Tag Archives: Indiana

Eagle Creek Park – An Indy Adventure

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.

Trail Map
We took the Red Trail

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.

Eagle Creek Park website

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Clifty Falls – Indiana’s Natural Wonder

Back in September, the family and I took a camping trip to Clifty Falls State Park, near Madison, Indiana.  It’s not one of Indiana’s bigger state parks, but it is huge on features, especially if you like creeks, fossils, canyons, and waterfalls.  There are numerous waterfalls within it’s 1500 acres, a tunnel that was dug in the 1800s for a proposed railroad that never happened (currently closed to safeguard the bats), and a creek bed littered with 400 million year old marine fossils.  Clifty Falls is a geologic wonder.  The park also has an Inn overlooking the Ohio River, a nature center, large campground, swimming pool, and 10 hiking trails.  Of those trails, Trail 2 is possibly the most scenic (and rugged) in Indiana.  It follows Clifty Creek from just below the fire tower up on the hill, through forested hills and into Clifty canyon, culminating just short of the Clifty Falls themselves.  There are also small tributaries that lead up to other waterfalls as well.  The trail is littered with fossils and boulders that give you a sense of awe.  During times of high water, trail 2 is impassable, but our hike was during a dry period, with the creek being extremely low.  This made for low waterfall flows, but a great hike regardless.

Park website: http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2985.htm

Extended video of our hike:

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Back To The Shades

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.

Kokiwanee Nature Preserve

This nature preserve is located in eastern Wabash County near Lagro, Indiana, across from the Salamonie River State Forest. I’ve camped and hiked in the state forest many many times over the years, but never the forest on the other side of the river. Kokiwanee Nature Preserve is a former girl scout camp, with over 140 acres of wooded ravines, creeks, waterfalls, and even a lake. The land was turned over to ACRES Land Trust in 2003. It was quite refreshing to hike an area that I felt so familiar with and yet completely new to me. My one complaint would be that there needs to be trail maps on location, as there is a huge system of trails on the property, many which intersect each other, and without a map I really had no idea where to go or what to see. Of course after the fact, I discovered that ACRES has a trail map on their website, which will come in handy whenever I visit again someday. If you ever find yourself visiting the Salamonie area, take a couple hours to visit Kokiwanee, you won’t be disappointed. It is extremely close to another ACRES property, Hanging Rock on the Wabash River.

ACRES Land Trust – Kokiwanee

Summer at Salamonie

Salamonie has something for everyone. When I think of Salamonie, I encompass it in it’s entirety, both the Salamonie River State Forest and Salamonie Reservoir. I credit Salamonie with being where I first realized my love for nature, for camping, and for hiking, I’ve been going there for as long as I can remember. Salamonie is located between the Indiana cities of Wabash and Huntington, not far from my hometown. The reservoir is one of three in the vicinity that help control flood waters of the upper Wabash River basin.
This camping trip, our base camp was in the modern campground near the beach. Salamonie also offers primitive camping on the reservoir, as well as primitive camping in the state forest, and even a couple horsemen’s campgrounds. The modern campground is quite large with multiple comfort stations and playgrounds, a few sites actually overlook the lake (though those are mostly reserved for the big RVs). Most of the sites are small, as was our case. Our camping spot was like a small community with 5 campsites all backing up to each other with a shared large grassy area and playground, normally not the kind of spot I would reserve, but it was totally worth it for us to be able to keep an eye on Kaden in the playground from our campsite.
We arrived on Thursday, setup camp, Kaden immediately made friends with the neighbor kids, and we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset over the lake just a short hike from our camp. Within 50 yards from our camp was the access lane down to the boat mooring area, where we were able to walk the shore half way around the peninsula that we were camped on. On Friday, Robin left camp early to go to work in Logansport, leaving Kaden, Akira, and I to find our adventure for the day. With the beach not being dog friendly, that was out of the question, and most of the trails in the area I’ve walked hundreds of times so offer nothing new. Time for a new adventure!
To the northwest of the reservoir is the state forest, located on the south side of the Salamonie River. However, to the north side of the river, is Kokiwanee Nature Preserve, with nearly 200 acres of wooded ravines, bluffs, and waterfalls. Apparently, it is the former site of a girl scout camp from years ago. I was pleasantly surprised, the trails were well developed, followed creeks, lead to the river, and we even took a break to play in the water below the largest watefall. There wasn’t a lot of water this time of year, but I can imagine how spectacular it must be after a good spring storm. Funny thing is, if you were to cross the river from this waterfall to the other side, you’d just about be right at the biggest waterfall located in the state forest as well. Very cool area made for a great 2 mile hike, and Kaden was hard at his scavenger hunt all the way. From there it was a short drive to visit Hanging Rock on the Wabash River, and then back to the Salamonie Dam before heading back to camp. Friday evening was all about relaxing while Kaden played on the playground with all the other kids.
Saturday, Robin and Kaden took a boat tour on the lake. Pirates Cove Marina is attached to the park and offers boat rentals, boat mooring, bait & tackle, a camp store, and boat tours. So Robin and Kaden took 1.5 hour tour on the lake, seen an Eagle’s nest with two baby eagles in it, and learned about the sunken towns under the lake. Meanwhile Akira and I took a hike along the shore, but I had to keep Akira away from this part of the water as the blue-green algae blooms were pretty thick in this area. After the boat tour, we checked out the nature center, and then Robin & Kaden went to the beach to have a little fun in the sun & surf.
Saturday evening was an eventful one around the campground, as Salamonie was celebrating Smokey the Bear’s 70th birthday with a parade, plus it was Christmas in July weekend. There were a handful of campsites actually decorated for Christmas, but for the life of me, I didn’t get it. The last thing I want to think about in the middle of summer is a winter holiday! But Smokey’s birthday celebration was fun, Kaden got a free frisbee, punch & cookies, and his photo taken with Smokey. Then it was back to the campsite for hotdogs over the fire and another awesome sunset over the lake.
Sunday we broke down camp, and spent the rest of the day at the beach or on the trails. Robin & Kaden naturally chose the beach, so Akira and I hiked nearby trails, and even checked out the youth campground. Seemed weird to have such a huge, well maintained camping area with all the amenities and right on the lake, sitting there completely empty. I’d almost be interested in booking the entire group camp area for myself if I could afford it! It was overall a good day, and another great weekend of camping. Funny thing is, as many times as I’ve been to Salamonie, there is still a lot there that I’ve not seen. The Bloodroot Trail is a 13 mile hiking/biking trail that I’d love to bike sometime. And there are other recreation areas I’ve never been to. I’m sure my brothers know more, as they used to fish the lake often, and were the ones who got me started camping here clear back to my teen years. There really is a little something for everyone in Indiana.

