Lindsay + Tim Stockhecke
One of the most advanced hikes we take as a family, Little Grand Canyon was admittedly intimidating the first time we did this trail a few years back. With that being said many of my fears were dispelled that first time and we have since found this to be our favorite hike in Southern Illinois.
While I am going to kick the heavy lifting to some of the local outdoorsmen here Hiking With Shawn in this post I have broken down the key tips and tricks I wish I would have known before our first visit.
1. Preparing for your hike
Everyone has different hiking styles so I will just include some of our must-haves for this specific trail. The forest is so full and lush in this area and due to the proximity to the Big Muddy River it gets exceptionally humid, ie lots of bugs. There are a variety of ways to combat this, we opt for bug spray and immediate tic checks following our visit. Additionally, the temperature can be significantly cooler or warmer (depending on when you visit) once you get into the canyon so check the weather and dress for a temperature change. Water and snacks are a must especially if your kids are anything like ours. They want snacks, always so a backpack to carry said water, snacks, bug spray, keys, camera, etc is recommended. If visiting with kids it’s a great idea to review some of the rules and expectations of this (and any) hike at a national park.
2. Where to begin + what to expect
Depending on what you are reading this trail is approximately 3-3.5 miles round trip and takes around 3 hours to complete. Generally being self-described ‘nature walkers’ versus actual hikers this duration is around maximum capacity for our family and the age of our kids (years 13, 10, 8). Upon arrival in the parking lot there are two trail-heads, with either being an acceptable place to start as they each take you down and around the same route. We love starting with the trail to the left because after only a fairly easy gravel walk (minimal incline) through the woods you make it to the lookout with an epic view of the Mississipi, Big Muddy River and Swallow Rock. It is truly spectatular and accessible to those who may not be able to make the trek down into the canyon.
3. Traversing the canyon
In order to get into the canyon you will have to scale a waterfall. No big deal, right? This part was where that previously mentioned intimidation came in. This is a rugged part of the trail with steps carved into the rocks over hundreds of years by water, nature and subsequently hand and foot holds by the Civilian Conservation Corps. You should expect this area to be slippery pretty much always, generally somewhat difficult and occasionally impassable. Going slowly and helping each other along the way (including other hikers) is a great way to safely enjoy this part of the trail. Slips, while not ideal, are not uncommon making us big fans of the sit and shimmy method. You will have a similar experience to get up and out of the canyon, scaling another cascading fall with stone steps.
4. In the canyon
It is hard to truly capture the beauty of Little Grand Canyon. With 100+ foot sandstone bluffs, waterfalls, creek beds, wildflowers, and a forest canopy, it truly is otherwordly. The trail is well-marked, easy to follow, and get back to if you explore off-trail. This part of the hike is generally flat and leisurely when accessible (as mentioned above, with heavy rainfall the bottom of the canyon does flood and become inaccessible).
5. Make it a day
Little Grand Canyon is located seventeen minutes south of Murphysboro Mainstreet and thirty-five minutes north of Anna, Illinois. While there are lots of great stops along this corridor some may not be ideal right before or after a long hike. Some suggestions include grabbing a coffee on your way down at Faye or Coldblooded Coffee and Roastery, snagging lunch at Mase’s Place with great patio dining, or swinging by Rendleman Orchards to enjoy their seasonal experiences.