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St. Louis, MO: Little Grand Canyon

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Distance: 2.8 miles


This Shawnee National Forest hike loops 2.8 miles and drops 350 feet through a water-carved slot into Illinois' Little Grand Canyon. Sure footing and a sense of adventure required.

From Hickory Ridge, this 2.8-mile loop descends toward the edge of the Grand Canyon—a 0.75-mile river-carved, sandstone slot in Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest. The hike starts on a paved path, but after passing the observation platform near mile 0.4, the route turns sharply downhill into a sandstone slot on the canyon’s south side. Steps are carved directly into the soft rock: Take your time on and place your feet carefully to avoid slipping on the moss-covered surfaces.

The floor of the Grand Canyon—only 200 yards across at its widest point—is on the Big Muddy River’s floodplain and is a flat, lush and sometimes flooded bottomland forest. Watch for white diamond blazes marking the path through the canyon if the stream is flooded. The trail turns uphill through another slot-like ravine near mile 1.2, but mellows near an overlook atop the Chalk Bluffs. You’ll climb another 100 feet to the top of Viney Ridge and wind along it’s spine toward the parking area.

Though migratory songbirds and lush ferns find shelter in the pock-marked cliffs, so do several species of poisonous snake and poison ivy. Stay alert and stick to the trail to lessen the risks. This area is also prone to flash flooding, so pay attention to forecasts pre-hike.

-Mapped by Ted Villaire

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