Hiking with Shawn’s Trail Guide Series:
Secret Canyon Loop
During the summer, Michelle and I hiked the Secret Canyon Loop in the Shawnee National Forest within Lusk Creek Wilderness. There were so many horseback riders out that day that we didn’t film because of the amount. You would have seen more horses than the actual features of the canyon. So we decided to come back later when it was cooler and that turned out to be worth it in the end!
This version of the Secret Canyon Loop can be found on All Trails but we added more mileage by visiting Saltpeter Cave as well. You can find my hike on my Strava if you’d like!
Some facts about our hike for your information is that we hiked a total of 8.9 miles and that took us somewhere in the ballpark of 5 hours as we like to look around and take pictures! We gained a little over 1,050 foot of elevation so you can expect some good hills. There are some rugged and muddy spots, rocks and roots to step over and creeks to cross but for the most part, the trail is easy to follow all year long. Note: in the warmer months, venomous copperhead and timber rattlesnakes do occur here. If the creek is flooded, crossing it could be life threatening. Make sure you bring plenty of water and snacks with you if you decide to hike this area!
Directions and Stuff!
Driving from Massac County, we took Highway 145 north towards Harrisburg. Once we went through Eddyville, we turned right onto New Home Road (the second turn for New Home Road). Take New Home until you get to the gravel Stone Bottoms Road and turn left onto it.Go about a mile on this road and please take it easy as people live on this road. At coordinates 37.54363, -88.55923, you’ll find your parking area. It is an old home site called Frank’s Tract. Park by the concrete foundation (Foundation Rock) and give plenty of room for equine trailers to get in around you. Share the Trail and always yield to horses!
Aftering parking, cross the road (east) and head down Trail 481. At the Natural Bridge Crossing trailhead (signed), instead of crossing the creek, we went right and made our way to Saltpeter Cave crossing (signed) and made our way to the natural shelter. I recommend retracing your steps back to Natural Bridge Crossing if you decide to make this side trip. Once back on 481, cross the creek and head for the Natural Bridge. This is a cool feature of a particularly large natural bridge that you can crawl under to a hidden slot behind it. Take Trail 457 to eventually get to Secret Canyon (signed) and past it to get to the Stone Bottoms Road to get back to where you parked. The trails get tricky out here is why it is important to have a map or an app to help keep you on the right path. Great apps include Avenza, All Trails and OnXHunt Illinois.
What You’ll See!
We’ve already covered the Natural Bridge but there is plenty more to see. Saltpeter Cave is a great natural cave shelter feature and a few steps down the way is another shelter that almost has a golden ceiling. The views of Lusk Creek and all the smaller side creeks are amazing to see. Secret Canyon is the main feature of this loop and that includes some pretty impressive bluffage and really cool cave shelters. There are old home sites out there and even farming equipment that has been left behind. There are neat barren areas, wildflowers and orchids that are spectacular to witness. Lusk Creek Wilderness is vast and fairly large. The roadless wilderness area is great for all hikers, backpackers and equestrians to explore. But please remember to always share the trail and Recreate Responsibly at all times!
Tips for the Trail!
- Pack plenty of water and snacks.
- Never hike alone and pace yourselves.
- Always watch your next step and put safety first.
- If it is green and wet, it will be as slick as ice.
- Stay on the trail to avoid most hazards.
- Give horseback riders plenty of room and talk to them calmly.
- No bicycles, ATVs or motorized vehicles in the wilderness!
- Make sure you take a map or GPS/app to keep you on the trail.
Watch the videos for this trail!
Below are a series of videos we filmed while enjoying the Secret Canyon Loop with the addition of Saltpeter Cave!
One last thing!
Filming the videos, taking the photos, editing everything and writing this article takes time and it’s all provided for free. Consider making a small monthly contribution to Hiking with Shawn by becoming an official Patreon supporter on Hiking with Shawn! You can also support us by purchasing official merch from the Hiking with Shawn online store. Lastly, please share this article and our videos and follow us on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumbler for more free guides, videos, photos, contests and more!
Thanks for checking out this guide and please share it with others if you’d like to see more of them made!
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.