Explore Mighty Views and Rugged Terrain at Illinois’s Little Grand Canyon
Arizona is not the only state that can claim a Grand Canyon. Illinois has its own version. While nowhere near as large or as grand, this rugged area is still an amazing sight. Not designed for the beginner hiker, this rough and tumble trail requires you to literally scramble up and down a slick waterfall in and out of a steep ravine. However, the constant stunning views both from above and below the bluffs are well worth the effort.
Little Grand Canyon Trail
- Length: 3.6 miles round trip.
- Difficulty: 2 out of 5 to upper overlook only, 5 out of 5 for full loop in and out of canyon. This is one of the most rugged trails in the area. The trail climbs in and out a rock ravine with 350′ elevation change. Prone to flooding from nearby river. Check trail condition and weather reports before hiking. Proper footwear recommended. Extremely slick during or after a rain and still fairly slick even during dry times. May be too difficult for pets or young children. Watch carefully for snakes as this is the perfect habitat for them.
- Scenic Value: 5 out of 5. This is one the very best trails in the state. The scenery is outstanding.
The Little Grand Canyon trail may be hiked in either direction. The lower parking lot trailhead is the shortest route into the canyon. This route makes the way out of the ravine at the end more gradual and less steep. However, this route means the ravine going down is a little more difficult and steep and requires searching for hand holds carved in the rock. Route finding may be a little easier with this route, although new trail markers have been added to help stay on the trail. A short side trail to a slightly overgrown overlook is located a short ways down the trail from the lower parking area.
If you choose to hike the trail clockwise from the upper parking area, the trailhead begins behind the bathrooms. From here, the path is wide and a mix of gravel or asphalt. The trail makes almost a roller coaster route with constant but gentle up and down grades.
After about a mile, you will come to the main overlook. The view here is amazing. You can view the Big Muddy River as well as the Mississippi River floodplain. If you decide the overlook is all you want to see, this makes a nice turn around spot for a roughly 2 mile roundtrip hike.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can start your descent into the canyon. The trail starts off fairly easy at first as it descends the ridge.
After a few switchbacks, you will reach the start of the rock scramble down into the ravine. Use extreme caution to avoid slipping and watch for those white diamond signs to mark the trail route.
At times the trail looks almost impossible. However, the CCC carved steps into the rock to make the hike easier. Sometimes the steps are spaced a little far apart, so children will need assistance.
Continue to take your time climbing slowly and carefully down each section of rock.
Eventually, you will reach the canyon floor. Look all around the lush vegetation and towering bluffs. From here, the trail remains mostly easy as it weaves around the bluffs.
The trail will wind up at the base of the ravine again. Now it is time to climb back up.
The section shown below has some hand holds carved into the rock to help make your way around the to the right of the small drop off.
Once you make it back above the ravine, the trail becomes the wider gravel/paved path. It’s a steep climb from here back to the lot. This last section made me wish we had hiked the trail the other direction! It seems to be split on which way people consider the best way to hike the loop.
Additional things to know:
- A map and additional information about the area can be found HERE.
- This link provides a map to the trailhead.
- Vault toilets are located at the trailhead. Bring snacks and water, this is a more remote area.
- The parking area is not very large. Parking can be busier on weekends or holidays, but this trail is not as crowded as some of the easier or more well known hikes.
- Other trails in the area to check out include Pomona Natural Bridge and Quetil Pass. Rendleman Orchards is a beautiful spot for picking or purchasing fresh produce and other goodies.
- Always remember to pack out what you bring in and leave no trace.