Little Grand Canyon
Little Grand Canyon is a popular day hiking loop trail located on the western side of the Shawnee National Forest near Carbondale, Illinois.
This is a full loop hike of about 3.5-miles total. The best way to hike the loop is to start by the restroom and go clockwise.
Your total elevation gain will be under 500 feet, but some pretty steep hills coming back up will tire you out. It’s safe for the most part, but it’s hilly.
While Little Grand Canyon is relatively safe, accidents have happened there. Part of the actual trail is a waterfall cascade, so it can be very slick when wet or during wintry conditions. It would help if you put safety first and always let someone know where you’re going before you go.
How to get to Little Grand Canyon in the Shawnee National Forest?
Check out this Google Map for the Best Directions to get to Little Grand Canyon from Interstate 57 near Anna, Illinois.
All the roads that lead to this trail are paved. However, some back roads are not as treated as others during wintry conditions.
Please drive carefully on the back roads as people live on them, and many times, their pets are often loose. The back roads of southern Illinois also have their fair share of deer, and they often run out in front of your vehicle, which is another reason to drive carefully.
There is signage along the back roads that will show you the way to the trail, but you should print out directions or use a GPS map to be sure.
Driving to this trail is relatively easy. Ensure you get gas in Anna, Carbondale, or Murphysboro (pending which way you come in) before arriving at the trail, as there are no nearby gas stations.
What will you see on the Little Grand Canyon Trail?
This trail offers many unforgettable views that you won’t find anywhere else in the Shawnee National Forest.
First of all, you’re walking up and down a waterfall cascade. Over time, steps and handgrip depressions have been carved into it to make it easier and safer for you to do it. However, you rely mainly on nature to be able to get down these cascades. This is especially true when it is wet and a lot slicker than if it was dry.
Some people fall. Some have to be rescued. This trail isn’t for everyone, but I’ve seen all sorts of users successfully enjoy this trail, from toddlers to senior citizens and everyone in between.
If you go in by the restrooms (clockwise), the first mile will be rolling hills on a well-used path. You’ll eventually reach Chalk Bluff Overlook before switch-backing down into the canyon. The overlook is beautiful, and you can see the Big Muddy River bottoms very far out.
There is a user-made trail past the overlook fence that people rope climb down at times. I don’t think it’s allowed, but they do it anyway. I don’t recommend violating the rules. But if you do go down the path to get a better look – be very careful. I’ve slid down it and almost fell, and you likely not survive a fall from that height.
If you check out my photos and videos linked before, you can see the best views of Little Grand Canyon.
After you start going down the switch-back past the overlook, you’ll start getting into the cascade portion of the trail. This is where you need to use your best judgment on where you will take your next step. It looks slicker than it is, but it is still very slippery. There are carved out steps and areas where you can tell people walk to get down it.
Be careful on the roots, too. Those can be pretty slick, especially when they’re wet. I try to use them cautiously as a grip to get down and then use the grassy areas by the rock to get some grip.
This is not a good trail choice for young children who like to run away from their parents or loose pets. People have fallen at this section, and sometimes they have to be rescued due to their sustained injuries. It will help if you put safety first along this trail.
Once you reach the bottom, follow the trail to see amazing views of the bluffage. Depending on river flooding, you might have to bushwhack to get around the floodwater. If the flooding is terrible, the bottom of this area will be completely inaccessible on foot.
Continue hiking to see more bluffage, waterfalls, fantastic rock formations, scenic creeks, natural windows, strange holes in the rock, and finally, the following cascade you take to go back up.
In my opinion, going up is more accessible than going down. Just make sure you move slowly, give yourself plenty of time, and put safety above all else. Do those things, and you’ll be fine!
Once you get past the cascade going up, the rolling hills start. It’s challenging, and even I have to stop and take a few breaths now and then. This is the part that is the proper exercise of the trail, in my opinion.
Once at the top, enjoy picnic tables and grills. Please use the trash cans to discard waste. There is a vault toilet as well. Check out the old foundation of the fire tower that used to be at this spot. Imagine what that view would have been like!
