It was the last week of March, the weather had been up and down, but Catfish was on spring break so I took a day off to get him out of the house and out into nature. As luck would have it, it was a clear day and temps climbed to 60. We decided to go somewhere we’ve never gone before, but that’s a tough decision since we’ve hiked most places within a 2 hour drive from home. We decided to check out a place we’ve driven by many times, Eagle Creek Park on the northwest corner of Indianapolis.
Eagle Creek Park is located right off of I-65 and is only about a 45 minute drive, so why we’ve never gone before might seem confusing. It is considered a municipal park, and when I hear that, I think “city park” and tend to overlook it. But this is more on the level of NYC’s Central Park, with woods, ponds, a reservoir, and miles of trails. Covering more than 5000 acres, it is actually larger than some state parks.
There is a $6 entry fee, as this park fully funds itself, no tax money supports it. We parked down at the Earth Discovery Center (same parking lot as Go Ape climbing adventure) and set off from there on the Red Trail, listed as 6.75 miles and the longest single trail in the park. You can really design your own adventure, as there are many trails here and they are all connected. We went north on the trail, which hugs the lake side for a good 3 miles. The highlight is the section of trail that literally goes out into the lake; on one side is the reservoir, and the other side is the bird sanctuary. The trail is barely above lake level, and is just so peaceful to hike on. We watched ducks swimming on the lake, and the constant honking of geese, along with a few small birds such as chickadees, finches, sparrows, cardinals, downy woodpeckers, swifts, etc. We did the small loop at the north end of the park, where we got to view several small butterfly species. Spring flowers were just popping up, including bluebells.
We made our way back around to the east side of the park, where the Red Trail meets up with the Fitness Trail. Of course we couldn’t resist trying out some of the workout equipment, but not too much because by this time we had hiked 4+ miles and were getting hungry for lunch. Eventually we made it back to the Lilly reflecting ponds where we picniced whiled watching the geese and sunbathing painted turtles. Afterward, we went to the Ornithology Center but it was closed. We still got to see their caged birds, including very up close with a turkey vulture. Catfish thought it was “cute”! We also viewed some of the birds and nesting geese through telescopes out in the sanctuary on the lake.
We continued on the Red Trail around Lilly Lake, although admittedly we did get off trail a couple of times when we…okay I…made the wrong turn, mistaking the Orange Trail signs for the Red Trail signs. Oops! But really the only downside was wading through all the mud, as some of the trails had standing water. We made it around the the south end of the park and back to the Earth Discovery Center, for about an eight mile hike total.
Eagle Creek Park definitely has more to it than I would have imagined, and am very glad we finally checked it out. Perhaps a return trip is due, once the beach opens for swimming and perhaps even some kayaking.
Less than an hour drive west of Chicago sits a series of state parks that beckons to the adventurous spirit. Starved Rock State Park is the largest and most visited, but nearby Buffalo Rock and Matthieson State Parks are similar in terrain and history. We spent a day at Matthieson in 2014, but had only briefly seen the splendor of Starved Rock during a stop on the way home from Iowa back in 2010. We knew we had to go back someday, and that day had finally come.
It’s a rare occasion to see temps near 70 degrees in February, but that’s what this weekend called for, with almost no chance for rain. We had hoped to go camping, but unforeseen circumstances limited us to a day trip only. Not wanting to waste it on a local trip that we have done a hundred times, we chose the 3 hour drive from Lafayette, Indiana to Utica, Illinois. We arrived at the park by 9am, thinking we would beat the crowds of weekend warriors also getting out to enjoy the unseasonably warm winter weather. It appeared pretty crowded already, but we had no idea just how crowded this place can get. It is the most visited park in Illinois with an average of 2 million visitors per year. Only 11 national parks host more visitors per year than this state park does!
We stopped in the Visitor Center first, learned some of the history, and picked up a trail map. The parks boasts 13 miles of trails, through 18 canyons and multiple waterfalls. We decided to take the River Trail, which would lead to most of the river overlooks, sandstone buttes, and entry into the canyons. While the trail system is only 13 miles, when you add in all the canyons and everything to explore, it is considerably more. Our first stop was on top of Starved Rock itself, which got it’s name back in the 1700s when a tribal council meeting between the Potawatomi, Ottawa, Illinois, & more native tribes resulted in the murder of the Ottawa Chief Pontiac by the Illinois. Chief Pontac’s followers chased the Illinois looking for vengeance, and trapped them on top of this sandstone butte, where legend says they trapped them until they starved to death, resulting in the name Starved Rock. This sandstone butte was once also the location of the French Fort St. Louis, which was both a trading post and a fort to keep the English from colonizing further east.
