Hiking the Little Grand Canyon

Towards the end of May, Jeff’s hours were cut to four days a week.  This has happened a couple times before, and things always pick up, but it’s a little nerve-wracking when construction-dependent jobs are being cut in the summer, traditionally a busy time.  Rather than bemoan the 20% pay cut, however, we’re trying to make lemonade from the lemons and take advantage of his extra day off.  Last week we went to Six Flags; this week we traveled a little further to the Shawnee National Forest.  I thought of Kovas on the way down, every time we saw a sign for the Shawnee Wine Trail.  That would be a great way to spend anafternoon without kids, but we were planning to take the kids to the Little Grand Canyon.

I have great memories of hiking here with my famiy as a kid, though my mom’s recollection is less rosy.  My parents weren’t the most athletic people in the world (though my mom had been as a girl), but it was important to them to keep their kids active, so they brought me and my three brothers here to hike.  At the time, I was around 10, my youngest brother was 5, and my dad was either recovering from or on his way to a quintiple bypass.  While I was no more brave as a kid than I am now, my brothers more than made up for it.  I’m frankly a little shocked that none of them suffered a serious injury during any of our outdoors excursions, but on this day my 5 year old brother hurt his ankle early on.  My dad ended up carrying him most of the way, suffering chest pains all the way, while my mom was terrified that he’d have a heart attack.  Good times, right?  None of us kids had a clue, though.

Thankfully, our trip was a little less eventful than my childhood visit.  We haven’t been there since my older boys were J’s age, but they too have great memories.  Unfortunately, Nathan was at his dad’s and couldn’t go, but Daniel and his girlfriend joined us.  Both my boys have great taste in girls; I’ve loved all of their recent girlfriends, and they’re always so good to J.  Plus, the girls’ presence makes the boys nicer to their little brother, too.  I mentioned to Jeff that it’s well worth the cost of another lunch to have the extra peace during the trip!

The Little Grand Canyon trail is a 3.6 mile loop. 

Starting down the trail

The path starts with a rolling course through the forest before climbing down the sandstone canyon walls.  J was in animal heaven as we saw turtles, frogs, and lizards.

100_0518  100_0517

I had grabbed an Illinois hiking guidebook on the way out the door and was not delighted to read that the Little Grand Canyon was once known as the “Rattlesnake Den” due to the prolific snake den that attracted collectors from all over. I could hardly wimp out, though, since our destination had been partly my idea; thankfully, the only snake we saw was a dead one.  Still one too many in my opinion.

The forest trail was a little longer than I’d remembered, and J was pretty happy when we finally started seeing the rock.  He’s more of a climber than a hiker, for sure.

Checking out the hole

Daniel has always been part monkey and completely unable to resist most dares, so when Jeff suggested he climb over to this hole he was up for the challenge.  It was sketchier than it looks here, because while there’s a narrow ledge about a foot beneath his feet, the “floor” is that dark section at the bottom of the picture.  Sometimes I just have to look away.


Finally climbing down into the canyon.  You can see how the water has carved some natural steps into the rock.



Even though it’s only a 3.6 mile trail, we always seem to make it longer.  Once we got partway down, we had to go explore a side section of rock.  We sent Daniel ahead to make sure it was climbable for J.

Daniel on his scouting mission.

While the older boys can definitely get impatient with their little brother, they are also amazing big brothers.  Watching Nathan help him last week at Elephant Rocks and Daniel look after him today, I was really proud of them.  They’re so good about keeping him safe and helping him explore.

J is almost to the ledge Daniel is standing on in the picture above this one.
Part of our side expedition
This is the view down from where Daniel was standing a couple pictures above. 

Once you climb down into the canyon, the trail passes through a flat area.  There are a lot of trees, but you can still see a lot of dead trees that were killed in the Flood of 1993.  Daniel was all about finding a tree to shimmy up, and he taught J the ways of the monkey.

Proud of himself
Shimmy x 2

After the flat section, it was back up another section of the sandstone walls.

Going up…

Most of the climbing features naturally carved steps, though there are some areas where less scramble-oriented hikers get some help from steps carved by the CCC. 

You can see a step or two carved into the stone to the right of J’s head.

You do have to watch your footing because the wet rock can be treacherous, but even little kids can do this hike with a vigilant parent (or older brother).

I can’t tell you how many times I warned J to be careful.


Back through the forest.
Trail marker, most of which were NOT placed at trail junctions.

After our Little Grand Canyon hike, we make a quick stop at Pomona Natural Bridge.

The kids on the bridge
J heading under the bridge
More climbing
Jeff and I

All in all, it was a great trip.  Everyone got along, no one got hurt, and we had a blast.  Hopefully if Jeff is still stuck on short weeks again next week we can make some more summer memories.

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One Response to Hiking the Little Grand Canyon

  1. Awesome photos, Kate! It looks like you had a wonderful time. And what a beautiful place!

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