Friday, July 10, 2015

McCormick's Creek State Park: Trails #5 and #7 (Blog Hike #526)

Trails: Trails #5 and #7
Hike Location: McCormick’s Creek State Park
Geographic Location: east of Spencer, IN
Length: 3.9 miles
Difficulty: 6/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2015
Overview: A double loop featuring Wolf Cave, Twin Bridges, McCormick’s Creek, and the White River.

Directions to the trailhead: In western Indiana, take I-70 to US 231 (exit 41).  Exit and go south on US 231.  Drive US 231 south 18.6 miles to its intersection with SR 46 in the town of Spencer.  Turn left on SR 46.  Drive SR 46 east 1.7 miles to the park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, and pay the small entrance fee.  Drive the main park road a total of 1.5 miles from the park entrance, passing Canyon Inn and the park’s swimming pool en route, to the Wolf Cave parking area at the campground entrance.  Park in the Wolf Cave parking area.

The hike: Dedicated on July 4, 1916 as part of Indiana’s centennial celebration, McCormick’s Creek State Park was the first state park in Indiana.  (Turkey Run State Park, featured elsewhere in this blog, was established later that same year.)  Before it became a park, the key land tract was owned by Dr. Frederick Denkewalter, a physician who bought the previously logged land for use as a sanitarium.  The park and creek are named after John McCormick, a Revolutionary War veteran who, in 1816, became the first white man to own this land.
Fantastic amenities abound within the park’s boundaries, including a modern 189 site campground, the 70 room Canyon Inn, several picnic shelters, multiple reservable cabins, a saddle barn and bridle trail, and a pool with bathhouse.  For hikers, McCormick’s Creek State Park features 10 trails that total over 10 miles in length, and many experts regard Trail #5 and Trail #7 as the park’s best trails.  Trail #5 leads to Wolf Cave, a small partially collapsed cave structure, while Trail #7 explores the lower portion of McCormick’s Creek Gorge and the creek’s confluence with the White River
Trails #5 and #7 form separate loops, so they could be hiked individually.  However, these two trails depart from the same parking area, so it makes sense to combine them to form a nice tour of the park’s geological attractions.  The park’s human history is featured on the next hike, which departs from a different trailhead.
Waterfall in McCormick's Creek
            The Falls Overlook you pass on your drive in to the trailhead is worth a stop.  A brief descent over some wooden steps brings you to a rimtop overlook of the largest waterfall in McCormick’s Creek, a ledge-type waterfall that drops about 6 feet.  The Nature Center is also worth a visit, as it contains many exhibits on the geology, flora, and fauna you will see on this hike.
Trail #5 trailhead
            When you finally get to the parking area, pick up Trail #5 as it leaves the right side of the parking lot at an information kiosk and a sign.  The wide single-track gravel/dirt trail heads north through mature maple/beech forest.  Several sinkholes, above ground evidence of collapsed caves that lie underground, appear beside the trail.  Steep side trails take you down into the sinkholes.
            At 0.25 miles, you cross Trail #8, an asphalt trail that links the park’s campground to the left with the park’s pool and bathhouse to the right.  A sign here indicates that you are entering the Wolf Cave Nature Preserve.  Still northbound, the trail descends gradually to cross the headwaters of Litten Branch on a nice wooden footbridge.
            0.6 miles into the hike, you reach a section of trail that has recently been relocated closer to the Litten Branch tributary.  Just under 1000 feet later, you reach the entrance to Wolf CaveWolf Cave is only 3 to 4 feet high, but it is deep enough that you will need a flashlight if you choose to crawl around inside, which is legal as of this writing.  The cave gets its name from a pack of wolves that supposedly used it as a shelter in the mid-1800’s and attacked local farmers and other residents as they passed by the cave.  Take a few minutes to admire the cave entrance and read the interpretive signs.
Wolf Cave
            Past the cave, the trail descends and curves right to arrive at Twin Bridges.  As the name suggests, Twin Bridges is a pair of natural limestone bridges, each of which is about 15 feet high and 20 feet wide.  The bridges used to be part of Wolf Cave until the surrounding cave roof collapsed, leaving just the bridges.  The bridges are rather fragile, so walking over the bridges is prohibited.