Our hike continued through many canyons, the most scenic of which were French Canyon, Wildcat Canyon, Tonti Canyon, and LaSalle Canyon. While most of the early trails were well maintained and often on boardwalks, the canyons were all natural, muddy, which made for an entertaining time watching many unprepared people trying not to get their hip colorful shoes dirty. On the spur trail that leads to Tonti Canyon, a bridge that crosses a stream was out, blocked on both ends for safety reasons. People didn’t know what to do, so many actually climbed the barriers and took their chances on the rotting bridge, while others attempted to cross the creek on some unstable logs. We chose the latter. From here, we seen many other examples of bridges and steps that were quite weathered and unsafe, most of which were easily avoided by going around them. It appears that Illinois State Parks have the same problem that Indiana does, lack of funds for proper maintenance. Even so, I enjoyed these distant trails more, as they were more rugged and natural. Tonti Canyon featured a frozen pool beneath it’s waterfall, which we crossed but not sure we should have! The ice creaked and even cracked under my feet. Not that it was deep had we broke through. LaSalle Canyon was as far as we went (about two thirds through the length of the park), but it was by far the most scenic of all the canyons we had entered this day.
The crowds had noticeably increased at this point, so we backtracked a bit and took a spur trail up some steep steps to reach the Bluff Trail for our hike back. This trail winds along the uplands, looking down on the Illinois River and offering views into the canyons from above. Some of the canyons can only be seen from this trail, as there are no trails into some of these canyons. The Bluff Trail dumped us out at the park lodge, which was humming full of people. This was by far the most crowded park we had ever hiked in at this point. Glad we got an early start! We tried to find a secluded spot to do our “final word” spot for our video, but even while doing it, we had people walking right through us and around our camera. My advice, go visit this park! But do so through the week when it’s less busy, and get an early start.
Our first “big” adventure of the year began on Memorial Day Weekend, we packed up and headed southeast to the mountains of Virginia, the Blue Ridge Mountains specifically, and Shenandoah National Park. It’s a long narrow park, with Skyline Drive (basically the Blue Ridge Parkway extended) running on top of the ridges straight through the heart of the park for it’s 105 mile length. These are ancient mountains, over 1 billion years old, weathered to half their original size. Evidence of volcanic activity abound.
We arrived early Sunday morning, entering the park from the south end, cruising past more overlooks than you can count. We decided to find an easy leg stretcher of a hike to wake us up, so we headed for Blackrock Summit. But shortly before arriving at the trailhead, we were treated to our first black bear sighting, a big boy off the side of the road eating in a grassy area. We admired him for several minutes, of all our bear sightings in the Smokies in the past, this was by far superior!
We continued to Blackrock Summit, a short 1.5 mile hike mostly following the Appalachian Trail to a very rocky peak. You could spend hours climbing on the rocks, we chose to simply hike through and around them (not quite awake yet). It is believed this is the remains of an ancient volcano, primarily made of greenstone (a metamorphic rock originally formed by magma). Mountain Laurel was just blooming at this elevation. A nice hike.
Check out our Blackrock Summit video:
We continued up Skyline Drive, stopped at the visitors center at Big Meadows, and continued up to Skyland, where we parked for our next hike, up to Stony Man Summit. Another short hike, but with a little more elevation gain. Stony Man is the second highest peak in Shenandoah, at 4011′ it’s only 40 feet below the highest peak (Hawksbill). As expected, Stony Man was crawling with tourists. No way to avoid it, it was a holiday weekend, and right beside Skyland. Still, we carved out our own little spot atop Stony Man and enjoyed the veiws, and watched the Peregrine Falcons. We’re all about stone outcrops with big views.
Check out the video experience of Stony Man:
After that, we headed out of the park to the Shenandoah Valley town of Luray, Virginia. Rare for us, we actually rented a cabin for this trip instead of camping. We knew we were going to do some hardcore hiking, so having a soft bed to sleep in and a hot tub to recuperate seemed like a wise decision. Our cabin was right on the south fork of the Shenandoah River (Gander Island Cabins). The history of the area couldn’t be missed, many civil war battles raged in this valley. The bridge over the river 1/4 mile up from our cabin was burnt down by Stonewall Jackson himself to slow the union army.
