Spooky Hiking Trails

in the

Shawnee National Forest

Do you want to hike some spooky hiking trails in the Shawnee National Forest?

I’ve been all around the Shawnee National Forest. I’ve learned as much local history as possible. Learning local history, I’ve also learned about Shawnee’s paranormal and haunting legends.

Since it’s close to Halloween and maybe you’re in a spooky mood, I thought it would be perfect for telling you about some of these spooky hiking trails and how to get to them.

So, let’s jump into it, and let me show you five spooking hiking trails in the Shawnee National Forest.

Spooking Hiking Trails #1: Cave-in-Rock

Spooky Hiking Trails Cave in Rock

Did you know southern Illinois has a pirate past? It’s true! Being right on the Ohio River, we’ve had our fair share of river pirates back in the early days of the pioneer settlement of North America. This was in the 1700s!

The Cave-in-Rock was a base camp for pirates to ambush travelers and steal their goods. These pirates and bandits didn’t just steal. They murdered many travelers, too. The cave is home to quite a few murders. Imagine all the spirits roaming around that cave.

Other legends around Cave-in-Rock are just as grizzly, including the Legend of Pott’s Inn. The inn owner would lure guests into springing and bash them on the head to steal their things when they were busy looking at the spring. Legend has it that Pott’s son disguised himself to trick his father but was not quick enough to reveal himself. His father killed his son the same way he killed others.

Cave-in-Rock features a large natural cave shelter right along the Ohio River. Day-use hiking is allowed and may be done from Cave-in-Rock State Park.

Spooking Hiking Trail #2: Max Creek Vortex

Max Creek Vortex

Max Creek might be one of the best spooking hiking trails in the Shawnee National Forest. This trail features a legend of a vortex and even a murderous past that is said to haunt the area still.

Early legends describe the wife of an early settler going insane and killing her husband and children. Glowing orbs of light have been allegedly sighted in the forest near the creek at night. These lights are said to be restless ghosts of the murdered family.

The first time I visited Max Creek, I didn’t see any spirits. I did encounter an extreme temperature change, a pressure drop, and a few different encounters with wildlife acting strange. This is often described as an element of the Max Creek Vortex. I have no real explanation for what happened to me out at Max Creek.

Max Creek Vortex can be accessed from the Max Creek Trailhead. This is a difficult part of the Shawnee National Forest used by hikers and horseback riders. Please yield to horseback riders when you encounter them.

Spooking Hiking Trail #3: Little Grand Canyon

Spooky Hiking Trail LGC

Have you ever heard of the Big Muddy Monster legend? I know I have! I grew up in a Big, Muddy River town. As children, we were told about the Big Muddy Monster to keep us away from the river. The river may not be as broad and deep as the Mississippi, but it can still quickly overtake a child. And Little Grand Canyon is right on the Big Muddy River.

It was around midnight in 1973 when young residents of Murphysboro (the town closest to Little Grand Canyon) observed a mud-slathered, hairy monstrous beast while they were “parking” near the river. Further encounters with the monster occurred after that, and the police investigated the reports.

Several Bigfoot investigators have been in southern Illinois and the Shawnee National Forest looking for the Big Muddy Monster. Nothing has ever been found. Does the creature exist? Or is it just a hoax or myth? The Shawnee around the Big Muddy is large and remote. It would be easy for something like that to go unnoticed.

Little Grand Canyon is a day-use hiking trail accessed from the Little Grand Canyon Trailhead. Please use caution on this trail, especially when it’s wet. People have fallen, been injured, and even died due to their injuries.

Spooking Hiking Trail #4: Millstone Bluff

Millstone Bluff

Would you not think of Millstone Bluff as a spooking hiking trail? The truth is, if you realize its history, Millstone Bluff can be pretty spooky.

Millstone Bluff is a short hiking trail located in Pope County, Illinois. This trail features a loop of some of the most visual Native American history within the entire Shawnee National Forest. There is a Stonefort, petroglyphs, a cemetery, dwelling sites, and a community center that Native Americans once used to live and thrive at.

The spooky part is the age of Native Americans that lived here. These were some of the first people in North America. These were from the Mississippian periods. Their relatives, later on, were forced from their homeland and marched along the Trail of Tears to reservations out west. Many of them died on that march. Imagine the spirits that could still be in this area.

This spooky hiking trail is a day-use area only. You can find it at the Millstone Bluff Trailhead. Please remain on the trail at all times and remember this is a designated archeological area meaning collecting and digging are prohibited by federal law.

Spooking Hiking Trail #5: Snake Road

Spooky Hiking Trail Snake Road

What do you think about a road where more than average snakes are seen crossing the road, in the bluff cracks, and hanging around the swamps? It sounds like a horror movie to some people! It’s a real place located in southernmost Illinois.

Snake Road is a protected ecological area of the Shawnee National Forest. The 2.5-mile gravel forest road is closed twice a year so that snakes can safely migrate across. Most visitors will see more snakes in a day on this road than in a year in any other part of the forest.

And it isn’t just garter snakes at Snake Road. There are also pit vipers which are the venomous snakes of Illinois. These include the cottonmouth, copperhead, and timber rattlesnake. A bite from one of these can result in a severe injury but will result in an expensive hospital bill. The good news is that no one has died from a snakebite in Illinois for over 200 years.

Snake Road can be accessed at two different trailheads. Please note that it is illegal to harm, harass, or collect any wildlife or anything within this area. Understand that snakes serve an ecological purpose in the environment and that many myths about them are false. Snakes are essential, and we should leave them be.


And there you have it! What spooky hiking trails of the Shawnee will you explore this Halloween season? While exploring these trails, remember to Leave No Trace and pack out what you pack in so everyone can enjoy the Shawnee National Forest.

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

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. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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