Twin Bridges
            After crossing a wooden footbridge just below Twin Bridges, the trail curves right to begin heading upstream along another arm of Litten Branch.  The trail crosses the stream three times without the aid of a bridge, but all of these crossings are easy rock hops when the creek flows at normal water levels.  At 1.2 miles, you pass a rock ledge in the creek that would be a nice 5-foot waterfall with sufficient stream flow.
Rock ledge in Litten Branch
            Upstream from the rock ledge, the trail curves right and climbs out of the Litten Branch ravine on a moderate grade over several wooden waterbars.  Just shy of 1.8 miles, you intersect paved Trail #8 again, which our trail turns left and follows for a short distance before turning right to return to the dirt.  Trail #5 ends just over 1000 feet later at the north shoulder of the park road.  Turn right on the lightly traveled road to return to the parking area and close the Trail #5 loop.
            Perhaps after refreshing yourself with some food and drink you stashed at your car, begin Trail #7, which starts at a signed trailhead on the other (south) side of the park road across from the parking area.  Trail #7, which is a wide, flat, gravel trail at this point, heads west in a narrow strip of woods between McCormick’s Creek Gorge on your left and the park road on your right.  2.2 miles into the hike, a spur trail labeled as Trail C on the park map exits right to head for the campground.
Limestone cliffs of McCormick's Creek Gorge
            The limestone cliffs of McCormick’s Creek Gorge become visible to the left as you continue west.  Just past 2.3 miles, you reach a major intersection where some wooden steps descending to the left lead to Trail #10 and another unmarked trail exits right to head for the campground.  Although no signs indicate such, this intersection forms the loop portion of Trail #7.  This description continues straight and uses the unmarked trail going right as its return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise.  Also, note that Trail #10 is the park’s most difficult trail (it crosses rocky McCormick’s Creek several times without the aid of a bridge), but it could be used as an alternative route because it intersects our Trail #7 again later in this hike. 
            At 2.5 miles, the easy-going gorge rim hiking ends as the trail descends steeply on a somewhat rocky course to arrive beside McCormick’s Creek.  This descent is the only somewhat difficult part of this hike.  At the bottom of the hill, Trail #10 exits left for the last time.  Turn right to stay on Trail #7.
McCormick's Creek
            After climbing briefly to pass around a small rock outcrop, you arrive back at creekside and reach a wooden boardwalk at 2.9 miles.  The boardwalk is several hundred feet long, and it carries you over a seasonally wet area beside the creek.  After crossing the boardwalk, a small sewage treatment facility appears through the trees uphill and to your right.
            The trail soon enters the White River’s floodplain as it reaches the mouth of McCormick’s Creek.  The quiet narrow creek contrasts with the wide muddy river.  Some large sycamore trees appear in the forest as the trail curves right to head upstream with the river in view through the trees on the left.
White River
            3 miles into the hike, you get your best White River view where the trail curves right to exit the floodplain.  A bench beckons you to sit, rest, and enjoy the river.  A moderate climb brings you to the gravel sewage facility service road, where a sign indicates that Trail #7 turns left to follow the road.  You quickly pass a small shelter on the left labeled as a “trail lookout,” though any view that might have been had here has been reclaimed by the forest.
            After 0.2 miles of climbing, the trail turns right to leave the service road at another signed junction.  Like many of Indiana’s state parks, the trails at McCormick’s Creek are unblazed, but many signs and other identifiers clearly mark the trails and make the trail system easy to navigate.  Trail #7 soon reaches its highest point as it skirts the edge of the campground before following signs back into the forest.  Note that the campground’s Coke machine sits less than 100 feet left of the trail here.  An easy downhill glide closes Trail #7’s loop, where a left turn and 0.2 miles of fairly level walking return you to the parking area to complete the hike.

No comments:

Post a Comment