If you’re talking about true wilderness adventure, there is only one place to go in Indiana: Deam Wilderness Area in Hoosier National Forest. This 13,000-acre tract is located south of Bloomington along the southern shore of Lake Monroe east of State Road 446. The area presents an unbroken expanse of timberland sheltering dramatic ridges, caves, spring creeks and a large array of wildlife.
Since its creation in 1982, Deam Wilderness has been the only federally declared wilderness area in Indiana. The designation means that there is no development aside from 39 miles of trails along the flat-topped ridges and deep ravines of the forest. Wilderness regulations mean that foot and horse traffic are allowed but no bicycling or other mechanical modes of travel are permitted.
The Grubb Ridge loop trail is the longest trail in the area, winding through the northern half of the area high above the shoreline of Lake Monroe. At the northernmost reach, there is the 2.2-mile Peninsula Trail that descends to the shoreline of Lake Monroe.
The winding gravel Tower Ridge Road bisects the area, linking the only three legal parking sites at Blackwell Horse Camp, Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower and the Grubb Ridge trailhead. The area is also remarkably free of the restrictions found on other public land. Visitors can camp, hike, backpack, fish, hunt, gather wild food, rock climb or participate in many other non-wheeled, non-motorized activities.
Even the U.S. Forest service is required to use a mule for trail maintenance.
Deam Wilderness sees extensive use by horse riders and backpackers but there are many good day hikes in the area. However, hiking in the wilderness area should not be taken lightly, especially for novice outdoors enthusiasts. Water, food, map and compass, rain gear, a whistle and first aid supplies should always be carried into the wilderness. The trail system is easy to follow and well-marked but somehow getting lost or injured could have serious consequences if not prepared.
Cellular service is sketchy or non-existent in many areas, making it impossible to summon help quickly.
Patton Cave, along the shores of Lake Monroe is a popular destination that requires off-trail hiking. It is also currently closed, as are all caves in the Forest, to prevent spread of the deadly White-Nose virus in the native bat populations.
Hikers do not need special permits to use the area, though horse riders will. The only other noteworthy hazards, aside from the general dangers of woodland hiking, are the deer and turkey hunting seasons. During those times, especially deer firearms season, most hikers avoid the area. If you go during those times, it is prudent to wear bright clothing, stay on trails and make noise that doesn’t sound like deer or turkey.
For a complete listing of rules and regulations, visit the Hoosier National Forest website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/hoosier/home/