Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hiking Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

The crown jewel of the Indiana State Park System

Turkey Run State Park is an oddly unassuming name to what most Hoosiers consider to be one of the best state parks in the state, if not the entire Midwest. Deeply carved canyons and a free flowing river dominate the scenery of this tranquil place. Often overlooked by people more familiar with Brown County State Park and McCormicks Creek State Park (also beautiful), their loss is your gain. Between those two parks, my perception of Indiana has changed dramatically. 

Hiking opportunities abound in this larger park and its possible to spend all day hiking without spending too much time on the same trail. There's a great deal of variability to this park which further's its allure. Its littered with narrow slot canyons, somewhat reminiscent of Utah though shrouded in dense flora that gives it a Midwestern feel. 

In addition to just flat out being one of the most beautiful places in Indiana, Turkey Run State Park retains its remarkable wilderness which has been preserved for now 100 years. Turkey Run was Indiana's second state park and its historical preservation is clearly evident when hiking through the back-country. 

I chose to depart from Newby Gulch which ended up being an excellent choice. I was able to enjoy the famous Box Canyon formation and Gypsy Gulch in total solitude-

Though I kept my camera rolling, these turned out to be mere appetizers of what was to come. I crossed the rather picturesque suspension bridge crossing Sugar Creek and entered into the profoundly rugged Rocky Hollow Falls Canyon Nature Preserve. Numerous trails permeate deep into this cavernous area where multiple gorges invite exploration. It was somewhat reminiscent of Starved Rock State Park though with far fewer visitors. Most of the time I was totally alone.

Trails are not named, they are numbered though the park notes which trail are more or less rugged. I would not recommend leaving the park without spending as much time as possible on Trails #3, #5, #9 and #10. Trail #3 is the most photogenic of them all though I appreciated the infrequently hiked trails #9 and #10. The canyons speak for themselves-

I suppose now would be a good time to mention how much I've reversed my view of the Midwest being unworthy for any real traveler. Its not that I haven't visited glorious places prior to this though for some reason the realization was powerfully striking at this juncture. Perhaps it was the deeply carved canyons or the free flowing river, but something about the park made me happy that I lived here. And that means a lot coming from somebody who's lived in California, Texas and New England.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Hiking Cataract Falls State Park, Indiana

Largest waterfall in Indiana! 
Upper Cataract Falls

Cataract Falls State Park is one of the more hidden treasures of the Indiana State Park System. Located about halfway between Indianapolis and Terre Haute, it is frequently overlooked when compared to Brown County, Turkey Run or McCormicks Creek State Parks. As to why, that's a mystery. It is the largest waterfall in the state and is graced with all the pastoral scenery that I think of when I think of Indiana.

Hiking opportunities in the park are limited to a few nice walks but the photography is what tends to draw most adventurers. The above pictured falls is easily seen with a 10 yard walk from the parking lot though the covered bridge can be crossed into a few hiking trails that get below the cataract. It runs with terrific force and is quite loud. The resulting scene is marvelous and I saw now more than 10 other people the day I visited. Nice to have such a nice place to myself!
Lower Falls
Covered Bridge, of course
The lower falls is a short drive away from the upper falls. I noticed a few people fishing - one from a kayak. Nobody seemed to have any trouble landing a bite which leads me to believe that this is a popular honey hole. The lower falls were not the high nor the volume of the upper though they were just as pretty.

It was great place for some quiet reflection or a picnic. None of the hikes were too tough either. I couldn't believe there weren't more people here!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hiking Clifty Falls State Park, Madison, Indiana

A wonderland of waterfalls

The more I travel through Indiana, the more I'm convinced that it is the most underrated state for the outdoors. I was not expecting to make it this far South into the state but after spending a little time looking at some guidebooks, I couldn't imagine missing a place as gorgeous as Clifty Falls State Park. With four named waterfalls and dozens of other cascades, the hiking and photography are pristine. 

Along the banks of the Ohio River, the land becomes noticeably more rugged. Bluffs over the river tower 100-200ft above the banks. I found the drive from Cincinnati to Madison, Indiana to be particularly scenic and I was a bit sad that I didn't spend more time in this drive. Nevertheless, one of the best state parks I've seen in the Midwest was my destination for the day. Here's an overview- 

As you can tell from the topographic map, there's a great deal of elevation gain and loss in the region. I've labeled all the highlights of the park but there are miles of hiking trails that are also worth seeing. 