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Fall Creek Gorge – The Potholes

The Potholes. If you grew up in west central Indiana, you immediately know what I’m talking about. I didn’t, but my love of nature preserves led me to it. Fall Creek Gorge was taken over by the Nature Conservancy in 1986, but for many years it was a local spot for swimmers, partiers, and nature lovers alike. Due to overuse, the Nature Conservancy severely limited visitation rules to this 37 acre Warren County preserve, located a few miles west of Attica, with a parking lot that only holds maybe 5 cars (no parking allowed roadside). It has the nickname “The Potholes” due to the many circular indentations carved out in the creek bed.

On this visit, the creek was at a very low flow, lucky for me because it makes the potholes and rock formations much more visible. Sadly, the Nature Conservancy has strict rules against swimming/wading, and there simply is no way to fully enjoy and appreciate this preserve without getting your feet wet. In the past, we have actually been followed by a Conservation Officer, making sure we stayed on the trail. There was nobody patrolling the preserve this time, evidenced by several locals already onsite with kids in the water. The Nature Conservancy claims they have rules against swimming/wading in the creek because it once tested for high E. coli bacteria; yet the Indiana DNR site says this creek was given it’s “Highest Quality” water rating. I suspect it has more to do with safety, as in the past there were many people who would get hurt slipping in the potholes or climbing the hillside. Regardless, Kaden and I arrived and walked up a small tributary creek, enjoying the scenery, and returned to the main Fall Creek just as the last locals were leaving, giving us the preserve to ourselves for awhile.

Being the rebels we are, Kaden and I waded out into the creek to the mouth of the gorge. I’m an amateur nature photographer, it’s not my fault! To get the good pics, you gotta find the angle, and that meant being in the creek. We didn’t actually walk into the gorge itself, with all the potholes I’m pretty sure I would have ended up in one (they can be inches deep to a few feet deep) and that wouldn’t have been good on my camera. After getting some pics and splashing around, we got back on trail and hiked to the back of the preserve, where the creek gets it’s name, with a nice waterfall. From there, we hiked down stream into the canyon that leads to the gorge, walked back, and then up creek beyond the falls as well. There is no way to put into words how awesome this tiny nature preserve is, with the 80 foot canyon walls, tree lined rim, and ferns sprawling on the sides. Where there were no potholes, the water was extremely calm and relaxing. We made our way back to where we entered the preserve at, and hiked down stream further than we had ever gone before, where we discovered huge grooves carved into the creek bed, which all lead to another waterfall. This one is more of a water slide, but beautiful no matter what you call it.

This was by far the longest we’ve ever spent in this preserve, mostly because we had it to ourselves and weren’t afraid to wade in the creek and experience it the way it is meant to be experienced, feet fully engulfed in the creek. My apologies to the DNR and Nature Conservancy, but we tread lightly anywhere we go, and my camera lens only reaches so far.

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Adventuring in Charlestown State Park

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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