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.
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.
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.