Indiana is replete with great destinations for your outdoor pleasure. Here is a top ten list.
Clifty Falls State Park
Clifty Falls State Park is one of Indiana’s most beautiful settings. The park’s waterfalls change with the weather and seasons, ranging from frozen beasts to spectacular plunges to delicate mists. Clifty Canyon is a real draw; reminding us northern and central Indiana residents just how exciting it is to have avoided (mostly) a hellacious glacier. The entire park is fossil heaven (not to suggest any particular denomination), but you can’t take any home!
Numerous trail options exist, from “very rugged” to “easy.” Other activities include tennis, swimming, camping and a nature center. Nearby is the sweet town of Madison, which you should definitely work into your visit; it’s a treat!
1501 Green Road, Madison, Ind., 47250
eXplore Brown County
This new park offers 500 acres of adventure — year round! The Zip Line Canopy Tours really catch our imagination; heck, we had a staff retreat there last fall and it was great fun! Featured are the longest, fastest, tallest zip lines in Indiana. Go through treetops, fly over a lake, feel free as a bird (with a harness, that is). Good golly, you can even zip at night! Other activities include hiking, paintball, ATV tours (OK, not so green) and mountain biking. Visitors can stay in rustic cabins or camp and can also rent a rowboat or canoe.
2620 Valley Branch Road, Nashville, Ind., 47448
Hoosier National Forest
Nine Indiana counties
Nestled in the hills of Southern Indiana is the Great Mother of Indiana forests: 202,000 acres of nature just aching for you to come and tread lightly upon its tundra. There are 266 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking, plus opportunities to camp to your heart’s content. Outstanding features include the Pioneer Mother’s Memorial Forest, comprised of 88 acres of old growth forest and an archeological site; and the Charles C. Deam Wilderness, Indiana’s only Congressionally designated wilderness area with 13,000 acres of solitude. There are numerous water recreation spots, including the popular Hardin Ridge Recreation Area.
811 Constitution Ave., Bedford, Ind., 47421
The Indiana Dunes are comprised of 15,000 acres of beaches, prairies, wetlands, savannahs and forests, along with two parks: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park. You’ll need plenty of time to explore this fragile, breathtaking and diverse ecosystem. Pretty much all activities are available, from swimming to hiking to fishing to biking to skateboarding. Also, don’t forget gazing at the water and ogling the sunset, too. Note the Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail, a self-guided tour of 60 sites that showcase the region’s greatest natural and cultural treasures. They include outdoor recreation, museums and historic sites.
1215 N. State Road 49, Porter, Ind., 46304
Clark, Scott and Washington counties
Wander southern Indiana on the Knobstone Trail, widely considered one of the most beautiful hiking paths in the country. Its 58-mile long trajectory maneuvers through 40,000 acres of gorgeous forest, extending from Deam Lake, just north of S.R. 60 in Clark County, to Delaney Park, just east of S.R. 135 in Washington County. Here’s how bucolic this is by the list of ‘don’ts’: no mountain bikes, ATVS, motorcycles or other motorized vehicles. Even horses and wheeled vehicles are prohibited! It’s just you and a good pair of hiking boots — and don’t forget to watch out for ticks. Large, full color, waterproof maps are only $4 and can be purchased through the DNR by calling 317-232-4200.
The Limberlost Cabin, a state historic site administered by DNR and managed by the Indiana State Museum, honors the life and work of Gene Stratton-Porter. Stratton-Porter is one of our state’s most famous authors, an accomplished naturalist and born storyteller. Her most famous book, “A Girl of the Limberlost,” is still widely read and appreciated. It’s estimated some 50 million people have read her works. She and her husband built this cabin, a 14-room home in the Queen Anne style that features the original furniture, paintings and photographs. Commune with the space that housed one of Indiana’s great nature lovers and enjoy the nearby Limberlost Swamp, from which she drew her inspiration.
200 E. 6th St., Geneva, Ind., 46740
Morgan-Monroe State Forest
Morgan and Monroe counties
Behold more than 24,000 acres of some of the most spectacular ridges and valleys you’ll find in Indiana. Camping and hiking are encouraged, and get this: You can pan for gold! Heck yeah, why not? You have to get a permit, but can’t you just see yourself panning for gold, striking it rich? It’s got to better odds than a lottery. Three forest lakes, Bryant Creek Lake (nine acres), Cherry Lake (four acres) and Prather Lake (four acres) are open to fishing. Trail designations range from “rugged” to “moderate” for you hikers. Plus, there’s the Draper Cabin, a primitive, wooden-floored log cabin that takes visitors 100 years back in time.
6220 Forest Road, Martinsville, Ind., 46151
Portland Arch Nature Preserve
This National Natural Landmark delights all who visit. Located near the Wabash River in Fountain County, this preserve is marked by Bear Creek flowing through a deep ravine. Joined by a tributary, the waters carved an opening through a massive sandstone formation, creating the natural bridge dubbed the Portland Arch. Managed by the Indiana DNR, this 435 acre tract features two trails, with plenty of natural beauty and wildlife abounding. Treat yourself to this one of a kind destination!
Division of Nature Preserves, 402 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, Ind., 46204
Turkey Run State Park
Numerous commune-with-nature opportunities await you here. We will never forget the trip we had at Turkey Run years ago. Suddenly it grew cold, dark and strange; we were experiencing an eclipse! This is a magical place, with hiking, camping, fishing, picnicking — all the fun you’d expect to have. Situated just southwest of Crawfordsville, Turkey Run features deep, sandstone ravines, plus stands of aged forests and scenic views along Sugar Creek. The Colonel Richard Lieber Cabin honors the father of Indiana’s state park system.
8121 East Park Road, Marshall, Ind., 47859
Battle Ground, Ind.
An Indiana treasure, this park is a great way to get to know one of nature’s most extraordinary creatures, the wolf. Through seasonal activities (May 1-Nov. 30) and education opportunities, park-goers have numerous ways of getting to know these beasts better. You can sit in the Turtle Lake grandstand and watch Wolf Park’s pack of wolves go about their daily lives. This perch gives you great views of the pack’s seven-acre enclosure. You won’t want to miss the wolf/bison demonstrations, the Wolf Park kids camps, or the popular howl nights. Come and commune!
4004 E. 800 North, Battle Ground, Ind., 47920
Fore more info:
Obviously, Indiana Department of Natural Resources is a one-stop-shop for information about the great outdoors. But another great site is A Greener Indiana, part newsletter, part information repository, part social networking interface. This is a must-belong-to portal among Hoosier eco-lytes. If you’re looking for information on everything- green or want to meet like-minded greenies, you found the right place. A recent upgrade is nothing less than boggling. It’s a panoramic view of outdoor Indiana, with links to sites that can even tell you how the river is flowing.