Hiking 101: five hiking locations to check out in southern Illinois

By Elizabeth Biernacki, Staff Reporter

Southern Illinois boasts an array of conveniently close hiking locations that seem to be hidden from newcomers.

The locations on this list are just a small fraction of what southern Illinois has to offer as the variety of trails are endless! 

All of these trails allow dogs, so long as they are leashed, so furry friends are welcome.


Giant City State Park

Giant City State Park has eight trails that vary in difficulty level. From total beginner to introduction to backpacking and camping, the trails are both versatile and beautiful and definitely worth the time to explore.

They’re less than a 20 minute drive away from the SIU campus, located south right down Giant City Road.

There are eight trails that can be explored and each one will offer a different experience! Those trails are:

Arrow Wood Trail

Devil’s Standtable Trail

Indian Creek Trail


Giant City Nature Trail

Post Oak Trail

Red Cedar Trail

Stone Fort Trail

Trillium Trail

Each of these trails vary in difficulty and offer a different experience making Giant City a great place to hike with all of the variety they offer!

There are beginner trails like Arrow Wood or Post Oak, an introduction to backpacking with Red Cedar, and everything in between with the others.

There is sure to be a trail that is perfect for what you want to do, which is why Giant City is one of my favorite locations on this list!

Arrow Wood, Post Oak, and Indian Creek are all pretty easy, Devil’s Standtable, Nature Trail, Stonefort and Trillium are all intermediate, and Red Cedar is very difficult!

Giant City also offers camping, but the campgrounds are separate from the trails with the exception of Red Cedar, which is 12 miles long with a campground at the halfway point.

Little Grand Canyon

Located in Pomona Illinois, Little Grand Canyon is about a 30 minute drive from the SIU campus.

It’s a bit farther away but is definitely worth the distance considering the beautiful views the trail has to offer.

There is great opportunity to see wildlife and different kinds of plants and trees. I personally saw many little frogs, butterflies and a turtle.

The main overlook is where hikers will find themselves awed by the canyon and the large bodies of water and trees that surround it.

It towers around 300 feet high and is a great opportunity to enjoy the sight. You may even see birds circling throughout the sky.

The reason I love this trail, though, is not because of the beautiful view, but rather the versatility the trail has to offer. The main hike is relatively easy but can be difficult with the inclines and declines.

The hike through the ravine is very difficult with muddy paths, slippery rocks and many obstacles that need to be cleared.

With a single trail there is beginner hiking and intermediate hiking incorporated, so there is something for everyone.

Camping here is not permitted and the trail closes at 10 p.m.

Pomona Natural Bridge

The Pomona Natural Bridge is also located in Pomona, IL and is about a 20 minute drive from campus.

Despite this not really being a hike, since the trail is only about ⅓ mile long, it boasts a beautiful natural bridge made out of sandstone.

It’s a very easy trail with little incline or decline and does not have any obstacles other than some stairs and a bridge.

The trail loops above and onto the natural bridge. From atop the bridge you can see the ravine it crosses over from a high point of view.

If desired, hikers can even explore beneath it and around it; often times people find caves to hide in or hike a little bit down the ravine.

So while it isn’t much of a hike, it still offers most of the sights a longer trail might, which makes this one that should definitely be checked out!

Camping is not permitted here and the bridge closes at 10 p.m.

Rocky Bluff Trail

The Rocky Bluff Trail is located in Crab Orchard Nature Preserve near Devil’s Kitchen Lake. It’s about a 15 minute drive from campus.

Keep in mind that hikers will need to buy a parking pass to park. They’re two dollars for one day and can be purchased at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center off of 148.

The trail itself is about 2 miles long and boasts a beautiful array of different scenes hikers will go through.

There is a beautiful forested area that covers the majority of the trail, a walk beside Grassy Creek, beautiful stone formations and even a waterfall if the water is flowing strongly.

This trail does have a fair amount of obstacles such as crossing large piles of rocks, slippery and muddy conditions (especially after rain) and fallen trees and tree roots.

For a single trail there is a great diversity of sights, despite the trail itself being about the same easy to intermediate difficulty. For that, I highly recommend this trail.

Crab Orchard also offers camping but the campgrounds are separate from the trails.

Campus Lake Trail

The campus lake trail is located on the SIU campus and loops around the lake which is perfect for students in dorms who don’t want to travel or can’t. It is about a 2 mile loop around the entire lake.

There are two entrances. The main one is near the boat docks and engineering building. The other one is off of Douglas Drive across the street from the student green overnight lot.

Despite the trail not really being a hike because it’s more of a leisurely walking trail, I included it simply due to its convenience for students.

Located right on campus, it is a great and close way to get outside and see some nature. The forested area around the lake makes it feel miles away from a college campus, which is one of the reasons I love it.

Whether you just want to walk or are going on a quick jog, the lake is a great and easy trail for all ages.

Again, these are only five locations out of many that southern Illinois has to offer students and others. There are so many more locations to explore, but here’s a small list to get you started!

Staff reporter Elizabeth Biernacki can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @EBiernacki_619.

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.