If you enter the park from the South, the first highlight is the Lookout Tower which is close to the Clifty Inn. The view of the Ohio River Valley is extraordinary. Its a quickly completed hike that's more of an appetizer of what's to come rather than the main course.

Continuing North on the main park road, Hoffman Falls is the first significant waterfall that can be seen. The viewpoint for this falls is a few hundred yards past the parking pullout. Actually, this is somewhat of a lousy viewpoint. I'd recommend continuing on the trail which forks going east and west where better vantage points await. We just had a thunderstorm the night before that was quite intense, meaning the waterfalls were all flowing with tremendous force.

The trails leaving from Hoffman Falls do get deep into the canyon and I would highly recommend turning it into an extended day hike if you have the time and stamina. Bring very sturdy boots or shoes that can get wet!

Pictured above is the tunnel- a two entrance passage that is a bit of an adventure walking through. Initially I thought it was completely natural though its flat bottom and uniformly oval-shape betrayed its man-made status. This was an earlier attempt at a railway tunnel though it proved to be too difficult to maintain. The hike through gets very deep into an unlighted portion of the cave and a flashlight is essential. On the other end, the trail rejoins you. Nearby is Tunnel Falls which is taller and drops a greater volume of water than Hoffman Falls. However it is also more visited so I'd recommend not missing the former.

Continuing North brought me to the piece de resistance pièce de résistance of the park; Clifty Falls and Little Clifty Falls. A prominent notch is created by the confluence of two smaller creeks which is full of magnificent scenery. The roar of Clifty Falls can be herd long before it can be seen-

Clifty Falls can be seen with minimal effort and a wheel-chair friendly path leads to an extraordinary vantage point. Hiking a little further on the trail brings you to another cliffy viewpoint as well as Cake Rock and Little Clifty Falls. It was hard to take a bad picture in such a photogenic place!

Had I more time, I would have liked to have hiked Trail #2 which is a fairly rugged trail that brings the hiker just below the final drop of Clifty Falls. Rarely appreciated by the majority of visitors in the park, this is the place for the finest appreciation of one of Indiana's largest waterfalls. 

As for me, I had more parks I wanted to see that day, so I'll save that hike for the next time I'm out here, which I hope is not too long from now!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Hiking Hoosier Hill, High Point of Indiana

Stout in altitude though worth the visit.
At the summit of Indiana
Oh there is not much to write about this location that has not already been written, other than yours truly made it to the summit. Despite Southern Indiana's fairly rugged terrain and the tall sand dunes of the Lake Michigan shoreline, the honor of Indiana's Tallest Mountain goes to a barely perceptible elevated point next to a farm. Naturally, its named "Hoosier Hill". 

This is one of six entirely privately owned state high points. The others are also mostly in the midwest-  Sunflower Mountain (Kansas), Black Mountain (Kentucky), White Butte (North Dakota), Driskill Mountain (Louisiana) and Campbell Hill (Ohio). The landowners graciously allow and encourage people to "hike" to the highpoint. Other than basic rules of leave no trace and respecting private land, there are no other special restrictions. I would recommend only visiting in daylight hours.

Previous trip reports indicate that there are no signs marking the highpoint though this has more recently changed. It is an easy place to miss if you're not looking for it as there is no real parking lot though. Other than the parking area itself, it is all paved roads to the top. 

The summit itself is about a 60 second walk from the car and has the obligatory Highpointers Bench and Summit Register. Some kind boyscout made an eagle scout project out of the place and there is an etched boulder that marks the true high point. Its actually a very pleasant place. Rural Indiana is not short on charm
Summit boulder

"Summit Approach" from the southwest couloir

Parking Area

Summit registers are always fun to read- there were couples and families from all across the state and country who drove to this place. Its a popular location due to its ease of accessibility. Ohio's state high point is only about 1 hour and 45 minutes away by drive as well, making the two often being completed in the same day for those who care. Ohio's high point has a far more obvious rise, especially if traveling from the West. 

