Tag Archives: Hoosier National Forest

Special Places: Hoosier National Forest

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:

HEMLOCK CLIFFS

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:

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Face in the Falls

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.

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Boiling Spring – The Lost River rises

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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Deam Wilderness Adventure

It’s funny, growing up in northern Indiana, I never knew much about the southern half of our state.  My experiences in nature were pretty much limited to a small stretch of woods by the Eel River near Ijamsville/Laketon, with the occasional excursion to Salamonie State Forest.  Obviously I’ve expanded since then, but I’m still finding new places to explore.  On the surface, Indiana seems boring compared to the states out west with all their mountains and national parks.  But southern Indiana has a whole different vibe than the northern half.  Hoosier National Forest, Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area, caves, waterfalls, underground rivers, lakes, fossil beds, long distance trails, etc.  My family’s normal forest adventures have been in the form of day hikes while camping in official campgrounds with all the amenities like electricity and showers.  But there is only so much of nature you can experience that way, to fully immerse yourself, you have to go into nature…and stay there.

The first weekend of May, we went on our second backpacking trip of the year.  Of ever, actually.  Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area is 13,000 acres of Hoosier National Forest, on the southern shore of Monroe Lake in Brown and Monroe Counties.  The wilderness area is full of rolling hills and deep ravines, ruins of old homesteads, and several settler cemeteries dating into the early 1800s.  Having the “wilderness” designation means nothing motorized is allowed into the area.  Even trail maintenance is done with horse and buggy.  The area was logged in the early 1900s, so there are very few old growth trees.  Most of the official trails follow old settler road beds.  But half the fun of exploring national forests is going off trail, and that we did.

Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area
Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area

We drove east on Tower Ridge Road, a narrow gravel forest service road, to the third of three parking areas for the wilderness, at Hickory Ridge Fire Tower.  From here, we put on our packs and hiked out on Axsom Branch Trail, winding through mostly flat land until a series of switchbacks going down from the ridge and to the trail’s namesake, Axsom Branch creek.  From here, we left the main trail and followed a narrow foot path that followed the creek, flowing toward the lake.  On each side of the foot path, wherever you looked, spring wildflowers were abundant.  Akira the trail dog lead the way, but she was extremely appreciative of having the creek to cool off in.  As we approached the end of the creek where it spills into a lagoon, the ruins of an old stone house came into view.  After a brief exploration, we continued on the trail, now on the edge of the lagoon.  The lake was about three feet above normal level, so the trail was definitely soft and muddy in spots.  As we rounded a spot on the trail, a large stone campfire ring greeted us.  The trail continued down and into a flooded area, effectively ending the foot path.  So we set up camp, which appeared to be close to an “official” campsite listed on our forest service map, by the stone campfire ring with a great view of the lake.  Tent up, two hammocks hung, Akira tied out lakeside, we couldn’t really ask for more.  We took a break, but it was only 3:30 in the afternoon, to early to settle in. Which meant…off trail adventure time!

Off Trail in the Deam
Off Trail in the Deam

Following my topo map, we hiked up the hill behind our camp and slowly made our way over fallen trees, thickets, and thorny vines.  There was no evidence of any kind of human activity along this ridge for a very long time, really adding to the feeling of being out in the wilderness.  But I did underestimate just how far we had to go to find what I was looking for, an old cemetery and frog pond, often referred to as “Camp Peeper.”  As the ridge we were on widened out, I admit I got a little worried on finding my destination, so I pulled out my phone which had just enough signal to pull up a map and get our gps coordinates.  That made it easy!  Onto the old Terrill Cemetery we went, and then Terrill Pond.  Kaden made friends with some silk worms, Akira scared frogs back into the pond, it made the long hike worth it.  Except, we still had to hike all the way back…  My step counter said we did nearly 22,000 steps for the day, which equates to nearly 9 miles.

Hike Map
Hike Map

Back at camp around 7pm, we got a campfire going, fired up the stove, and ate a hearty meal of Ramen noodles.  The sunset over the lake was gorgeous, the sounds of crickets and frogs enveloping.  We all slept very well.  Next morning, we relaxed around the campfire, watched a bald eagle hunt over the lake, and finally tore down camp for the hike back.  On the way back, we passed a family on horseback, which had a tense moment when one of the horses reared up at the site of Akira.  Once back to the parking area, I went up the fire tower to an amazing view over the forest.  Though tiring, it was an amazing experience, and I can’t wait to go back.

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