Shades State Park is a hidden gem in Indiana’s park system. In this same area, Turkey Run is 10 miles west, Lake Waveland is a 5 minute drive away, and Raccoon Lake is maybe 20 minutes away, so Shades often goes overlooked. While the park may not have a nature center or pool, the trails are packed with features. Waterfalls, ravines, canyons, creek trails, nature preserve. The campground itself is nothing special, mostly primitive (no electricity or water hookups) and a single restroom with flush toilets & showers, for those not brave enough for the pit toilets. It was evident by the campers there as well, we seen three pop up campers (counting ourselves) and one hybrid camper, everything else was tents. Our campsite was large, right next to the trail that leads to the playground, which is separate from the campground itself, hidden in a wooded cubby hole.
(Gallery below, click for slideshow)
Saturday, we decided to hike out from the campground along the Backpacker Trail to trail 7 and then up trail 8. This takes us down a ravine following the creek bed until we arrive at Sugar Creek. We ate lunch at the creekside, watching canoers paddle by, and enjoying the tiny baby frogs leaping from rock to rock. Then, we hiked up 8 through what is probably the most rugged portion of trail in the park, all creek bed, with lots of large rocks and boulders to climb over and around. Akira, our Siberian Husky, is generally a very good hiking dog, but when trying to navigate through slippery rocks, it can be very hard trying to keep your footing with her pulling you every which way but where you need to go! It was a great hike on what is one of our favorite trails in Indiana.
After we made it back to the campground, we headed over to the main park pavilion, where the annual Chautauqua festival was being held. We missed the introduction and some of the activities, but got to see a falconry exhibition, complete with a hawk, falcon, and owl.
Robin had gotten a headache so we decided to take it easy the rest of the evening. All three of us (four if you count the dog) took naps, then cooked dinner over the campfire, ate marshmallows, and even had some Jiffy Pop popcorn. I stayed up a bit later and watched the stars pass over, a picture can be found in the gallery.
Sunday, we got some breakfast and then tore down camp. Kaden went to the playground where he also got to watch a family of rabbits eating grass and raspberries, as well as a squirrel trying to crack a nut, and a raven watching from a tree. Then we all jumped in the Jeep and drove over to the Pine Hills Nature Preserve parking lot and started our hike.
Pine Hills is Indiana’s largest, and oldest, nature preserve. It’s more than a mile hike to get to the heart of the preserve, where creeks slice through hills, creating “backbones” where the hills are extremely narrow. Turkey Backbone is by far the highest, but Devil’s Backbone is the star attraction. At 100 feet above creek level, it is a long slab of rock, six feet wide, with the supporting rock underneath even thinner (a little more erosion and this would be a natural bridge). Also within the preserve is a slate bottom creek, as well as features such as The Slide, Honeycomb Rock, and Millcut Backbone where a mill once stood long ago. The creeks within the preserve are also chock full of fossils, as well as wildlife such as frogs and banded water snakes. We could spend all day just within this preserve. Kaden splashed and played in the creek, building dams and collecting rocks.
While it’s not our favorite place to camp, Shades is one of our favorite places to hike and get into nature. The good thing about it being a hidden gem is that there are far fewer people on the trails, making it much more peaceful than places such as Turkey Run.