That following Monday, Memorial Day, we headed east to Washington, D.C. Our original intent was to split this vacation, every other day, between hikes in Shenandoah and exploring D.C. But this was the only day we went to D.C., seen the White House, monuments, and visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. The Washington Mall was completely torn up as they try to repair the surface, apparently. Just not a very pretty sight. There were more things we wanted to do in D.C. (visit the Smithsonian Zoo, Smithsonian Castle, Air & Space Museum) but ultimately, the one day experience there tired us out way more than hiking mountains! So that was our only day in D.C. One cool thing was on our way back to our parking garage, just to the side of the White House, Secret Service came out and held us back while some VIP officials in multiple black vehicles came racing through the streets and straight into the White House compound. The President? VP? Unknown. We did enjoy ice cream from one of the many food trucks there as well!
Walking for miles in sandals around D.C. probably wasn’t a good idea considering we had all these hikes we wanted to do in Shenandoah! So the next couple days we did some “easier” hikes. Or so we thought when we planned them. The hike out to Overall Run Falls was only a 2.5 mile hike out, so 5 mile round trip, not hard at all for us…other than the fact there was more uphill than we expected. It was an awesome hike though, seen two black bear, nearly stepped on a rattle snake, and a milk snake. Now that’s adventure! We played in the first waterfall, but it’s the second waterfall that will take your breath away. There was no trail down to the second falls, probably for the best considering the view point is from the top and that would be a long climb down and back. Overall Run Falls is the highest falls in the park, and I’d say the most spectacular. This is a view that could rival the big views of larger Western parks.
Check out our video for the full experience!
On Wednesday, we headed further into the north section of Shenandoah, up to Compton Peak. An easy-ish hike of maybe 3 miles round trip, with a gradual climb from the trailhead. It follows the Appalachian Trail to the top, where there is an east and a west spur off of the A.T. We took the east one first, which goes down to an amazing rock outcrop, that can only be fully appreciated when you go below it. It is made of huge columnar basalts, 800 million year old lava flows that cooled and solidified into these geometric columns. I stood in awe of them, while Robin challenged herself to climb the loose rock back to the top.
We then took the west spur to the other side of the mountain, where we ate lunch atop a rock outcrop with amazing views across Shenandoah Valley.
Check out the full video:
So Thursday finally arrived, the weather was overcast with the threat of rain, but this was our big day, the hike up Old Rag Mountain. We had been planning for months to do this hike. At 9 miles, 2200′ elevation gain, and a rock scramble that requires some rock climbing skills, we were pumped. Arriving just before 9am, we set off. It’s .8 mile from the parking area just to reach the actual trailhead, then it enters a dense forest with a gradual climb, dotted with boulders the size of a house. Awesome! But that climb all at the beginning of the hike wears ya down quick, so it took us a couple hours before we even reached the rock scramble. Once in though, wow! We’ve never experienced anything like that. Kaden was a bit overwhelmed, but he took direction and powered through it. There is no way to describe that rock scramble, but our video gives a really good account. Once to the summit, we rejoiced. We still had over 5 miles to hike to get back, but we knew it was all easy and downhill. We made it back after 6pm, a long day, but one that still puts a smile on our face.
Watch the video! Just do it!
Friday, we were completely spent. As much as we wanted to be out on the trails, we need to recuperate. We relaxed at the cabin, and then took an afternoon drive into the park. Heading south on Skyline, just watching for wildlife. We hit the jackpot too! On this drive, we ended up seeing 5 bears. Two individual either on the roadside or just inside the woods. But the best was right by the stables at Skyland, Robin spotted a mama bear and two cubs. We watched them play in the woods, then they came out and crossed the road into another stand of woods. We probably watched them a half hour. Kaden loved it!
Here is Kaden’s video when we first spotted the bears:
On Saturday, Kaden and I spent the day together, went for a half day hike out to Hazel Creek Falls & Cave. It was the best hike as far as not seeing other people go, it was just he and I until our return trip almost back to the car. The hike was easy enough out on Hazel Mountain, with a hard climb down to the falls for the last 1/4 mile. The falls were more of a long cascade of falls, and the “cave” wasn’t long at all, just enough for an animal to make a den in maybe. Still a very serene place, that doesn’t get many visitors.
Hazel Creek Falls:
Sunday came, our 8th and final day, time to pack up. But not until one more hike! We drove down Skyline to the Big Meadows district, and hiked the Dark Hollow Falls Trail. It follows Hogcamp Branch, which drains the Big Meadows swamp. The creek quickly turns into multiple cascading waterfalls, very beautiful. Lots of quartzite in the rocks everywhere. We took our time and enjoyed the sights and sounds, knowing this was our last hurrah in the park. On our climb back up the trail, we rounded a corner almost right into a bear family! Less than 30 feet in front of us, on the hillside, was a mama bear and two cubs. We froze, then slowly all three of us grabbed our cameras, LOL. The mama bear didn’t see us as any kind of threat and just kept on munching and moving, the two cubs following along. It was surreal. That made our final tally, 12 bear sightings for the week. What a great way to end our vacation.
