Get out with Ord

By Gus Bode

Tawny Leech, a junior from Sesser studying English, climbs up a natural stone staircase to the trailhead Wednesday at Little Grand Canyon. The trail from both directions into the canyon itself involves walking down steps carved into the stone, which can at times be slippery. – Genna Ord | Daily Egyptian

In the three times I have been to  Little Grand Canyon, I have never left without mud on my jeans.

This is partly because I am not a graceful person, but it is also because the trail I walk is one of the most rugged in southern Illinois. The 3.6-mile trail can take anywhere from one and a half to four hours to trek. And at the points where it descends or ascends from the canyon, hikers use a natural stone staircase to get up and down.


There are indentations like footholds carved along the descent, and Robert Tyson, outings leader for the Sierra Club’s Shawnee Group, said these were placed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Although the steps are now smooth because of years of wear and water, the trail would be much more difficult without them.

Tawny Leech, a junior from Sesser studying English, said she last hiked the trail about 10 years ago.

“I prefer Giant City since it’s more accessible and has more trail variety, but the Canyon’s still fun,” she said.

Little Grand Canyon does see fewer visitors than Giant City, and this is not just because it is less known and farther away from Carbondale. It is also because it is easier to get lost there.

Tyson said after the spring’s heavy rainfall, the canyon, like much of southern Illinois, was inundated with water. Since then, weeds have grown along sections of the trail. But the route, which is marked on trees by white diamonds, is still fairly clear. Visitors should be reminded, Tyson said, to stay on the path.

The trail winds along bluffs, allowing views of forest, hundred-foot cliffs and both the Mississippi and Big Muddy River. Inside the canyon, there are many natural grottoes and small caves in the bluffs which are carved out by water that now flows through shallow creek beds. Whitetail deer, mink, bobcats, falcons, songbirds and snakes all frequent the area in addition to the rich variety of plant life.

Fungus grows on a fallen log Wednesday along Little Grand Canyon trail near Murphysboro. The 3.6-mile trail showcases many species of wildlife and plants. – Genna Ord | Daily Egyptian


“Especially on the top part of the bluffs, the maples and leaves turning colors is very pretty,” Tyson said of the hike in autumn, which he suggested is one of the best times to go.

It is not difficult to slip and fall because of the rock that visitors scale to get into the canyon, and hikers should take great care along those sections of the trail.

People should also be warned not to attempt the trail when dangerous weather is expected because the canyon is a prime place for flash flooding.

“I always advise people in wintertime to not even think of going down, or if there’s a warning at any time of year about big thundershowers expected,” Tyson said. “We’ve had a number of incidents in the past where people get trapped.”

Still, for those who are on the lookout for something a little more rugged and farther off the beaten path than the hikes at Giant City, the Little Grand Canyon provides a great afternoon escape. Just be sure to bring bug spray, a camera and—if you are anything like me—an extra pair of pants for the inevitable slip into some mud.

To get to the Little Grand Canyon from Carbondale, take Illinois Route 13 west until it crosses Highway 127, then head south. A few miles later, take a right turn onto Orchard Hill road and follow it for 2.7 miles. Take a sharp right on Poplar Ridge Road, which will turn into Hickory Ridge Road after 1.2 miles. After 2.5 miles, a right onto Little Grand Canyon Road will direct you to the parking lot.