Monday, February 8, 2010

Indiana Hiking Trails - Clifty Falls State Park Canyon Rim Hike

[caption id="attachment_450" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Clifty Falls State Park Canyon Rim Hike"]Clifty Falls State Park Canyon Rim Hike[/caption]
A favorite hike of ours is one I like to call the "Canyon Rim Hike". We start this hike at Clifty Falls Shelter, hike the east rim of the canyon, descend into Clifty Creek canyon, cross the creek and hike the west rim. This hike is just at eight miles long and takes us usually just under five hours. The hike entails several different trails to form a loop. The eastern portion is extremely rugged. It is one of the roughest trails we have hiked anywhere.

Clifty Shelter, below the parking area, is closed right now for some major repairs. The steps to the base of the Clifty Falls have been closed for a number of years, and now these are going to be rebuilt, too. There is only one observation point for the falls open right now. As we visited today, there was a significant amount of water going over the falls. Sometimes in summer and fall there is only a trickle.

Next on the trail is Cake Rock. This huge limestone slap, from the right angle, resembles a huge slice of chocolate cake. Right now it is covered generously with heavily blooming orange columbines. They cling to the rock in just about every crevice in an unbelievable show. This was one of the reasons for our hike today, as Clifty Falls usually provides a bountiful show of spring wildflowers. We were not disappointed.

From here the trail passes down a steep set of stairs to a bridge which crosses just above Little Clifty Falls. From here on it is pretty rugged. Up wooden or stone steps, in some places it clings to a rock face, the canyon just a misstep away on the right. Wild geraniums, columbines, shooting stars, fleabane, several species of violets and wild delphinium color the canyon wall. The rugged beauty of the canyon below is really wonderful.

We have to hike the road for a one half mile stretch, re-entering the trail at Tunnel Falls. Next up is the old railroad tunnel. The trail here follows the old rail line which once traveled from nearby Madison, Indiana to Indianapolis. It featured the steepest incline for any railroad in the country. You can travel through the nearly quarter mile tunnel if you have a flashlight. We don't, so we pass it by.

As the tunnel's south entrance is passed the trail becomes much prettier. Majestic limestone cliffs tower over the trail on the right. On the left the heavily forested banks fall steeply into the canyon. The forest floor is blankented with geraniums, wild phlox, and other flowers.

We finally pass the final waterfall, Hoffman Falls. Here the rock cliffs are again heavily covered with columbines. A bridge crossing the creek just above the falls provides a good spot to stop and lunch on trail sausage and drink some water. It is a warm day, but pleasant as there is little humidity.

Moving along, we finally reach the point where the trail splits. Straight goes to Clifty Falls State Park Clifty Inn, about a mile distant. Our path will descend into the canyon towards the creek.

The trail which descends to the creek this time of year is a riot of color. Wild geranium, delphinum, violets of many colors paint the hillside is a myriad of colors. The air is scented with the earthy fragrance of spring in the forest. The trail descends impatiently at this point, it is in a hurry to reach the bottom and we are propelled into a land of sky blue violets, waterleaf and pink geraniums. Clifty Creek cascades over rocks as it moves hurriedly on to the nearby Ohio River.

To cross we have to remove our shoes and move gingerly over the sharp, slippery rocks to the other side. We sit on a rock, allowing our feet to dry in the warm spring sun. It is peaceful here, a wild landscape through which the creek flows through the heavily forested canyon.

We replace our shoes and begin the ascent. The lower woodland flowers, in the moist environment of the creek are replaced by more delphinium. Higher up, bright yellow wood poppies splash color along the hill. Our pace slows a bit, admiring the rich green and yellow woodland floor.

We finally reach the top. It is about a twenty minute huff up the hill. There is a large, dead log near the trail for the weary to rest. We decide to push on, though. Here the forest is dryer and the flowers are sparse. The woodland is open, allowing a good veiw of the surrounding forest. The trail is fairly level and our progress is good. The trail crosses three small streams, which create waterfalls as their beds fall away, the water tumbling to the rocks far below.

Finally, we near the end. We can hear Clifty Falls in the distance through the trees and the trail is now only twenty feet above the creek bed as we pass the falls, still traveling upstream. It is quite beautiful here and the trail is easily hiked. We cross the creek again, ascend the steep wooden stair to the parking area. Here it is just a short distance to the truck. Just under five hours, the feet are happy to shed the hiking boots and rest.

This hike at Clifty Falls State Park encompasses the Clifty Creek Canyon and utilizes portions of most of the trails at the park.

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