The Shawnee National Forest of southern Illinois is one of our top areas to explore. There are endless hiking options for all abilities. One of our favorite hikes with kids in Shawnee is the Rim Rock National Recreation Trail. This moderate hike offers a rugged, yet kid friendly adventure with scenic views and stunning sandstone formations.
Rim Rock Hiking Trail
- Distance: 0.8 mile round trip for upper trail. 0.7 mile one one on lower trail.
- Difficulty: 2/5 for upper trail which has a paver surface. 3/5 on lower trail. It is short but more rugged with several sets of steps.
- Scenic Value: 5/5. Rugged rock formations, cave, and slot canyon.
Reaching the Trailhead
Rim Rock is located not far from the very popular Garden of the Gods Recreation Area. The turn off is located on Karbers Ridge Road, just southwest of Pounds Hollow Lake. Follow the road back to the parking area.
Hiking the Upper Rim Rock Trail
At the start of the hike, you will have three trail options. The left and middle path both lead to the upper trail. The left option has stairs and is more rugged. The middle trail is paved with flagstone pavers and wheelchair accessible with assistance.
This 0.8 mile loop offers some views from above, but the views are mostly obstructed with trees. You can also view interpretive panels and the remnants of a Native American rock wall approximately half way through the loop.
Near the halfway point, you will see a set of wooden stairs descending into a tall and narrow rock passage. The stairs have been closed for the past year for repairs. If they happen to be open, you can descend the steps to pass through the rocks before continuing down a set of stone steps to reach the lower Rim Rock Trail.
If the stairs are closed, you must retrace your steps to complete the upper loop. Once completing the upper loop, return to the three-way trail split. This time you will take the path to your far left (or the far right when approaching the trail from the parking area.)
Hiking the Lower Rim Rock Trail
The lower trail is definitely the more scenic of the two trails at Rim Rock. Starting from near the parking area, the trail heads to the right side of the rocky bluffs.
The path descends stone steps and then leads to a wooden boardwalk and more steps at the base of the bluffs. Kids will have fun climbing around on the rocks here.
The trail continues to wander through the woods while hugging the base of the bluffs. There are even a couple benches along the way in case you need a break.
Pounds Hollow Trail Junction
Keep an eye out for a trail split. A side trail will head off to the right along the creek. This trail leads to Pounds Hollow Lake, about 0.6 miles away. You will want to keep left to continue the lower Rim Rock Trail.
The lower trail passes by Ox-Lot Cave. This natural shelter cave was used by 19th century loggers to corral horses and oxen.
Just past Ox-Lot cave is a set of stone steps. Climb up the steps and turn left to head up more steps and pass through the rock passageway.
Take a deep breath and squeeze your way through the towering rocks. The multiple layers of rocks are quite impressive and my favorite part of the whole hike.
If the wooden stairs are open, you can climb up them to connect to the upper Rim Trail and take that route back to the parking area. If the stairs are closed, then you must retrace your steps back down the stone stairs and back the way you came around the lower loop to the parking area.
Things to Know Before You Go
- There is a vault toilet and picnic area at the parking lot.
- You can view a map and brochure here.
- There is no fee to visit.
- This area can become crowded, but not as busy as Garden of the Gods.
- Be sure to always pack out what you bring in and respect Leave No Trace principles.
- Other great trail options in the area include Garden of the Gods and Cave-in-Rock. You can find our full list of our favorite Shawnee Forest hikes here.
- Pounds Hollow offers a lake, swimming beach, and a campground.
- Don’t miss a stop at the Garden of the Gods Outpost for ice cream and other treats and souvenirs!
- Dinner at the Red Onion in Equality is also highly recommended.