to access the base of the canyon from a mouth of the canyon. Visitors access the base of the canyon by utilizing a cascade of waterfalls that have been modified for use by hikers. Little Grand Canyon is direct east of the Big Muddy River and it often subject of flooding during wet seasons. The trail is a 3 mile loop that is often described as very rugged due to its rolling hills and requirement to climb down into the canyon and back up the canyon in order to complete the loop. Little Grand Canyon also offer a few different scenic overlooks for visitors. The Little Grand Canyon trail has been a popular spot for trail runners to visit.

(Left Photo: Little Grand Canyon Box Canyon.)

How do I get to

Little Grand Canyon?

To get to Little Grand Canyon, please click here for the Google Maps directions and input your starting point. The roads to Little Grand Canyon are all paved and easy to drive on. There are potholes and deer in the area, so please observe for those hazards. There is adequate parking available at the Little Grand Canyon Trailhead, picnic tables, grills and a vault toilet restroom facility. There is no potable water source so please bring drinking water with you. The three mile loop trail is well marked with white diamond blazes on trees as well as US Forest Service wooden signs. Please stay on the trail at all times as going off trail at Little Grand Canyon can be very dangerous.

Little Grand Canyon is a hiker only trail. Bicycles, motorized vehicles and horses are prohibited from using this trail.

Little Grand Canyon

Safety Information

While Little Grand Canyon is a unique trail that offers a very awesome area for its visitors, it can easily be described as a dangerous area with existing dangerous conditions. Due to its rocky conditions and close proximity of the Big Muddy River, during most seasons, various types of local venomous snakes may be present including the cottonmouth and even the timber rattlesnake. Hidden cracks, steep cliffs and rocky hazards exist off trail. Please stay on the trail to avoid many of these hidden hazards. In the wetter months, the upper trail may be the only portion that can be accessed as the lower trail is very prone to flooding from being so close to the Big Muddy River. Climbing down the waterfall cascade, whether wet or dry, is dangerous and fall hazards exist. There have been many injuries and some fatalities occur at Little Grand Canyon in the past – please be careful when climbing down into the box canyon as conditions often make it extremely unsafe. Ticks and mosquitoes are present in this area and due to the close proximity of the river, their numbers seem to be increased when comparing to other areas of the forest. It is advisable that you wear proper attire and use proper methods of deterring ticks and biting insects from targeting you. Little Grand Canyon may not be seen as a safe trail for children. Children should be accompanied by a responsible adult if visiting the area. The trail has a lot of rolling hills and steep grades – hydration is very important. Bring plenty of water with you and it is highly recommended that you bring a snack as well. Please pack out what you pack it and do not litter in the forest. This trail is a Designated Day Use Site meaning that it is only open from dawn to dusk and close after dark. There is no camping allowed on this trail.

When climbing up and/or down into and above the box canyon, it will require travel on bluffs and rocky conditions. In previous years, the Civilian Conservation Corp and other agencies have carved foot stairs into some of the waterfall cascades making climbing a little bit easier and safer. However, the area is still fairly dangerous especially when wet or frozen. I commonly look for roots, grass and dirt areas around the waterfall cascade to step at for grip. Don’t be afraid to get your butt wet because sometimes you are going to need to sit down in order to climb down safely without falling. It is highly recommended that you take it slow to avoid having an accident.

If the area is wet or frozen/snowy, expect the conditions to be extremely dangerous. Cell phone signal is often very limited in this area. Emergency service response time could be delayed by several hours.

What to wear and pack for

Little Grand Canyon?

Appropriate clothing for hiking is often suggested to be long pants, longer shirts, and a large brimmed hat, hiking socks and hiking boots. Longer clothing will protect you from snakes, insects, poison ivy and the elements that exist at Little Grand Canyon. However, not everyone chooses to wear this sort of hiking apparel during their hikes. Little Grand Canyon is often used as a fitness hike therefore wearing fitness/athletic apparel is often the choice of clothing for many hikers. Comfortable shoes or boots that do not slip are very important especially if the area is wet. Using insect repellent is highly advisable for this area as many ticks and mosquitoes will be present during most of the spring, summer and fall seasons.

