Visitors Guide to the
Little Grand Canyon
Hickory Ridge Road
Jackson County, Illinois

Gravel Parking Picnic Facilities Interpretive Signage Hiking Trails Scenic View Wildlife Viewing Accessible Restrooms


The Little Grand Canyon National Natural Landmark is a small, but dramatic, part of the 280,000-acre Shawnee National Forest.  A small creek with a tiny watershed has carved an impressive box canyon, more than 200 feet deep, leading down to the Big Muddy River. The southern edge of a great ice sheet was just to the north of Little Grand Canyon. Blocks of ice slid off the face of the glacier, carried by enormous volumes of melt water, to carve this tiny canyon. Visitors to the Little Grand Canyon area will witness typical southern Illinois landscapes.  Rich oak and hickory forests tower above sycamore and beech trees.

The Little Grand Canyon area features a Loop Trail that is a challenging 3.6-mile hike that begins with a roller coaster like ridge descent to a scenic overlook.  Hikers can stop, enjoy the view, and return to the parking lot or continue into the canyon below. The trailhead is located (southwest) corner of the parking area, just to the right (west) of the outhouses.  Begin hiking southwest on the obvious, gravel and dirt trail.  Follow the trail as it traverses Viney Ridge through a thick forest of maple, oak, sassafras, beach, and tulip trees. Pass several wooden benches before reaching a large scenic overlook on Chalk Bluff at 1.0 mile.  Here you have a good view of the Big Muddy River to the west.

At this point, the trail curves to the right (southeast) and begins to gradually descend the ridge.  At 1.3 miles, the trail grows noticeable steeper and you enter the moss-covered, sandstone canyon.  In the deep shade of the canyon are relictual species of Arctic plants left over from its ancient origin. Carefully descend, alternating between following the trail and the natural drainage.  Look closely and you will notice that steps have been etched into the rock in several areas, a work project completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.  At 1.8 miles reach the bottom of the canyon and begin following the tail, now marked with white diamonds, to the east. Cross a small creek at 2.2 miles and continue east, passing tall bluffs.  At 2.5 miles, the trail curves to right (south) and into another slippery, sandstone drainage.  Follow the drainage, again using caution and looking for steps as you pass several seasonal waterfalls.  At the top of the drainage, turn left (east) and ascend the moderately steep trail back to the parking area.

  Bird Watching
The Little Grand Canyon area
is listed on the National Audubon Society's Great River Birding Trail. Birding is good during both spring and fall migrations for neo-tropical songbirds. The red-shouldered hawk and pileated woodpecker may be seen year around along with breeding neo-tropical songbirds.
  Visiting the Little Grand Canyon
          6 am - 10 pm

There is no charge to visit the Little Grand Canyon.
Directions: From Murphysboro, take IL-127 south 6 miles to Etherton Road. Take a right (west) approximately 6 1/2 miles. From this point follow directional signs.
  GPS Coordinates
37 40.828'
W 89 23.679'
  Learn more about the Jackson County area.  
  Little Grand Canyon
The official web page of the Little Grand Canyon provided by the U.S. Forest Service
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