That makes 34/50 for me in highpointing! Onward to Ohio!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Late Summer Mountain Biking Brown County State Park, Indiana

A holy pilgrimage for any mountain biker
An epic ride
Brown County State Park is one of the few places I actually knew quite a bit about before I moved to the Midwest. This famed state park is well known to Hoosiers though has much greater fame in the mountain biking world as an Epic Ride. Attaining this legendary status by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) is the equivalent of a restaurant receiving three Michellin Stars. Denoting exceptionally well designed and maintained single track, Brown County lived up to the high standards of the award. I've ridden no less than a dozen current or formerly awarded rides and found that Brown County State Park fits in well. For those who chose to believe the Midwest lacks adventure and travel opportunities, here's a place where you can shed that ignorance!

Brown County, Indiana is simply magical. Its similar to Galena, Illinois or Baraboo, Wisconsin- not exactly tall in altitude though rugged terrain hides extensive outdoor adventure opportunities. Driving South from Indianapolis, the hills become taller and more numerous until reaching the town of Nashville, Indiana. This little town is actually quite cosmopolitan considering how far it is from any major center of population. Much of it's commerce centers around biking and autumn leaf-peepers (do they use that term outside of the Northeast?) 
Well maintained trails
I was practically shaking with excitement when I made it here. First I stopped for supplies at the stalwart supporter of the Hoosier mountain biking community- Hesitation Point Bike Shop. For the life of me, I can't remember the name of the kindly owner who must have spent 25 minutes orienting me to the area- a very neighborly gesture. Their trail map is an absolute essential though I would have loved to have finally purchased a full suspension bike. Another time I suppose!

Like many vetted mountain biking destinations, trails are rated like ski runs- Green circles are easy, Blue Squares are intermediate, Black Diamonds are hard, Double Black Diamonds are extremely hard. Also like ski trails, there's not a great deal of objectivity to ratings. I would say that most mountain biking destinations I've been to have trail ratings that are rated with respect to other trails in the area but not necessarily to one universal standard. 

Brown County really has a great assortment of rolling, easy-going trails and technically challenging single tracks. I like to have a bit of both in my mountain biking days. Though I love the twisty, switchback trails of a tough ride, I allowed my day to be percolated with easier trails. 

I started with North Tower Loop which is an easier, accessible trail in the northern section of the park. This rolls through dense woodland and is entirely shaded, making for a very pleasant ride. From there, Green Valley Trail was a bit more challenging though flowed nicely as well. Hesitation Point Connector starts with the fantastic view above and is quite rapid in descents- you will definitely forget you're in the Midwest. I found this trail to be the most fun of them all- its a very classic ride for the area.

Later on in my weekend, I did Aynes Loop ad Connector which are also flow-y intermediates that ran like a rollercoaster. There's a lot of elevation gain and loss on that trail - recommend that one in the early or midday, not at the end! 

For the really advanced riders, Walnut Trail and Schooner Trace Trail are not to be missed. I found the Walnut Trail,a black diamond, to be a bit out of reach for a casual rider like me. It was fun but I needed a much more technical bike to overcome the numerous treefalls and rocky drops. Schooner Trace is utterly vicious, hence the double diamond rating. The elevation profile on that trail is as serrated as a woodsaw. 

A few other sights in the park are worth mentioning as well. Above is the view from the terribly named Weed Patch Hill which is the tallest point in the park and all of Southern Indiana. Its a serene place with an old cabin and lawn. The fire tower is rickety but climbable with panoramic views. There are taller hills in Indiana, to be sure. None of them rise to the clear prominence that this one does- I would think Hoosier Hill would be a better name for it but that's reserved for the actual high point further northeast. 

The covered bridge would be of interest to any enthusiast at the north end of the park. Lastly, there are several more primitive campsites in the park that are worth staying in. Nights are temperate and starry in this park.

Nashville Indiana is you're quintessential small town of Indiana with a real up-and-coming gastronomy scene. No mountain biker would want to miss Big Woods Brewing which tends to draw an eclectic crowd of serious riders, IU students and classy urban Hoosiers. 

It was a wonderful weekend. I can't wait to come back, perhaps in the fall?