Hoosier National Forest

A hiker's oasis in the hills and valleys of the Midwest.
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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.

Contact Information:

Hoosier National Forest

811 Constitution Ave.

Bedford, IN 47421

812/275-5987

Tell City Ranger District Office

248 15th St.

Tell City, IN 47586

812/547-7051

Location:

Hoosier NF is located in southern Indiana, about 60 miles southwest of Indianapolis.

Getting There:

Backed against the Ohio River to the south, Hoosier is also within a two-hour drive of Cincinnati, Louisville, and Evansville. Toward the north end of the forest is Bloomington, home if Indiana University. A little farther south is Bedford, home of the forest headquarters. Toward the southern end is Tell City, named after William Tell.

State Hwy. 37 south out of Indianapolis is a direct route into the forest. Take State Hwy. 446 from Bloomington to reach the north district.

Seasonal Information:

Spring has wildflowers, dogwood, redbud, and balmy days. Summers are warm and humid. Fall is crisp and cool with beautiful color. The average temperature is 76 degrees F. In winter, the average is 32 degrees F. Snow is infrequent and seldom stays on the ground for long. The average precipitation is 44 inches throughout the year.

Wildlife:

The Two Lakes Loop area is heavy with wildlife, such as deer, squirrels, turtles, and myriad birds, but few hikers.

Insects:

Contact park office for information.

Plant Life:

Trails dip and roll through soft pine thickets, sunny glades thick with wildflowers, and woods of oak, maple, dogwood, and redbud. Cattails and marsh grass colonize the shores of Lake Celina in the forest's southern reaches.

Facilities:

Backpacking and primitive camping are allowed on national forest lands way from developed campgrounds and anywhere that your camping equipment and/or vehicle do not block developed trails or road right-of-ways. Camping is also not allowed within designated Special Areas, within 100 yards of Grubb Ridge Trailhead, Blackwell Pond, or at the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower site.

In the Brownstown Ranger District, campgrounds include Hardin Ridge Recreation Area, Shirley Creek Horsecamp, Blackwell Horsecamp, and Hickory Ridge Horsecamp. In the Tell City Ranger District, there are German Ridge Recreation Area, Indian-Celina Lakes Recreation Area, Tipsaw Recreation Area, Saddle Lake Recreation Area, Springs Valley Recreation Area, and Youngs Creek Horsecamp. Flush toilets, showers, hook-ups, and picnic tables are available. Drinking water is available at a few sites. Most areas are open during low-use seasons but have reduced services.

Reservations are not required for developed campsites, but they are recommended. To reserve a campsite at the Hardin Ridge Campground, Tipsaw, or at Celina Lake Recreation Areas, call the National Reservation System at 800/280-CAMP. The fee for making the reservation is $7.85. Picnic shelters are also reservable for $15. You should call five days in advance.

The Twin Oaks Visitor Center (812/837-9598) is open Thursday through Sunday during the summer months.

Parking:

There are parking areas available throughout the forest. A $2 parking fee is charged inside the Indian-Celina Lake Recreation Area between May 15 and October 15. The fee is reduced to $1 for parking or free at other times of year. Park your vehicle off the roadway if a parking lot is not available where you wish to access.

Permits:

Groups larger than 25 people require a permit.

There is no charge for primitive camping. Fees for developed campsites range from $4 to $15. Fees may be reduced or waived during low-use seasons. Season passes are available at some sites.

Policies:

  • Camping is limited to 14 days within a 21-day period.
  • In the wilderness, group size is limited to 10 people.
  • ORVs are not permitted on forest trails.
  • Bicycles are not permitted on the Two Lakes Loop trail at Indian-Celina Lake and within the Deam Wilderness area.
  • Campfires are not allowed within rock shelters.

Hazards:

  • Be aware of designated uses for each trail. While some are for hikers only, others also accommodate mountain bikes and horses.
  • Take extra precautions during hunting seasons by wearing bright orange clothing.
  • When climbing or rappelling off cliff faces, avoid disturbing plants on the rock faces.
  • Many trails intersect roadways. If you choose to use a road as part of your trip, be mindful of traffic.

Leave No Trace:

  • Be sure to set up primitive campgrounds some distance away from roads and streams.
  • Respect private land.
  • All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps:

Topos and forest maps are available for $3 each from the Hoosier National Forest office, as are a variety of trail maps and other information.

Other Trip Options:

Harrison Crawford State Forest is just to the east of Hoosier.