My friend and I decided to take a long weekend and head to Indiana to do some hiking. Clifty Falls State Park is a rugged and beautiful park located in southern Indiana, about 30 minutes from Louisville, Kentucky and about 4.5 hours from St. Louis. The park gets it’s name from the tiered waterfall called Big Clifty Falls which is visible on Trail 7.
We started our first hike of the day by parking in the large parking lot just south of the North Gate entrance. The trail starts near the restrooms and after a short walk down a paved trail, you are at a viewing platform for Big Clifty Falls. Due to the size of the trees, just a glimpse of the falls is visible, but you can hear the rushing water falling over 60 feet to the canyon floor below.
From here, the trail continues down a set of stairs to another viewing area for the falls. The rock walls are something to marvel at.
By hiking down a set of rock stairs to the right, there is a plank walkway tucked along the side of the cliff. I believe at one point, there was a staircase that connected Trail 7 from on top of the canyon to Trail 2 at the bottom of the canyon, but unsafe conditions required this part of the trail to be closed so there is no access to the bottom of the canyon from Trail 7.
From here the trail goes to the left and the right. We took the trail to the right. We later found out that this part of the trail is a loop and there is a “moderate” or “rugged” path to take for Trail 7. The trail to the right is the “rugged” one which I highly recommend. After hiking down some rock stairs, the trail goes under a rock overhang and then climbs back out of the ravine. The two trails will meet up and there is a sign indicating the rating for each of the trails.
We followed the trail around the ravine as it climbed up to the road and came to Lookout Point. The view from here is into Clifty Canyon, but the view is mainly just trees.
We turned around and hiked back the way we had come on Trail 7 and when the trail forked, we took the moderate trail back. The trail follows Little Clifty Creek Gorge and then returns to the parking lot.
Trail 7 is rated as moderately rugged and is 1.25 miles long. This was my favorite trail in the park.
For our next hike, we parked in the Nature Center parking lot which is near the South Gate entrance. Trail 1 starts from this parking lot and a short hike leads to the Observation Tower. From the top, you can see the Ohio River.
Trail 1 leads down a step incline to the intersection of several trails. We took the trail farthest to the left which is Trail 2. Trail 2 is a steep and rocky descent taking you all the way down to the bottom of Clifty Canyon.
From here, Trail 2 is a hike up the creek bed of Clifty Creek.This trail is rated as very rugged since there is no defined trail. You work your way up the creek by rock hopping, crossing the creek, and making your own path. Be prepared to get your feet wet!
There are a couple ways to exit the creek bed. The first option is via Trail 4, but we kept going and exited farther up on Trail 5. If you keep going, you can make your way near the base of the Big Clifty Falls, however, there is no exit, so you must back track and exit on another trail.
Trail 5 leads you up the the middle level of the canyon using multiple switchbacks. We turned right and saw Brough’s Tunnel. In 1852, an attempt was made to bring a rail line up Clifty Canyon by using tunnels and trestles to create an easier route between Madison and North Madison. The project ultimately failed when funding ran out.
We climbed the short trail to the parking lot and walked the road back to the parking lot at the Nature Center. All in all, I was worn out after hiking here. Clifty Falls State Park is by far the most rugged overall park that I have ever hiked. The canyon is 400 feet tall and the climb back up will definitely wear you out, but it is so worth it. It feels like on every trail, around every turn, there is something spectacular to see.
For more information on Clifty Falls, you can visit the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to obtain a trail map. You can see the trails we hiked below.
A couple other things to mention:
For all Indiana State Parks, a per car fee is required to enter the park. It is a little bit more for out of state residents.
This is a dog friendly park, but they must be kept on a leash.
I have to give a shout out to the Holiday Inn Express in Scottsburg, Indiana. We stayed here while we visited Clifty Falls, Charlestown State Park and also the Falls of the Ohio State Park. This was a great central location for visiting all of these parks. I usually take my dog hiking as long as she is allowed at the parks we are going to and it is often difficult to find lodging that is dog friendly. The Holiday Inn Express is a dog friendly hotel and was very clean and accommodating. The people behind the front desk were friendly and even had treats behind the desk. I would highly recommend this hotel if you are traveling with a dog and are looking for a place to stay.