Experiencing the west without leaving Indiana

July 29, 2014 — By Justin Peeper

Over the course of 7 miles of hiking, we saw sandstone ravines, aged forest, gorges, and streambeds that also served as portions of the trail.
We crossed bridges, climbed ladders and stuck our heads under two waterfalls as we explored just half of the park’s 14 miles of trails on a rainy summer morning a week after the Fourth of July.
The sun emerged about three hours into our trekking adventure as we explored the park’s gorges that are similar to what Native Americans and pioneers would have seen. Glacial ice had once covered the northern part of the park.
It seemed as if my four friends and I were hiking through the Pacific Northwest or Canada but we were actually much closer to home. In fact, we had not even left Indiana as we looked in awe at the sandstone gorges, mosses and ferns surrounding us.
We were in west central Indiana at Turkey Run State Park. The park is located in Marshall on State Road 47, about 25 miles southwest of Crawfordsville.
It was our first trip to Turkey Run — a place that supposedly received its name because of the wild turkeys in the area. We didn’t see any wild turkeys during our two-day camping, hiking and kayaking sojourn, but we did see much more than we expected to encounter on an Indiana hike.
Turkey Run is one of Indiana’s most frequented state parks. The campsite at the state park was full when I called a week before our trip to make a reservation.
Instead, we stayed 1 mile from the park at the Turkey Run Campground. We arrived around 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night to pitch our tents — one for three people and the other for two — at sites J1 and J2. If you’re camping in a tent, J1 and J2 are ideal side-by-side locations separated from the other sites.
By 11:30 p.m., we had a fire going on a cool July night as we put our cell phones away for a couple of days of outdoor adventures, sans technology, showers and other life luxuries that we often taken for granted.
It started to rain as soon as we got up Saturday morning, but friends Cam, Joe, Nick, Will and I headed to the park anyway since we only had one day for hiking. The trail types range from easy to very rugged, with the longest being 3 miles and the shortest .5 miles.
We were most excited about Trail 3 — a 1.7-mile trek rated very rugged that starts by following the cliffs along the Sugar Creek. After passing Ice Box — a cove-like area where not much light enters — we crossed Bear Hollow’s steep walls and then reached a series of wooden ladders that took us back to the ridge top. Next we headed toward Punch Bowl — a pothole created by pieces of bedrock from Canada that the glaciers carried to the area. After leaving Punch Bowl we explored the steep walls of Rocky Hollow, a creek and Wedge Rock.
Of all the trails we hiked, we agreed that Trail 3 was the best that day as we trekked through creeks, between rock walls, up ladders and across bridges in a green landscape that often resembled the Pacific Northwest. The rain turned out to be good, as the added water made hiking through the creeks more adventurous.
We returned to the camp site mostly dry Saturday night to cook some burritos and mashed potatoes on a small backpacker’s stove before enjoying another night around the campfire.
The rain continued Sunday morning but stopped by the time we started our 6-mile kayaking trip down the Sugar Creek. Various tour companies organize excursions to the creek where you can either kayak, canoe or float in a tube for 3, 6, 10, 12 or 15 miles.
We choose the more secluded section for our kayaking trip that began at the Cox Ford Covered Bridge and ended 6 miles west at the historic Jackson Covered Bridge. Still, there were still several other visitors that day.
I only took on water once but friend Will ended up in the creek after a failed attempt to tip Cam’s canoe — the most exciting part of the leisurely kayak trip down the shallow and calm Sugar Creek.
If a trip out west or to Canada isn’t in the budget this summer, consider pitching your tent at Turkey Run State Park. You can’t beat the idyllic scenery that is unlike anything I have ever seen before in Indiana.
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