Amidst the Covid-19 lockdown, I didn’t even know if they’d really be open much less what would be accessible when I got there. My house had just that day been listed on the market to sell and all my hard work in getting it ready was done. So I just needed to get some fresh air and a quiet space for an afternoon to empty my thoughts.
Only an hour and fifteen minutes west of Indianapolis, Shades State Park was indeed open (no admission). However, when I entered the park, a sign warned that many of the trails were closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.
I wasn’t surprised.
Shades State Park is one of several state parks in western Indiana with really intersting geological features, especially for the Midwest. Originally, the park was known as the “Shades of Death.” Current locals debate about how it got its name. Some say it described the way the trees cast shadows on the ground below making it seem eery and haunted. Others claim a settler died there perhaps at the hands of Indians–or an angry, ax-murdering wife!
Thankfully the dark references were eventually dropped and all kinds of visitors find the park an atttractive family friendly destination. In my opinion, Shades is one of the top hiking parks in Indiana. Trails range from “easy” to “very rugged.” If you like a challenge, you can hike along creekbeds, slick and treacherous to get to Silver Cascades or the Devils Punchbowl. (sorry I couldn’t really get any good pictures of these)
The steep sandstone cliffs that identify the park were formed when Indiana was covered by an ocean hundreds of millions of years ago. If you look carefully, fossils can be found on the nearby sandbars. Moss and ferns now grow on the cliffs and provide nesting sites for cliff-dwelling birds like swallows.
Canoeing is also available on Sugar Creek which runs through the park and all the way to Turkey Run State Park which is about 5 miles south of Shades. Turkey Run has very similar features including steep ravines, slate and sandstone valleys, and small waterfalls. With all there is to do in this area, any nature lover could have an amazing vacation weekend visiting more than one of western Indiana’s state parks.
The Silver Cascade waterfall is small, but unique, in that it is a convex waterfall which means they jut out like a nose rather than being cut back. An excellent view of it and nearby Sugar Creek can usually be had from Lover’s Leap, a small observation deck built out over the cliff (currently inaccessible).
However, gaining access to many of these areas is usually aided by a series of stairs and ladders that allow the average hiker an easy descent into the basins and ravines in the park. But because of (Coronavirus) health restrictions, trails where visitors might need to use or touch handrails or ladders for access was closed. Any path that was relatively easy to traverse and had no railing was open…ie two out of ten of their trails were open and the rest were closed.
My Tip for today: Currently, if you take the trail (6) that leads down to Red Fox Ravine, you can enter the creekbed and hike to the top of Devil’s punchbowl. This is where I left the path and turned right. The water level was relatively low so I could walk on the dryer clay areas.
I followed the sound of falling water ahead. The creek, edged with moss and ferns turned under the bridge that’s part of trail 1 (closed) to where the sandstone formed a cradle and a thin stream of water cut through the rock. Here, there were these very cool trees covered in moss that resembled monster’s feet – toenails and all!
I reached the point where the water falls over the edge…yikes! Inching along the side of the cliff, I hugged the cliff wall so I could get a better shot of the falls across from me.
Below: This is the view directly across from where I stood and probably my favorite picture from this trip! Standing there above the falls, probably a 50-60 foot drop, I felt vulnerable, but strong all at the same time. It was exhilerating!
I headed back to the trail and hiked up to Prospect Point. From here, the view of Sugar Creek was astounding, especially this time of year when the trees aren’t fully leafed out yet. The creek was so clear, I could see the patterns of rock on the bottom.
There was no one else around in this part of the park, so I decided to have my lunch right there on the small observation deck overlooking Sugar Creek. I pulled my food out of my pack and began eating. Within just a few seconds of taking my first bite, two carpenter bees began flying around my head. They were extremely agitated and hovered right in front of my face, threatening me with their intense stares. Clearly I wasn’t a welcome guest on this veranda!
Since the bees(which I later learned don’t sting) were making it hard to enjoy my lunchtime, I packed up and went off to find a more relaxing location. I hiked along the upper rim of Devil’s Punchbowl toward the pond. Yeah, that’s better!
There were a handful of other people out that day – a young man fishing, another man hunting morels with his grandson, and some lovers, holding hands as they disappeared into the shady woods. I spent the rest of my time there at Shades State Park hanging out around the pond, watching the wildlife and soaking in the afternoon sun!
Even though a lot of the park’s trails have been closed for the time being, there is still much to enjoy! But I can understand if you want to wait a few months to get the full experience of what Shades State Park has to offer!
Hey, tell me about your latest adventure!!
Any plans on the horizon?
~ A Girl on Her Own, Tracy