The Little Grand Canyon – Illinois

Our first hike of the honeymoon was to be a loop in Shawnee National Forest that would take us through the Little Grand Canyon. Not, according to my husband, very aptly named. He was right. Grand Canyon mini-miniature might have been more accurate, but to be fair, once we made it down from the Big Muddy bluffs and climbed down into the crevices, it was pretty impressive. Rock formations created by water usually do invoke a bit of awe. This particular place reminded one more of Devil’s Den in Arkansas than the real Grand Canyon however.


The loop took 3 to 4.5 hours to complete according to the information at the start of the trail, and it warned of places where climbing would be necessary and that the trail sometimes disappeared and in those circumstances one should stay alert for the trail markers. From up top, we could see the toll that the recent flooding had taken on the area. Drowned landscape was apparent because of the trees that popped up like shipwreck survivors, waving branches frantically for help.


The top bluff took about 40 minutes including the photo opp and we figured that the trail wouldn’t take us as long as the average middle-aged couple as we were in better shape and hadn’t any tiny people to carry or whine at us to turn back. As we descended the trail become slightly more challenging and then we lost the trail and after a heavy breathing jaunt up a hill that angled up like an extension ladder, we found ourselves back on the first part of the trail. Convinced he could get us back on the proper path, Rob led us back down into the crevice and within ten minutes we were happily, and carefully, descending. We lost the trail in flood waters. It simply disappeared beneath the muddy water. In the distance Rob spied a trail marker on a tree trapped in the deluge and decided we could scoot around and pick it up at a site farther down the way.


First we had lunch. We might have had a bit of nookie too but the ground was still flood soggy and we didn’t have a blanket. Nakedness and gnats might be okay for lust-addled teens with a six-pack, but we had an hour or more of hiking – either pushing on or turning back – and it was a somewhat unappealing prospect to do this wet and gnat covered.


We pushed on after our break only to quickly discover that most of the trail was lost in really deep water with just the tippy tops of trees visible. Faced with turning back and climbing the slippery rock we’d clambered down originally, Rob convinced me to climb up the opposite bluff. It was steeper than the ladder hill and muddy and slipping off would have been more than just painful. Bone-breaking at least and the worst I didn’t want to think about, but off we went. Rob is a like a mountain goat. Sure-footed. Perfectly balanced. If I hadn’t been clinging to the muddy ground for dear life, I would have marveled at what a physical specimen he is. Hockey has left its legacy in his legs and bum for sure.


Although it felt like forever, we reached the top in about 15 minutes. Rob reminded me as we stopped to catch my breath that this was an exhilarating experience and I would be thrilled when I reached the top because I would have done something I hadn’t before. And then he added, and maybe we could have sex up there. Yeah. We didn’t by the way. Have el fresco amour.

Once at the top, Rob – in full hunter/gatherer mode – ascertained that we would have to hike the bluff top until we merged with the original trail. I didn’t doubt that we would. Rob never gets lost and he is my Sasquatch. He has no fear in the outdoors and I know from the tales he has told that he knows exactly what to do in the woods in every situation. Two hundred years ago he would have been a mountain man. A trail blazer. Trapping, living in the wild and amassing knowledge of the wilderness that would save his life and that of others.


We ended up covering the trail in four hours including breaks. Not bad for a couple of 40 somethings.

One thought on “The Little Grand Canyon – Illinois

  1. I first traversed Little Grand Canyon about 1960 when I was about 12 years old, with my brother and parents and some of their hiker oriented friends, the late Byron and Bernice Hawkins of Texaco, IL….I was totally amazed at the place, then I was there again in 1965 camping out with my drunken high school buddies; If you saw broken bottles down there, and spent 45 acp and 22 cartridges; I apollogize for the whole bunch of us…..we did it…. then I was there again in the fall of 1972 with my pregnant wife, Mary Ann and her best friend, Jowanna, both clothed in bib Overalls, flannel shirts, and hiking boots, my pregnant wife and her friend made the whole trek and I am proud of them to this day…..35 years later my aforementioned unborn son took his wife to the canyon and sent me pics via email…..proving that they made the whole route, and encouraging me to move back to that area…….I expect grandchildren soon.

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