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Backpacker Magazine – BACKPACKER.com Online Exclusive
A hiker's oasis in the hills and valleys of the Midwest.
Little Known Fact: Hoosier National Forest has a rolling terrain because the glaciers which flattened most of Indiana stopped just to the north.
The lush greens of summer had finally arrived and I needed trees. Lots of trees. And not the strolling stands of a city park or the scattered thickets that sparsely punctuate Indiana's central flatlands. I wanted thick woods, lush, dark, and deep. I called a friend, packed my gear, and headed south into the billowing hills of the Hoosier National Forest. Many dismiss Indiana's topography as flat farmland stretching from border to border, but the glacial movements were kind to southern Indiana. Rolling hills and plunging valleys ~ some painted green with corn, others brown with winter wheat, still others dark with hardwoods ~ ripple toward the Ohio River Valley.
In an area dotted with springs, caves, and sinkholes, Hoosier National Forest protects this undulating landscape. Early residents, from roving Native Americans to migrating Europeans, slashed and cleared their way through the thick Indiana forests. By 1899, only rolling bare hills remained after a massive 30-year lumber boom. The farmers then moved in, but poor soil and the Depression kept them from thriving. In 1935, Hoosier National Forest was born. Today, through reforestation and rehabilitation, the hardwoods are back and Hoosier now holds more than 194,000 acres.
Our first stop was the German Ridge Recreation Area, just north of the Ohio River. German Ridge is known for its extensive network of horse trails, but the three-mile hiking trail (no horses allowed) that loops around four-acre German Ridge Lake is worth a visit. The trail leads up into a series of rock overhangs and outcroppings, where thick ferns and moss hold fast to the craggy walls and intense sunlight spills down through the trees in a pale green glow. We meandered up and down hidden paths around the overhangs, then headed back down to the trail. After a couple of hours of wandering, we rounded a bend and came to the lake. The temperature was a scorching 95 degrees F, so we ditched our sweaty packs and jumped in. Relief.
The following day we headed north toward the Two Lakes Loop area. Celina and Indian lakes are popular fishing spots; fortunately, a 12-mile trail (restricted to hikers only) loops around both. It proved to be a good escape from civilization and our fellow weekend warriors.
We had some time left, so we decided to check out nearby Hemlock Cliffs, a small hiking area packed with sights: soaring sandstone walls topped with thick forests, waterfalls, and plenty of shaded pools. True to the area's name, stubby hemlocks stand guard along cliffs and trails. Deep ravines snake through the cliffs; ascending from the trail floor to the tops of the cliffs requires some scrambling.
As we rested atop a cliff and took in the expansive view, a rumble of thunder overhead broke the silence. We looked at each other and reluctantly began our descent to the trail and to civilization. Our time in the trees was over ~ for now.