I had a chance to do some exploring at one of my favorite hiking places in Indiana, Shades State Park. You’d think there’d be nothing new to discover as many times as we’ve been there, but it all depends on how willing you are to get your feet wet. The creeks were low, the trails muddy, and the canyons foggy. I had hoped with the wet weather and overcast skies, I’d have the park mostly to myself, but alas, there were quite a few families out on this day. Because of that, I didn’t go off trail as much as I had hoped. There is no Trail 3 at Shades, but there once was, and I’m pretty sure it followed a ravine just west of Trail 1. There are rotted steps that lead down to it, but it’s now guarded with a sign that says “Hiking Prohibited. Danger of Falling Rocks.” Of course I want to hike it, but preferably when nobody is there to see me go down it (and preferably when it’s not quite so muddy just after a weekend of rain). Next time. This time, I hiked Trail 2, which has some of the steepest steps down into a ravine of any state park in Indiana. Once to the bottom of the ravine, it’s a rugged hike up the creek bed, with the lush forest crowding in all sides of the ravine. Coming out of the ravine, I took a side trail that lead to Trail 10 and follows along a prairie area, which I’ve always overlooked. I watched the birds, the butterflies, the dragonflies, and the bumble bees hopping from flower to flower. Back to Trail 1, I descended into Devil’s Punchbowl, which was shrouded in fog, as the temperature difference was palpable from the humid air above. There was no water flowing from the falls into the punchbowl, but the creek below still had a flow from all the mineral springs coming out of the sides of the canyon. In the late 19th and early 20th century, this was the site of a health spa resort, with three mineral springs that people believed had healing properties. The canyon walls are literally dripping all over, covered in mineral deposits that resemble something you’d see inside caves. This is a trail I’ve hiked more times than I can count, so I hiked up the hillsides to get a different perspective of the canyon walls and the creek below. Silver Cascade Falls is one of the most unique waterfalls in the state, but the only park trail to it doesn’t give much of a view, in fact the trail that once went to the side of it is now blocked off and the only view is from the top. It’s been my mission to climb down to see the falls from below, but the hillside was way too muddy to do so safely. So I decided I’d get my feet wet.
I hiked over to Trail 5 and took it down the ravine to Sugar Creek, which is at it’s late summer low flow currently. I hiked down the sand bank as far as I could until I could see Canoe Island out in the middle, and then waded across to the island. The middle of the island is actually very thick with summer foliage, so I stayed to the opposite shore until I got to the side that made up mostly of river rock. In the process, I scared a family of at least 3 raccoons, who were nice to pose long enough for me to get a picture. I hiked what seemed like a quarter mile until I got to the end of Canoe Island, I could see some of the overlooks on top of the bluff on Trail 1, and a different view of Steamboat Rock (where Trail 2 comes out at Sugar Creek). Then I checked my GPS tracking map to see where I was in relation to Silver Cascade Falls, and I was literally right across from the small stream that leads up to it. So I waded across Sugar Creek and followed the tiny tributary to Silver Cascade Falls, finally getting a full frontal view. Of course, there’s not a lot of water coming down right now, but I also realize I probably wouldn’t be able to wade Sugar Creek so easily if the falls had a heavier flow, so take what I can get! There is another waterfall just east of Silver Cascade Falls, very similar but narrower, unnamed to my knowledge since the park has no trail to it.
I waded my way back Trail 5 and then finally to Trail 6 and back to the pond where I had parked for about a 5 mile hike total. I love this park, but am also disappointed because the park has so much more than what they allow to be seen. There is a lot of history there, lots of creeks and ravines that are off limits. And a good chunk of the state park is on the north side of Sugar Creek, which has NO access, completely wild, deep ravines. So much potential. I’ll take what I can get, and occasionally off trail a bit to see the unseen, leave no trace, of course.