Eyeing southern Indiana’s mighty Knobstone Escarpment from the cornfields below may not quicken the pulse the way your first sighting of the Rockies does, but one thing’s for sure: Hiking the Knobstone Trail will make your heart race. Sections of this 58-mile trail seem to stand on end, forcing a hand-over-hand style of hiking more akin to climbing a ladder. Radical stuff in what’s supposed to be horizontal Hoosierland.
With a leap of more than 400 feet-some of it nearly vertical-and a length exceeding 100 miles, the escarpment is the most prominent geological feature to disturb the otherwise tranquil Indiana landscape. Heaps of glacier-deposited shale and siltstone cover the flat-top ridges and create a succession of “knobs” that march north from the Ohio River toward the center of the state. It all combines to yield a hiking experience unlike any other in Indiana. In fact, the rugged Knobstone Trail (KT) has become a convenient training ground for Hoosier hikers preparing for the Appalachian Trail and other long-distance hikes.
The stiff climbs give way to open ridgetop panoramas of the surrounding farmland. Several vista points along the southern KT offer views of downtown Louisville 20 miles away. Enjoy them while you can because soon enough, the KT will continue its up-and-down grind. You’ll saunter along ridgetops, hop small streams filled with geodes, dip in and out of ravines dripping with ferns, and pass through valleys carpeted with wildflowers. Hike quietly and you might spot white-tailed deer, wild turkey, raccoons, box turtles, and garter snakes. At the least, you’ll hear the chorus of songbirds in the canopy of oak, hickory, beech, and maple.
Already the state’s longest trail, the Knobstone could double in length in the near future. Plans are afoot to extend the pathway north 60 miles through national and state forests. Maybe then hikers will warm up on the Appalachian Trail before tackling the Knobstone.