A venture into Lusk Creek Canyon

By Caleb Motsinger

The sky seemed bigger at Lusk Creek Canyon as I stood atop one of the sandstone cliffs, patiently carved through time by the creek as it meandered into the Ohio River.

The Lusk Creek Canyon Wilderness Area, located in Pope County, is only an hour southeast of SIUC’s campus. The hike from the road is a 1.5-mile descent into true southern Illinois wilderness; the reward waits at the bottom, where there are some of the most breathtaking views within the Shawnee National Forest.

The Indian Kitchen Trailhead that leads into the hollows of The Lusk Creek Canyon natural area is arguably the least civilized piece of land in the Midwest. The term Indian Kitchen refers to an acute cliff that bends around the creek. Its name is derived from the archeological evidence of prehistoric people who used the area as a place to cook and store food.



Sandstone cliffs towering above the creek create narrow ravines in which the headwaters of Lusk Creek rise and fall with the changes of water levels.

One could easily lose him or herself within the briar thicket woven between the trail and the canyon. Equestrians, kayakers and hikers alike venture year-round into the canyon, with visitors seldom seen but evident through a maze of dead-end paths and winding trails.

Don’t let Lusk Creek Canyon’s beauty fool you, though. The seasons take a toll on the area, with flash floods known to cascade through the canyon without a moment’s notice.

Brian Bourne, supervisor for trails and recreation with the U.S. Forest Service, said to always let someone else know when venturing into any area of the Shawnee, and to plan ahead and prepare for seasonal conditions.

The 125 acres that encompass the wilderness hold a special place in my heart; the smell of the red cedar trees and the occasional sight of a bald eagle made any potential dangers worthwhile as I looked out over the creek.

From the first time my father took me into the canyon in 1995 to Sunday’s venture, the canyon has never ceased to amaze me.

The cool of the caves on warm summer days, the bubbling spring whitewater and the resonant canyon walls draped in ice all offer a getaway without leaving southern Illinois.