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Fall Hiking in Indiana
With milder temperatures and nature's rich palette about to burst onto the scene, fall hiking in Indiana means catching a part of the state at its best. Trails offer some splendid views and can be found on public lands throughout the Hoosier state.
September is typically one of the drier months in Indiana. It is also still summer for much of the month, and it's not uncommon for highs to reach into the 80s into October. Bringing along plenty of water for the trail and to keep in your parked vehicle is always advisable. The state's turning leaf colors run from late September with plants like ivy and sumac through November with larches and willows. Indiana's foliage typically reaches its peak color in October with maple and other brightly colored leaves, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
What to Bring
The basics - drinking water, food, a flashlight and waterproof outerwear including a pair of boots and a change of footwear for the vehicle - are always a good idea to bring, regardless of the weather. Although most marked trails loop, a compass could come in handy on longer stretches of sporadically marked paths. Since the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus appears here to stay, it is best to bring along and apply before hitting the trails an insect repellent containing the chemical compound DEET.
Where to Go
While much of northern Indiana is better suited to farming than to hiking, there are places, typically along river valleys or other bodies of water, that offer decent hiking opportunities and a chance to view varied fall foliage. Perhaps the most unique are the sandy trails of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park. Although lined in many places with wooden fencing to contain erosion and protect native plant life, winding sandy paths still take visitors through wood of black oak to a panoramic view of Lake Michigan. Dunes rising over a hundred feet offer some breathtaking climbs and some invigorating descents.
Further south near the state's western border, Shades State Park and Turkey Run State Park in Parke County are home to a variety of hardwood trees, as well as sandstone cliffs overlooking a winding creek and numerous shaded ravines.
As its name suggests, Shades State Park is heavily forested. It's also a great place to pitch a tent and go for a hike. Located about 17 miles southwest of Crawfordsville on Ind. 47, it's favored by hikers and canoeists.
Nearby Turkey Run is said to have earned its name as a place of shelter for wild turkeys that gathered in its steep ravines - or runs - during the colder months.
For a taste of the same natural attractions, Portland Arch off of Ind. 41 near Attica to the north offers some unexpectedly rugged terrain as its trails loop down a canyon and through a natural sandstone arch that gives it its name.
The glaciations that bulldozed much of Northern Indiana managed to spare the hills and dales of the south. As a result, the south central uplands region that begins south of Indianapolis offers some of the ruggedest trails and splendid scenery in the state.
Brown County State Park near Nashville is justifiably known for its scenery when the leaves change color, as well as being home to some of the more challenging trails in the state. If the prospect of sharing the trails with throngs of like-minded autumn leaf lovers doesn't appeal, nearby Yellowwood State Forest in western Brown County offers a less crowded alternative with plenty of long, rugged trails. A short drive to the west in Monroe County is McCormick's Creek State Park. Founded during the state's centennial in 1916, it is the oldest state park and well worth an exploratory hike around its waterfalls and limestone formations.
Morgan-Monroe State Forest (Hindustan) offers a lesser known set of trails that include short loops and longer paths across heavily wooded ridges. The longer trails are best explored during the course of a day hike, starting early in the morning.
The federally administered Hoosier National Forest begins just south of Bloomington and extends to the Ohio River. At nearly 200,000 acres, the mixed-use forest is interspersed with private lands and sports a number of public entry points. Of interest to the hiker, it is provided with miles of both marked and unmarked trails and fire roads. For more information on access points, log on to .
Along the Ohio River, Clifty Falls near Madison is home to one of the more scenic waterfalls in the region. The park offers some hilly hiking and is a regional favorite for leaf watchers. (Note: At the time of this writing, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has announced that due to difficulties with the way its 1501 Green Road address is interpreted by some online mapping services, visitors using this as a destination address are often led to a dead end lane. In order to construct a map to get to the Ind. 62 gate, the DNR advises using "2221 Clifty Drive" as the destination address.)
Falls of the Ohio State Park near Clarksville, though not a forested hike in the traditional sense, instead allows visitors to see the remnants of an ancient seabed thrust up as a limestone wall. With water flow at its lowest during the year, August through October provide the best accessibility to over 200 acres of Devonian fossil beds. Among the largest of their kind in the world, the beds proved large enough to allow ice age fauna such as mastodons to ford the river.
Combining fossil beds with rugged hiking, Charlestown State Park offers excellent views of the Fourteenmile Creek valley. Established in 1996, Charlestown is one of Indiana's newest state parks and packs much diversity into just a little over 5,000 acres. Four trails - some of which rise and dip over 200 feet -- afford views of the valley, Devonian fossil outcroppings and karst sinkholes.
Nature Walks in Southern Indiana. McPherson, Alan. Hoosier Chapter/Sierra Club. 1992