A Visit to Clifty Falls State Park
I'm a confirmed hike-omaniac. I try to work it into nearly every vacation or getaway, and only the extremes of any season can keep me away. I'll hike mountains, prairies, wetlands, canyons, or anything else that's got a bit of a trail.
I live in Indiana, so I do spend quite a bit of time visiting some of the state parks. I will be highlighting Clifty Falls State Park here for those of you who may be interested in a visit. I'll try to share a bit of history, a description of the trails, and provide a little information about the surrounding area in case you want to spend a day or two.
A Bit of Background
Clifty Falls is located just west of Madison in southern Indiana, just off of the Ohio River which borders Kentucky. (You can locate it with the map I've included below.) This park was first established in 1920. It includes 1,416 acres of land including several waterfalls, a canyon, and the uplands surrounding it.
The park has approximately 14 miles of hiking trails, a campground, several picnic areas, a nature center, a few playgrounds, an outdoor pool, tennis courts, and a modern inn with a restaurant and indoor pool. (You can see a trail map here.)
Many of the hiking trails are rather rugged, including steep climbs over rocky terrain and one 3 mile hike which primarily involves hiking up a creekbed which is sometimes impassible. The only potential danger, is an occasional encounter with a Copperhead snake but this is rare.
The Trails And Falls
If you're looking for a leisurely stroll then trail 10 can provide it. It's only .75 miles long and is a simple loop trail near the center of the park.
Trail 9, which is probably just a bit more rugged, can be picked up off of trail 10 and will lead you to the campground to the north, or the Nature Center to the south. It will give you an additional mile of walking distance. If you're just wanting to stretch your legs, there's also a paved walking loop around the play field near the north gate as well.
Beyond this, the hiking becomes a bit more serious but provides some nice views of the various waterfalls around the canyon. None of the falls carry a huge volume of water, but they are fairly high and make the hike worth the effort. Big Clifty and Little Clifty Falls are 60 feet high. Hoffman Falls is 78 feet high and Tunnel Falls comes in at 83 feet high. The largest volume of water occurs from December to late May.
Trail 2 (3 miles) lies mostly in the creekbed, although of course you have to get down there to start with. Thus a steep descent and equally steep ascent are needed. The creekbed is of course strewn with rocks and footing can be a bit unsure at times. During some seasons, such as spring, the trail can be impassable. Any hiker needs to be prepared to get at least their feet wet nearly anytime of year. Crossing the creek back and forth throughout nearly 90% of the parks length, there are many opportunities to slip on the mossy stones.
Currently trail 2 is a one way trek which culminates at Clifty Falls, but hikers can use connecting trails to avoid retracing their steps. Trail 7 (1.25 miles) is one of those connecting trails, and it will take you the short distance to view Little Clifty Falls.
Trail 8 (4.5 miles) borders trail 2 on the west side, on the rim of the canyon. It includes steep climbs at the north and south ends. On the opposite side, Trails 6, 5, 4, and 3 take you to the other falls.
Trail 5 will take you to Tunnel falls at it's northeast end. It will also take you to the tunnel; a railway tunnel which was started in the mid 1800's but later abandoned. Hikers can explore the tunnel and it's ecosystem although as of May 2009 it was closed.
Trails 3 and 4 border Hoffman Falls.
Although all of these trails are a modest .75 to 1 mile long, they are narrow, rocky and offer some fairly steep climbs.
Trail 1 is primarily a connecting trail which can take you from Trail 2 and 3 over to the nature center. It's only .75 miles long but still offers a relatively steep climb up to the observation tower. If you're up to climbing the steps, the tower offers a nice view of the Ohio river and neighboring Madison, Indiana.
From the nature center, it's an easy walk across a grassy area and parking lot to the Clifty Falls Inn. Although the original inn from more than a century ago was destroyed by a tornado, there is a modern inn at the park which also offers a restaurant and indoor swimming pool. At the back of the inn is a great view of the Ohio River as it looks down on Madison, Indiana.
Madison is an old river town that had a number of wealthy families in the 1800's. Of course as river traffic slowed in the 1900's, the town struggled but is now thriving with many historical sites, restored homes, antique and art shops. It offers a number of festivals throughout the year and the Madison Regatta (Hydroplane racing) each spring. Bed & Breakfast lodging is plentiful in the area.