Are there safety concerns at Little Grand Canyon in the Shawnee National Forest?
Like with any trail in nature, safety concerns are present in this area. However, common sense and putting your safety before anything else is a definite way to avoid hazards.
Little Grand Canyon has dangerous areas within it. There are slick portions throughout the trail. There are high cliffs that will be deadly if you fall from them. People have fallen, and some have died from their injuries, while others had to be rescued. There is a deep river nearby. Watching each step, you take will help you avoid any issues with these safety hazards.
This trail is right next to the Big Muddy River. Due to that, biting flies and mosquitoes tend to be thicker in this area than on other trails throughout the Shawnee National Forest. There are also ticks present. Be sure to use plenty of bug spray and reapply when necessary. Venomous snakes occur in this area, including cottonmouth, copperhead, and timber rattlesnakes. Keep in mind that it is illegal to harm or handle any snakes on National Forest land. There are always friends of snakes there watching for that kind of misconduct.
Because you’re so close to the Big Muddy River, be careful because the Big Muddy Monster is said to have been spotted in that area!
Bring plenty of water and snacks. Dress appropriately and wear sturdy boots that you can get wet. Bring a basic first-aid kit and a flashlight if you need these items. Try not to hike alone. Check out the Southern Illinois Hiking & Outdoor Recreation Facebook Group to find local hiking buddies and groups. Always tell someone where you’re going before going out on a hiking adventure.
And like I’ve said a million times before, always put your safety before anything else. Leave the Shawnee National Forest with Good Memories, Not Bad Injuries.
For any emergency that requires first responders – call 911!
Other Trails, Restaurants, Lodging, Shopping, and Sightseeing Nearby!
There are a lot of great other hiking gems and local businesses around Little Grand Canyon to make your experience even better than you imagined!
For other hiking options, check out LaRue Pine Hills if you like reptiles, snakes, or birding activities. Snake Road closes two times a year to allow snakes to migrate across the road, and foot traffic is welcome. Inspiration Point provides a beautiful overlook of the Big Muddy and Mississippi River bottoms of southern Illinois. The nearby Pomona Natural Bridge is great for shorter hikes and fun for the whole family. Check out Cove Hollow at Cedar Lake when it’s wet for incredible waterfall chasing in the area.
The closest restaurant to this trail is Mase’s Place which offers appetizers, sandwiches, salads, seafood, burgers, and more. This is a very highly recommended dining option in this area. Pomona Winery and Hickory Ridge Winery are nearby for those looking to enjoy the Southern Illinois Wine Trail. For breweries, check out Von Jakob near Alto Pass. Bun Makers has some delicious breakfast options, and of course, 17th Street BBQ helped put Murphysboro on the map for being the BBQ capital of Illinois. Head over to Carbondale for even more options for various types of ethnic cuisine.
There are all sorts of great lodging opportunities in this area as well. For comfortable cabin experiences, check out the Little Red Shed, Tomcat Hill Cabins, and Cornerstone Cabins. For Airbnb-type adventures, head over to Alto Pass and stay at the Havisham House or the Alto Wine Trail Loft. There is also plenty of camping in this area, including Pine Hills Campground and Trail of Tears State Forest Campground. Head over to Turkey Bayou to camp for free if you can snag a spot, and the river isn’t flooded as it sits right next to the Big Muddy River.
There are great places around Little Grand Canyon for other sightseeing and local shopping opportunities to enjoy! Check out Hunziker’s Hickory Ridge Greenhouse for fantastic flora and veggie plants. Rendleman Orchard in Alto Pass has an incredible general store with locally made fruit, veggie, and other food products. There is a lot to do at their Orchard and fun stuff for kids. Check out Cliff View Park while in Alto Pass and see if you can spot the cross. If you can’t, why not just head on over to the Bald Knob Cross of Peace and see it yourself. Head into Carbondale for even more great shops and all your other needs.
Watch the videos for this trail!
Below is a recent video that we filmed while enjoying this area.
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Founder, Hiking with Shawn
Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. I hope you enjoy my website and I encourage you to interact with me!