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Backpacker Magazine – January/February 2010

Readers' Choice Midwest Hikes: Garden of the Gods to Lusk Creek Canyon, Shawnee NF, IL

Hike the River-to-River Trail over rugged ridges, through narrow canyons, and into small caves.

by: Midwest Reader Map Team

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Garden of the Gods to Lusk Creek Canyon, Shawnee FL, IL (Terry Donnelly)
Garden of the Gods to Lusk Creek Canyon, Shawnee FL, IL (Terry Donnelly)

See which other trips made it into our annual awards.

Day two Gain the ridge and continue west for 3.3 miles to Concord Cemetery, a pioneer-era graveyard. After 4.5 miles, you’ll descend into Lusk Creek Canyon, which is walled in by 100-foot bluffs. Stash your pack to sidehike two miles south along the creek to a sharp left curve. Here, a collapsed stone wall and narrow trail lead to Indian Kitchen, a large niche in the rocks 100 feet above the stream believed to be an ancient Shawneee cooking area. “You could spend a whole day here just exploring all of the side canyons,” notes John Heneghan. Head back to the main trail and turn left for the 4.3-mile stroll back to the Lusk Creek trailhead.

Driving From St. Louis, take I-64 east for 75 miles to I-57, then head south for 43 miles to exit 54A. Take IL 13 east for 24 miles to IL 34; go south for 15 miles to a left on Karber’s Ridge Rd. and the Garden of the Gods parking area.
Map and Guide USGS quads: Herod, Eddyville ($9,; River-to-River Trail Guide ($20;
Contact (618) 253-7114,

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Reader Rating: -


Aug 24, 2012

I'm a little confused... is the Lusk Creek Trailhead where I left my car?

Mitch Irish
May 02, 2011

Backpacked this trip within the last week. Gorgeous country, but the trails are very poorly marked in the Lusk Creek area and Indian Kitchen is not off of the River to River trail. I believe you have to branch off of the R2R onto trail 425 after the Little Bear Creek river crossing (which is susceptible to flash flooding...)If you follow the R2R past the crossing, it will drop you out onto Little Bear Creek Rd, not Indian Kitchen. Other than that, views are incredible, trails are nearly vacant of other people, natural water is easily accessed throughout this hike, and there are some awesome campsites along the way. The horse rider's backwoods camp area just off to the southwest of One Horse Gap has an amazing view from the bluffs. Trails in Lusk Creek area are very tore up from horses and water erosion. Especially around the Owl Nest Bluff area. Very muddy and slick after rains. Little Bear Creek rose from knee deep to chest deep overnight on us. Was told by a local that to the north is the old River to River trail crossing for that river and it is much more mild and safe.

Midwest Hiker
Mar 09, 2011

Be advised that Lusk Creek can rise rapidly:

Nov 19, 2010

Anyone know if there is re-fill water on this hike??

jay durbin
Mar 13, 2010

hiked this hike from bald knob to lusk creek over ten years ago and it was an outstanding hike. few sections trce travel along roads, but most of it is inside the forest. sandstone formations are everywhere, making a walk thru rocks size of small cars to 120'cliffs, almost from start to finish!


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