This Fourth of July, we declared our independence from the indoors and spent three days at one of Indiana’s youngest and largest state parks, Charlestown. With over 15,000 acres, the park is the site of the former Army Ammunitions Plant, and there is still plenty of evidence of it. It is also home to the pre-depression era amusement park, Rose Island, which is unfortunately closed this year while new exhibits are installed and trails upgraded. Even with that trail closed, there are six other trails to explore, and the Ohio River and Fourteen Mile Creek for the adventurous.
We set up camp and checked out the campground, and were quite impressed. While the sites weren’t the most wooded, the entire campground was nestled in the forest well away from civilization. The sites were roomy, paved pad with well groomed grass lots, all each with at least one shade tree. All sites had electric, some even had full hookup. The comfort station restrooms/showers were clean and well maintained, and a paved path led to a nice playground for the kids that they could even ride their scooters or bikes to. This was our first time of packing Kaden’s bike along, so that worked out very well. The best part of camping at Charlestown was that it wasn’t crowded! There were empty sites around us all weekend, highly unusual on July 4th weekend, but great for us. The worst thing about the campground is no camp store, so campers must leave the park to buy ice and firewood. Fortunately it’s only a mile outside of the entrance to find such supplies.
With temps in the 70s most of the weekend, it was perfect camping & hiking weather. Friday, we attended a Fossils Presentation by a naturalist from the Falls of the Ohio, and got to explore a glade area ripe with Devonian era fossils. Fossilized corals, bivalves, snails, sponges, etc. were abundant. But this wasn’t the end of our fossil hunting, as we found more fossil beds in hikes later that weekend. After the presentation, we set out on Trail 2 for a 1.5 mile hike that largely follows Lick Creek, which is described as just the kind of creek we love hiking in: slate rock bottom, lots of small waterfalls and ravines. Unfortunately at this time of year, this creek is mostly dried up. I can only imagine it’s beauty in the spring after a strong rain. We explored it regardless, and took in the sounds of late afternoon nature. Kaden kept us entertained as well with puns and word games.
After dinner that evening, we went down to the Ohio River overlook to watch the sunset. Thousands of mayflies were swarming over the water, something we had never seen. As dusk settled in, fireworks were exploding across the river for an interesting display of sunset colors, firework explosions, and the drone of insects. We ended the evening under the stars roasting marshmallows.
We were a bit slow moving Saturday morning, and actually just relaxed and enjoyed the campground environment. That is unusual for me, most of the time the campground is just base camp for our adventures out in nature. After lunch, we headed down to trail 6, which partially borders the Ohio River. It was easily the best hike of the weekend! The trail heads up to the top of the sandstone bluffs, mostly darting in and out of the forest and the neighboring prairie. This gave us the best of three worlds; sandstone outcrops featured many cool fossils right in the hillside, the forest is always peaceful, and the prairie brings wildflowers and butterflies. Robin and Kaden even stopped to eat some blackberries. At about the midway point, the trail crosses a small creek with an amazing waterfall cascade. We actually hiked up the creek a ways, getting our feet wet and discovering old bridge ruins from a century ago. But the best part was Kaden finding, not one, but TWO eastern box turtles in the creek. These are a threatened species, not endangered yet, but still pretty special to run across in the wild. Fortunately, our husky Akira had no interest in them. After watching them awhile, we headed back down stream, and then I climbed down into the canyon below the waterfall for some pics. The remainder of the hike was pretty mellow, hiking back down below the bluffs and following a trail back at river level for about a 3 mile hike. We headed back to camp and Robin cooked us some sirloin burgers over the campfire, now that’s camping!
Sunday we packed up camp and then headed to trail 3. This particular trail heads down a steep road grade to the Portersville Bridge, a century old truss bridge over Fourteen Mile Creek that goes over to Rose Island. As mentioned earlier, Rose Island is closed for upgrades, so we headed north on trail 3 and stayed on the hillside above the creek. This was a pretty mild trail in terms of scenery, nothing real special, but certain parts of it reminded us of trails we have hiked in the Smoky Mountains, simply because of a) the rugged climb up the hillside, and b) the views out over the Fourteen Mile Creek valley had rolling hills that would be beautiful in autumn during fall foliage. The hike was over 2 miles long but went very quickly, since we didn’t really stop and explore anything. We were all a bit tired from events of the weekend so it was probably for the best.
Charlestown has not yet reached it’s potential, IMO. The entire western section of the park is still off limits, so much trail potential there. But it does have a ton to offer as is. There are still 4 more existing trails that we didn’t have time to hike, and that campground was very relaxing. Charlestown, we will see you again.
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