Salamanders, waterfalls, and bears, oh my! Video evidence:
You probably know that Slone’s Wilderness Expeditions has taken a real liking to the Red River Gorge Geologic Area in east central Kentucky over the past year. So it probably comes as no surprise that on a weekend in January, when temps were predicted to approach 60 degrees, that’s where we headed! No camping this time, we headed down before the crack of dawn Saturday morning with a one night reservation in the Natural Bridge Resort State Park lodge.
We arrived in the area just after 10am, and took the obligatory cruise around the scenic byway (Nada Tunnel is not to be missed). Our plan was to hike Tarr Ridge East, as it is a little known ridge with amazing views. However, upon arriving at the trail head parking, it was full. What I hadn’t counted on was that all the park gravel roads were still closed due to a snow storm from a week before, meaning all the weekend hikers were left to the border trails off the scenic byway, instead of the more popular trails in the heart of the park. As we continued driving around the byway, the story was the same with most all trail heads. We finally found a spot off the Angel Windows trail, so we went for it. Angel Windows is a short half mile hike out to the main attraction, two small arches just tall enough to walk through. One of the arches looks like a horse bending it’s head down, at least that’s how we see it! We continued around the arch and explored cliff faces and rock shelters, admiring the landscape still covered in snow and ice.
Afterward, we continued around the byway and back to Slade and the state park. With all the RRG trail heads full, we knew there would be plenty of parking here. We decided to hike the Whittleton Arch Trail (part of the larger Sheltowee Trace), which starts at the back of Whittleton Campground and follows Whittleton Branch. While the temps in the sun were quickly climbing into the 50s, this trail follows the stream at the bottom of a long ravine where little sun reaches, keeping the temps hovering around the freezing mark. The trail was only listed as a mile long, but it sure seemed longer than that, as hiking on snow covered trails is about as difficult as hiking on loose sand, but more slippery. Once you reach the Whittleton Arch, though, it was all worth it. The stone arch is actually the longest in the geologic area, because it was originally a deep rock shelter that had the back side cave in. Somewhere around 50 feet of ice was hanging off the front as the snow above melted and trickled down into the colder ravine. The only thing that can make this landscape even more spectacular is the ice formations of winter.
After a good night’s sleep at the lodge, we stayed close and headed straight up the Original Trail, the very first trail created by the logging companies from a century ago when the logging companies owned the rights to this land. The Original Trail is the most direct route up the cliff to Natural Bridge, and was very slippery in spots with trampled down snow turning into ice in spots. But the beauty can’t be denied, at times surrounded by the greenery of mountain laurel, the sounds of a trickling stream, and cliff faces pock marked with crazy erosion designs. The trail comes out right under Natural Bridge, a true spectacle, but only one of many such natural arches in the geologic area. Getting to the top involves shimmying through Fat Man’s Misery, a narrow crack between the rock face just wide enough to pass through sideways, made more difficult when wearing backpacks! Once on top, the view is expansive. Crystal blue skies above, snow down below (none on top as the sun had melted most of it the day before). We walked across and up the ridge to Lookout Point and Lover’s Leap. At the point where the ski lift reaches top, a crew of men were working on a new landing deck for the lift, should be nice this summer for those who prefer that route vs. the hike.
I had expected the state park to be very busy, but the trails we were on were much less crowded than those out in the gorge the day before. We walked back across Natural Bridge and took the Balanced Rock Trail down. It is a longer, more scenic route, with more mountain laurel and more cliff faces and rock shelters to explore. Stairs were plentiful, definitely glad we were going down instead of up. Once to the bottom, Balanced Rock stood out like a fossilized UFO sitting atop it’s landing post. Shortly after is another rock shelter, but this one actually has a cave entrance (gated to protect the bat population) that exits on the other side of the ridge, where the Original Trail begins.
And so went yet another awesome hiking weekend in the Red River Gorge. That’s five visits to the area in the past year, and we’ve still just scratched the surface. Looking forward to spring and getting back into backpacking!
Angel Windows trail head
“The Horse” at Angel Windows
Nature is my gym! Whittleton Arch Trail
Whittleton Arch Trail
View from the ski lift
Family on the Lookout
Climb mountains not so the world can see you, but so you can see the world.
