Unlike other national forests we’ve visited, the Hoosier National Forest is very splintered, parcels of land that are often separated for miles. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some awesome places worth going out of your way for though! The Charles C. Deam Wilderness at the northern end of the Hoosier is an extremely popular area for backpacking, and Brown County State Park borders the northwest corner of the forest as well. But I like exploring the less known, harder to find places sometimes, so I took a day off work and did just that.
Check out our prior adventure in the Deam Wilderness:
I started the day driving 3+ hours down the interstate almost to Louisville, then west and up some old country roads and ultimately dirt forest roads to my first destination. It was a cold day with the occasional flurry, but I was excited to adventure in a new place. It’s considered one of the most beautiful & scenic trails in the Hoosier. Hemlock Cliffs National Scenic Trail is only 1 1/4 miles long, but so much to explore inside this canyon. The trail starts along the top of the wooded cliffs, but quickly descends through a crag in the rocks on stone steps that gives the place an ancient feel. But this place is ancient; archaeological evidence has proven Native American occupation in the canyon as much as 10,000 years ago! The trail continues along the cliff side, pock marked with honeycomb features and even small arches within the rock shelters. But all this is quickly overshadowed by the towering waterfall, close to 100 feet high, at this end of the box canyon. I noticed rock features within the waterfall that resembled a face:
I continued exploring the canyon, finding small caves along the cliff base. The creek babbled quietly as I waded through it. I climbed the steep cliff side about midways in the canyon, what a view winter offers! I also observed multiple campfire scars, even though camping has been banned here for nearly a year. It was being loved to death, too much trash being left behind, and really just ruining the serenity of this special place. I explored a bit off trail to see if there would be viable backcountry camping options away from the actual trail, and I did find some. However, since the trail has now been classified as day use only, no overnight parking is allowed. So if you go here to camp, you do so at your own risk, as they will give fines up to $5000.
The trail makes its way around to another canyon, with an even more impressive waterfall. This one features a rock shelter almost midway up the cliffside, taking the trail up through here takes you behind the waterfall and a panoramic view of the canyon. One could sit here for hours and reflect. The remainder of the trail is on even ground, following a scenic stream with cliffs on either side, before heading back to the top of the cliffs. To see my adventure within Hemlock Cliffs, check out the video:
WESLEY CHAPEL GULF
I traveled north from Hemlock Cliffs, through odd towns such French Lick, and into Amish country where there are as many horse drawn buggies as there are cars on the road. Here it was, the last week of January, and the Amish were out plowing their fields, sitting on their plows being pulled by literal horse power. On up to near Orangeville, Indiana, sits an extremely unique feature right in the middle of cornfields. Indiana has a river that runs 85 miles, but 23 of those miles are underground. Here at Wesley Chapel Gulf, a designated National Natural Landmark managed by the Hoosier National Forest, is a large collapsed sink hole, so large you feel like you’re entering small canyon. The bottom of this gulf is approximately 8 acres, surrounded by porous limestone walls. At the southwest corner of this gulf rises Boiling Spring, one of the only spots that Indiana’s Lost River rises from it’s subterranean path. The river rises some 125 feet into this gulf, where it enters from this large spring and then drains again into swallow holes along the multiple channels all along the base of the gulf. When the water is low, caves are exposed that can be entered, but generally still have water. I wasn’t being that adventurous this time around. The color of the spring was striking, when you think of rivers in Indiana, you picture muddy water. But the spring water was a creamy blue green, very surreal for Indiana.
There was no evidence of anybody visiting this landmark in a long time. But there was abundant evidence of wildlife, with tracks from raccoon and deer all along the muddy banks of the spring. Birds sang and woodpeckers pecked. After exploring the base of the gulf, I took the trail along the upper perimeter for a different view. What I found, though, was further evidence of the karst topography here, with many small sinkholes surrounding the gulf. This gulf will continue to enlarge over the years as more limestone erodes. It was one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited. For the full experience, watch the video adventure:
For more information on these special places, check out these links:
Hemlock Cliffs: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/hoosier/specialplaces/?cid=fsbdev3_017564
Wesley Chapel Gulf: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/hoosier/specialplaces/?cid=fsbdev3_017567
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