Top 5 Waterfalls
Away From the Masses
in Southern Illinois
Waterfalls in southern Illinois are probably one of our better features of the Shawnee National Forest. But a lot of them can get pretty crowded on active days. Getting a good view or photo of Burden Falls, Jackson Falls, Big Rocky Hollow or even Hippy Hollow might prove to be an impossible task because people will likely be present, especially as more and more visitors are coming out of the woodwork But I wanted to share some of my favorite lessor known waterfalls exclusively with you all – my Patreons so that you can explore them too!
BUT FIRST – Safety FIRST! Waterfalls are dangerous. People die in the Shawnee every year while attempting to chase waterfalls. Please, please, and please put safety first before all else and leave the Shawnee with great memories not horrible injuries. Always watch your step, put safety first, try not to recreate alone and tell someone where you are going before you adventure!
Top 5 Waterfalls #1 – The Secret Waterfalls of Little Grand Canyon
(GPS Coordinates: 37.67388, -89.39821)
The secret waterfalls of Little Grand Canyon are located directly south of the main trail. They can be easily accessed but the trail to them isn’t maintained anymore or used as much. Do note that this area is rattlesnake and cottonmouth country so be sure to be on the lookout for our venomous friends. The waterfalls themselves are like the base of each of the main canyons of Little Grand Canyon, basically they are just like Little Grand Canyon but not a lot people are around. You can climb up them too but since they are not used as much, they will be way slicker than the normal ones. It was a chore for us to climb up them. There are some user-maintained trails, but you will likely bushwhack.
Using the coordinates above, start by parking at the main parking lot for Little Grand Canyon. Take the trail by the restroom. Shortly after passing the picnic table, look for the faint trail to your left. There will be some wood on the ground around it. That’s what you want to take. GPS or map is defiantly a must here.
Do keep in mind that if the river is flooded, you won’t be able to access these areas most likely. In the summer, don’t expect a trail at all.
This will be an all-day hike to see the good stuff. Rugged and probably around 5 to 8 miles.
Top 5 Waterfalls #2 – Packentuck Waterfalls on Shawnee Land
(GPS Coordinates: 37.53113, -88.73632)
There are several waterfalls in this area following the trail (to your east) when you park along the road by going to the coordinates above. While a GPS app and topography knowledge will greatly assist you with finding these waterfalls, simply staying on the trails will also get you to most of them. Stay on the left trail at the beginning and do the loop that way. All of the waterfalls, for the most part, are right on the main trails which are unmaintained horse trails.
Parking, like I said, is on the side of the road. There are no signs to indicate the trail – just a faint trail. Go down Packentuck slowly otherwise a known resident there will call the police and complain. It is important to be respectful of the folks who live there anyways, right?
Leaf down is going to be the best time to visit. These are on Shawnee land, but you do get close to Ondessonk land. Make sure you get permission from the camp if you get on their land. If the creek is high, it might be a big challenge though.
This will be an all-day hike to see the good stuff. Rugged and probably around 4 to 7 miles.
Top 5 Waterfalls #3 – Old Bell Smith Springs Trail Waterfall
(GPS Coordinates: 37.51404, -88.64938)
This waterfall features a really cool cave shelter beside it. It looks like a bushcrafter has been staying in it from time to time so be aware of that. This along a trail at Bell Smith Springs that is no longer maintained. A fan told us about it, and we’ve realized we’ve visited it before in the past as well. The trail features a really nice overlook, too! It is right across the way of the main big jumping spring that everyone goes to for swimming. You can either get across Bay Creek that way or go to Natural Bridge crossing, cross, and make your way back that way – topo apps needed for that method! The bluff directly across from the spring is the cool overlook and you can follow the base of the bluff (southeast) and it’ll get you to the waterfall which is located at the coordinates above.
This is really best to see during leaf off and when really wet. However, crossing Bay Creek might be a cold task. We recommend waterproof wardrobe or a change of wardrobe. In the winter, I carry an extra pair of running tights or compression shorts in my bag for this very thing. The apparel is extremely lightweight, so no big difference and I change into it, cross and get wet (it’s cold!) and then change out back into my dry apparel. That is my hack, my secret for you! Compression material also dries really quick verses swim trunks or other clothing. Cycling experience pays off, LOL.
This is a fairly rugged but shorter hike. Maybe 2 to 3 miles altogether at most. Getting across the creek will be the main challenge.
Top 5 Waterfalls #4 – Eagle and Eaglet Falls
(GPS Coordinates: 37.50872, -88.66526)
Eagle Falls is located in between Jackson Falls and Bell Smith Springs. Eaglet Falls is down the waterfall at the base of the creek from the main Eagle Falls. To get to Eagle Falls, coordinates above, park at Bell Smith and take the white trail to the jumping spring. Staying on the same side of the bluff of the jumping spring, simply follow that bluff like towards Jackson Falls. Stay on the bluff line – it is that simple. The white trail used to continue this way and you’ll notice it for a while but at some point, it will vanish. If you go when wet, you’ll notice smaller waterfalls and eventually get to the big one. Be careful on the big boulders that you’ll have to work around to get up to Eagle Falls. If you plan to go all the way to Jackson Falls, you’ll need a good property boundary map or app as there is private land you will need to skirt around.
This area is best seen when wet and during leaf off. In the summer, it will likely be extremely difficult to follow.
This will be a rugged, all-day hike of about 5 to 8 miles in total.
Top 5 Waterfalls #5 – Avery Hollow Waterfall
(GPS Coordinates: 37.40919, -88.59171)
The GPS coordinates above show the exact area you will need to go into in order to access this almost land locked chunk of Shawnee National Forest. I want to put out a warning though, landowners of the private property around it claim that there is no public access to this area, but topo suggests that there is a small window of access which is what we took. It is disputed and therefore may be problematic if you visit when landowners are there. I don’t advocate or purposely trespass and you might be better off asking a landowner for permission to enter their land to get to it. But there are some awesome waterfalls in this area that many people don’t get the chance to see.
A property boundary app with topo features will be required. If you don’t use one, you will likely trespass. There are some trails but most of them enter private property at some point.
The is a rugged hike, probably more rugged than other hikes listed on this article. Expect it to be an all-day event with 4 to 7 miles of hiking.
Top 5 Waterfalls BONUS WATERFALL: Giant City Shelter 1 Waterfall
(GPS Coordinates: 37.62652, -89.20376)
This waterfall is the easiest to get to of the waterfalls listed on this article. Park at Shelter #1 at Giant City State Park. Go to the base of the bluff where they climb and go left. You’ll get into the woods, follow the bluff line and it will take you to that waterfall. If it is really wet out, the trail will be flooded in spots and that means the waterfall should be awesome.
This is still somewhat rugged but maybe 2 to 3 miles of hiking if that.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. More to come for sure – thank you for being a Patreon of Hiking with Shawn!
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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.