Winter is one of best but least utilized seasons for hiking in Indiana. Single-digit temperatures, wind-chill cold enough to make the proverbial brass monkey move to Florida and icy roadways are all good reasons to stay home and watch another wretched “reality” television program. However, if you can readjust your attitude for a moment, you will find that a walk in the woods during February and March is one of the more rewarding ways to pass the time.
Whenever the weather is benign, or even when it’s not, there are many reasons to lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails of Indiana right now. To help, we reveal four of our favorite short winter hikes. All somewhat challenging to find but you can visit WildIndiana.com for detailed directions and map.
Mossy Point Nature Preserve, dedicated in 2005, is located west of Annapolis in Parke County.
The 191-acre state nature preserve is located along Sugar Creek, west of Turkey Run State Park. The namesake of the area is Mossy Point, a rocky hemlock-covered bluff overlooking Sugar Creek. The preserve also contains Coke Oven Hollow, the former site of various business concerns including a smelting operation, flatboat builder, coal mine, clay mine and pottery factory. From 1841 until the early 1900’s, the area was buzzing with pioneer industry though today the mature forest hides most of the scars of man.
The area is covered by an unbroken canopy of upland and floodplain forest with many unique plants such as evergreen partridgeberry and ginseng. Bald eagles are commonly seen roosting in massive creek-side sycamore trees. However, there are no official trails.
Located in Putnam County, Fern Cliff is a 115-acre Nature Conservancy-owned preserve on the banks of Snake Creek southwest of Greencastle. There is a 2-space parking area next to the gate, then a trail that follows an old service road until it eventually becomes a real trail. Shortly thereafter, you arrive at a dramatic vista that overlooks an abandoned quarry, ruins of a mill and the Snake Creek valley.
You can follow the trail to the bottomlands and poke around the old quarry and mill but use caution while walking. During cold weather there is an impressive frozen waterfall resulting from spring seepage high on the cliff top. Slightly upstream along Snake Creek is a narrow ravine containing the namesake Fern Cliff, an impressive canyon with rock shelters, tight passages and impressive bluffs, all packed into an intimate setting that is festooned with hundreds of ferns and mosses. The effect is that of a hanging tropical garden.
FALL CREEK GORGE (The Potholes)
Located northwest of Attica, this small preserve is very popular for offering hikers an outstanding quick trip along a narrow canyon with unusual rock formations. In winter, there are also many areas of interesting ice formations along the creek.
The only trail shortly leaves the parking area then descends a small side tributary to the main creek. Here you can look upstream and view potholes that seem like a series of stone bathtubs in the narrow, undercut gorge.
The trail then returns to the cliff top and gives a birds-eye view of the canyon. It terminates shortly thereafter at a pool with a nice waterfall. Keep in mind that the short but steep steps, rock walking and canyon-skirting trail can be somewhat risky when frozen or wet.
While in the area, take time to drive the back roads in the area as the entire Big Pine Creek watershed downstream of Rainsville is quite unique and scenic.
If you like history, mystery and really off-the-beaten-path adventure, a hike up Browning Hill south of Bloomington is for you.
Browning Hill, sometimes known as Browning Mountain, is the highest point in the rugged area southeast of Monroe Reservoir. The west end of the flat-topped hill has been called “Indiana’s Stonehenge” due to a curious circle of stones that various people claim to be connected with Native American rituals or UFO activity.
The first problem is finding the trailhead; it isn’t especially noticeable but is marked by a small generic U.S. Forest Service trail sign where forest ends and private property begins. The only maintenance seems to be from the boots of occasional hikers but the treadway does become more apparent as you climb the hill on an old road.
After a short ½ hour hike, you should reach the trail junction at the top and take the right fork approximately ¼ mile to Indiana’s Stonehenge. The rectangular area is composed of large square blocks of a limestone that seem to defy randomness. Some claim a larger stone at the “head” serves as altar for ceremonies held inside the site.