Clifty Falls State Park

November 14, 2019 | By Terry | Filed in: Default.

After visiting Turkey Run State Park for an epic day hike a few weeks ago, I was in the mood to check out another State Park I’d never hiked at. Clifty Falls is on the Ohio River in Madison, Indiana. This park shouldn’t have been such a mystery to me, as I grew up only about 20 miles from it in North Vernon, Indiana. I’d always heard about it, but I rarely (if ever) had a reason to go down to the Madison area. All my family and business was in nearby Seymour and Columbus. So, I had almost zero experience in this park.

Anyway, I’d only been to this park (that I can remember) only once in my life before this recent trip, and that wasn’t until about 7 or 8 years ago. Even then it was just for an hour or two with my girlfriend at the time.

I wanted to camp out down there so I could get a really early start on the trails the next day. It was cold that night (high 30’s), but it really wasn’t that bad. I have the equipment for it, I was warm.

Backcountry camping is not allowed there. I tried my best to pay for a spot in the campground, I really did hah. I didn’t get to park until 3:00pm that day. The campground check in booth was closed. Th park office was also closed. I event went to the hotel in the park to see if I could register to camp there. No dice. So I just set up camp anyway. I figured DNR would be making rounds to collect from stragglers like me, but they never showed up. Oh well, I tried. I had a nice campfire that night and stayed warm despite the cold. There was a beautiful moon as well.

The only thing missing were howling coyotes. Bummer.
There’s nothing like a campfire on a night in the 30’s!

The next morning I packed up camp and drove to the nearest trail head. My plan was to hike as much of the park as I could (about 7 or 8 miles worth). I had no idea what I was getting into, but I knew it was manageable.

First I want to describe this park. It’s basically a giant gorge cut out over thousands and thousands of years. A natural stream that feeds to the Ohio River formed this park. There are lots of small waterfalls all over the park, from the natural springs feeding down to the stream wayyyy down below. It’s very similar to Red River Gorge in Kentucky, only on a much smaller scale. You’ll see videos of some of these mini waterfalls here in a bit.

This was a very difficult hike, but very pretty. What I’m finding out about these State Park hikes in Indiana, they all are very different in geological formations. Brown County is steep elevations under a forest canopy. Not a lot of streams or cliffs or canyon/gorge type activity. It’s basically a pretty forest with challenging steep elevation changes and rattlesnakes. Turkey Run and Clifty Falls are similar to each other in that they have the gorge/canyon type features, but they were formed differently. Turkey Run was formed by glaciers in the Ice Age, and Clifty Falls by natural stream erosion over hard limestone and softer shale – a perfect recipe for waterfall activity. I took several Geology classes in college so I find all this fascinating.

Anyway, enough with the jabber – on to the pictures and videos. Enjoy!

Some of these pictures are hard to visualize in 2D – but there’s a giant canyon between me and the trees over there. You can see some cliffs in the shady area. The river is way further below, out of the picture.
Sound up! “Tunnel Falls” – this is just a small corner of this canyon/gorge. Waterfalls everywhere!
Sound up! This stream/waterfall I had to walk through. So pretty and relaxing!
This is a man made tunnel. In the 1850’s, this was the start of building a railroad tunnel. The project was scrapped however, leaving a literal “bat cave”. There’s another opening further down the path
This side of the park was very cool. This was a typical trail – rock ledges following jagged stone “trails” with dropoffs. Watch your step!
Looking straight up from my rock path
While the rocky paths are cool, there are a lot of man made stairs as well. Look at this monstrosity. Did I mention this park is a great workout?
Rocky outcrops everywhere
This isn’t the stream at the bottom, it’s one of the many streams at the top that feed into the canyon with waterfalls. (Beyond the last log up there is the Fall on this one)
Sound up! Perfect spot to get some drinking water.
I do carry a 3 liter water bladder in my day pack, however I wanted to have backup for later in day. Here is how backpackers drink water in the woods! Step 1: Fill water bottle from a stream.
Step 2: screw Sawyer Squeeze filter directly to bottle (acts as a bottle cap)
Step 3: Drink your freshly filtered water, straight from the bottle! (nevermind that it looks like you’re swigging a fifth of vodka hah)
Here’s the main stream at the very bottom, that has formed the canyon. Hard to believe, huh?
You can see erosion and canyon forming right before your eyes here.
Heading back up the other side. Canyon to the right.
All my rock path pics were wayyy over on the other side there.
Another natural spring dropping into the canyon below
Canyon cliffs on the other side
A stream rippling into a pool
sound up!
“Clifty Falls” – the biggest Fall in the park. It’s the one that formed the entire canyon. This Fall is still receding, they say about a foot every 50 years or something like that? I could be wrong there but close.
They call this “Cake Rock” … it’s triangular like a big slice of layer cake 😀
Eroding layers of shale
The top of “Little Clifty Falls”
Little Clifty Falls
Sound up!
One last view of the canyon. Really pretty day!
A very tough, satisfying workout today.

The hardest trail I didn’t do. The stream at the bottom of the canyon is an actual trail in itself. Yep, actually walking in the stream for a couple miles. I do have the waterproof boots for it. I did walk part of it, but decided it was way too slippery and rocky and time consuming for this day. So I did all the upper ridge and waterfall and switchback trails to and from the ridges and river. Hell of a workout for sure!

Once again, thank you for reading and enjoying my adventures with me. I will continue some day hikes this Winter (my camping days are over till Spring though, at least in Indiana – unless we have a random warm weekend here or there). I do have a vacation in early December, I don’t have plans yet but I may be heading South with gear in hand. Stay tuned.

Terry – November, 2019


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