For several years now, we had wanted to do some camping and hiking in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge area. It’s an area that I grew up just passing through on the way to visit family in southeast KY. I had no idea what I was missing. So this year, 2015, we finally made it happen, with our first backpacking trip of the year (back in April) into the Red. We were instantly hooked, and this October, we went on our FOURTH trip of the year into the gorge. Yes, it’s that good. It’s kind of been a slow year for us camping wise, as the spring and first half of summer being extremely wet and rainy in Indiana. In fact, all of our camping adventures this year had been backpacking or tent camping, which rain can really limit (it even cut our Fourth of July trip short). For the first time this year, we pulled the Pop Up out of mothballs and took it down to Natural Bridge Resort State Park, camping in Whittleton Campground.
For the most part, I loved this campground. For being a front country campground, it still felt isolated. Sandwiched into a ravine between two ridges, with fall foliage setting in, and the Whittleton Branch stream at the back of our site, it was so relaxing. In fact, Kentucky’s longest trail, the 319 mile long Sheltowee Trace, cuts straight through this campground, it is literally part of the trail. You can hike out of the campground in either direction. The only downside to this CG was the fact that there is only one single restroom, so it can be a bit of a long walk, but at least it was heated. Oh, and the narrow campground road can be problematic if two vehicles have to pass.
Our first day, we stayed in the state park, hiked up Rock Garden Trail which has house-size boulders and spectacular rock walls that tower over you. There is also a couple sets of steps that have literally been carved out of the living rock, further giving the trail an ancient feel. For the most part, the trail was deserted, until we reached the top. There are several trails that converge at the top just below Natural Bridge, as well as a skylift that people ride to the top. But once to the bridge, what a sight it is. The forces of nature it took to carve the gorge and these arches must have been something.
We spent some time on top of the bridge taking in the views, then moved on to Lookout Point for more views, and finally to Lover’s Leap where we took a break for a snack and enjoyed the atmosphere some 1000 feet above the park. Eventually we made our way back down, but it gave me a new respect for the state park. It’s truly a gem within the Daniel Boone National Forest.
The following day, we headed out into Red River Gorge, where we hiked out Double Arch Trail. We took a side trail for some amazing views and dizzying cliff heights, before we moved onto the Double Arch itself. We’ve seen the arch from a distance on Auxier Ridge, but being inside the arch and ultimately on top of it, sheer exhilaration. Kaden proclaimed this was his favorite part of our trip.
The Arch is cool, but it’s the views from the arch that made it so memorable. We hiked back down and then across the ravine to Auxier Ridge. The sun was quickly setting and we had a long way to go. The hike up to Courthouse Rock was exhausting, but we made it. We then quickly hiked back Auxier Ridge, stopping only sporadically to admire the views and sunset. We were in darkness by the time we made it back to the Jeep, but we made it AND we set a new record for steps taken on a hike! The only day hike we’ve done that was probably longer would be our 2013 hike of Boogerman Trail in the Smoky Mountains, which took us nearly 10 hours to complete. However, I think this hike had more terrain changes.
We packed up camp the next day, did a quick hike out to Hanson’s Cave Arch, and then headed home. This was likely our last trip into the Gorge until next spring, but we can’t wait to go back. Until then, we have lots of pics, video, and great memories. In my honest opinion, Natural Bridge and Red River Gorge are worthy of National Park status.
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.
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.
(Click on a Picture to start Slideshow)
Relaxing at camp
Devonian Fossils in the glade
Devonian Fossils in the glade
Devonian Fossils in the glade
Remnants of the Army Ammunitions depot
Hiking trail 2
Creek on Trail 2
Robin offtrail from Trail 2
Mayfly swarm over the Ohio River at sunset
Robin and Kaden on the deck overlooking the Ohio River, with swarming Mayflies
Birds perched above the Ohio River, waiting to feast on swarms of Mayflies
Camping under the stars
Night view from our camp site
Heading up Trail 6
Butterfly on Trail 6
Sandstone outcrop full of fossils, Trail 6
Devonian fossils on sandstone boulder, Trail 6
Robin showing Kaden Devonian fossils on sandstone boulder, Trail 6
Devonian fossils on sandstone boulder, Trail 6
Devonian fossils on sandstone boulder, Trail 6
Devonian fossils, Trail 6
Hummingbird nest, Trail 6
Kaden searching for turtles above the falls, Trail 6
Eastern Box Turtle in the creek above the falls, Trail 6
Kaden with one of the box turtles he discovered.
Eastern Box Turtle
Eastern Box Turtle in the creek above the falls, Trail 6
Bridge ruins on the creek above the falls, Trail 6
Creek above the falls, Trail 6
Above the falls, Trail 6
Falls, Trail 6
Falls, Trail 6
Cascade on Trail 6
Lower cascade on Trail 6
Robin, Kaden, & Akira rest near the falls on Trail 6