A Little Time and a Keyboard: Standing On Top of the World at the Little Grand Canyon in Illinois

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Standing On Top of the World at the Little Grand Canyon in Illinois

 Standing On Top of the World at the Little Grand Canyon in Illinois
Admiring Bluffs and The Big Muddy River Hiking the Little Grand Canyon Trail in Shawnee National Forest in Illinois

Shawnee National Forest presents a natural cornucopia inviting visitors to explore a range of nature adventures. During our recent hiking trip to Shawnee National Forest, the view from the Little Grand Canyon really stood out. 

Breathtaking view of ancient bluffs and the Big Muddy from Little Grand Canyon Trail in Shawnee National Forest.
Breathtaking view of ancient bluffs and the Big Muddy from Little Grand Canyon Trail.

The Little Grand Canyon Trail features sections both up on top of the bluffs as well as down to the canyon floor. In the spring, flooding may be encountered on trails throughout Illinois. So, we were not too shocked to learn that the Little Grand Canyon Trail was flooded out within the canyon as the Big Muddy River overflowed its banks. Since we could still hike to the overlooks, we decided to do that and enjoyed a nice hike over rolling and even steep in a few spots terrain.

Steep ravines invite curiosity at the Little Grand Canyon.
Steep ravines invite curiosity at the Little Grand Canyon.

Throughout the hike, we peered down into the ravines on either side of the trail. Hiking in late March, we found the forest floor still papered with dry, brown leaves. However, woodland wildflowers began emerging! On this particular hike we noted plenty of spring beauties, bloodroot and tooth wort.

Bloodroot emerges from the awakening forest floor at the Little Grand Canyon in Illinois
Bloodroot emerges from the awakening forest floor.

Our nature adventure also delighted us with interesting natural art crafted by vines! Hiking when the trees are devoid of leaves reveals so many interesting forest elements. The particular vine below appeared almost as a wacky jump rope!

A forest without trees reveals interesting vine shapes like this "jump rope."
A forest without trees reveals interesting vine shapes like this "jump rope."

Song birds, woodpeckers and even hawks added sound to our hike! Eventually, we could see the Big Muddy peeking through. A couple of overlooks offer fantastic views. 

The Big Muddy emerges in the distance.
The Big Muddy emerges in the distance.

Basking in the Views

Approximately 320 million years ago, the area was covered by a sea. This sea would eventually retreat to the Gulf Mexico. At the overlooks, I enjoyed imagining what I would see with an entire sea in front of me! Rivers flowing into the sea dropped sediment. Under the weight and pressure of the sand that has been deposited over centuries, the sandstone we see today was formed. 

Missouri and the Mississippi River popping into the scene in the distance from an overlook at the Little Grand Canyon.
Missouri and the Mississippi River popping into the scene in the distance.

On particularly clear days, you may be able to see the hills of Missouri. The Big Muddy flows into the Mississippi River which would be between the hills and the preserve. We could see the hills during our visit and make out a bit of the Mississippi River! The valley between us and Missouri was actually carved by the Mississippi! Amazing!

Basking in the view and beautiful day at Little Grand Canyon.
Basking in the view and beautiful day at Little Grand Canyon.

Although we could not hike into the canyon, we still enjoyed our hike at the Little Grand Canyon. Little Grand Canyon is known for its carpet of wildflowers in spring, so spring is a great time to visit if there isn't too much flooding. In the fall, it is noted for its fall colors. Additionally, climbing in and through the canyon provides unique perspectives, a challenging hike and an opportunity to experience a bottomland forest. Little Grand Canyon truly is a natural wonder and rightly earns its designation of a National Natural Landmark.



Standing On Top of the World at the Little Grand Canyon in Illinois


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