This easygoing 12.4-mile loop through southern Indiana’s hill country is like three trips in one. The scenery morphs from dense deciduous forest to Midwest prairie to alpine-like lakes nestled in the hills.
Begin at the Two Lakes Loop trailhead off CR 501. Hike 2.4 miles to a stand of red pines towering 50 to 70 feet overhead, where the scent of their needles permeates the forest air. Another .1 mile brings you to Tige Creek and the first of two crossings. Plan to wade across the 20-foot-wide stream, which can swell to knee-deep in late winter and spring with snowmelt and heavy rain (generally, it’s ankle deep in November).
Reach the Anderson River in .3 mile, and another ford much like the Tige. Cruise 1.5 miles to reach the American Discovery Trail, a 6,800-mile cross-country route you’ll track along for three miles. Tank up in the small stream below a footbridge. There’s also water at camp .8 mile ahead, but it’s in a low-lying forested area next to 152-acre Indian Lake, whose banks are often murky. To filter from Indian, let the water settle in a container for 30 minutes before pumping. Either way, try your luck casting for largemouth bass, blue gill, or catfish.
Next morning, catch the sunrise coming straight across the lake and look for ducks and cranes skimming over the water. Feeling adventurous? Bushwhack one mile west of Indian Lake to a stream and recently discovered Jason Falls Break camp and head .8 mile to an earthen dam where the trail curves around the lake’s southern tip.
Hike 2.4 miles to blue-hued Celina Lake and the dam at its southern tip, which boasts a view of the entire lake and surrounding wooded hills. In 1.1 miles, hop across a 10-foot-wide rocky tributary that flows into Celina Lake, and fill up for the next 2.1 miles to the Interpretive Trail. This optional one-mile loop meanders around 30-foot-tall limestone outcroppings which rise above the woods like castle walls. Pick up CR 502 .5 mile later and follow it northeast .4 mile to the Two Lakes Loop trailhead and your car.
Permit: $5 per vehicle per day. Drop fee in box if entrance gate is unmanned.
Gear up: Top Spot Outdoors, 11 South Green River Rd., Evansville, IN; (812) 476-8677; topospotoutdoors.com
Map: Hoosier National Forest ($12, natgeomaps.com)
-Mapped by Stuart Peck