It is advisable that you pack plenty of drinking water for your hike at Little Grand Canyon. There are no sources of potable water and creeks are often too dry to filter water from. Unfiltered water used for drinking is not recommended and such water may contain harmful contaminates if drank. You should also bring a snack to help replenish energy needed from the steep hills and climbs down and up the box canyon. Trekking poles are also recommended to help balance yourself for safety. Please bring a trash bag to store any trash that you might create in the process of your hike such as empty drinking bottles and food wrappers. Trash services are not available on the trail and it is important that you do not litter in the Shawnee National Forest or anywhere else for that matter. Do bring a camera because there will be plenty of things to photograph at Little Grand Canyon.

(Left Photo: Chalk Bluff Overlook Area.)

What do I do if I observe

suspicious activity at

Little Grand Canyon?

Please follow the instruction on the image below to report illegal and/or suspicious activities occurring at Little Grand Canyon or anywhere else within the Shawnee National Forest area. Activities to report include but are not limited to alcoholic beverage consumption, graffiti, harming or collection of any wildlife, use of motorized vehicles on the trails, use of bicycles or horses/mules on the trails, camping or campfires on the trails or other suspicious acts. Reporting such activities can help us keep the Shawnee National Forest safe for all users and potentially save lives. You can remain anonymous when making reports if you wish to do so.

What do I do if…

What do I do if I get bit by a snake at Little Grand Canyon? First and foremost, do not attempt to collect the snake. Assume the snake is a venomous snake. Quickly but calmly and safely start heading back to the trailhead. Call 911 if you have signal and tell them you are heading for the trailhead but follow their directions. The idea is to stay as calm as you can. Do not attempt to suck the venom out, this method has been proven to be ineffective and often causes more damage than the initial bite creates. If a snake bite victim asphyxiates, an Epi-Pen could save their life. How to avoid a snake bite: To avoid getting bit by a snake at Little Grand Canyon, remain on the trail for the entire hiking session. Most snakes will be off the trail. Look where you are stepping and if you see a snake, give plenty of room between you and the snake. The snake does not want to interact with you and it will not chase you. Safely move around the snake while also checking for others that might be in your path. Consider wearing boots and thicker long pants to mitigate a bite from impacting your skin.

What do I do if I fall or witness a fall at Little Grand Canyon? If you have fallen and are unable to get up and seek medical attention if needed, call 911 immediately if you are able to. Using a whistle or raising your voice, make audible attempts to catch the attention of others that might be in the area. Try not to move your neck or back as much as you can as an injury to those areas may have occurred. If you witness a fall, get a hold of emergency services as quickly as you can. Do not move the victim as doing so may cause further injuries that could be extremely significant. How to avoid falling: Stay on the trail and do not get really close to the edge of cliffs. If the trail is wet, the chance of falling will be increased. The areas that require climbing up and down that are rocky will be extremely slick when wet or frozen. Consider using a trekking pole to help balance yourself and take your time.

Do you want to help make

Little Grand Canyon better?

Before starting your hike at Little Grand Canyon, please pack a trash bag with you. While hiking the loop, if you observe trash in area, please pick it up. Helping to clean up trash from the trails at Little Grand Canyon and throughout other areas of the Shawnee National Forest is highly appreciated and needed. Together, we who care about the forest can make a difference and help the forest by cleaning up trash when we see it. And if you do clean up any trash, post a photo of it using hashtag #LoveMyShawnee on this Facebook page and I’ll feature it on the main feed. Everyone who is cleaning trash out of the forest should post and brag about it because it often encourages others to do the same.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article about hiking the Little Grand Canyon in the Shawnee National Forest. If you would like to help support my efforts of creating this article, you can do so by sharing it with others and especially on your favorite social media profiles. The more people see my articles, the more it will motivate me to continue writing them. You can also support Hiking with Shawn by considering to become a donator on my Patreon Page or purchasing some official Hiking with Shawn Merchandise from my online shop. If you haven’t done so already, please subscribe today to my Official YouTube Channel to see my latest and greatest videos. You might also consider following me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for unique content that will only be found on those social channels. Please feel free to comment on this article with more tips that you would like to give to folks wishing to visit and hike the Little Grand Canyon in the Shawnee National Forest. Thanks again for checking out this article and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

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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