Saturday, July 4, 2015

Mounds State Park: Trail #5 (Blog Hike #524)

Trail: Trail #5
Hike Location: Mounds State Park
Geographic Location: southeast side of Anderson, IN
Length: 2.7 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2015
Overview: A rolling loop hike past Adena-Hopewell Indian mounds and the White River.

Directions to the trailhead: In central Indiana, take I-69 to SR 9 (exit 226).  Exit and go north on SR 9.  Drive SR 9 north 2.7 miles to SR 232 and turn right on SR 232.  Drive SR 232 2.3 miles to the park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, pay the park entrance fee, and park in any of the lots near the Visitors Center.

The hike: Weighing in at only 290 acres, Mounds State Park is the third smallest state park in Indiana, yet it is also one of the most visited parks in Indiana’s state park system.  The park’s location near Indianapolis and Anderson combined with its nice amenities and historic value account for its popularity.  The park has almost anything you could want at a location that is easy to access.
Mounds State Park’s main attraction is its collection of Adena-Hopewell ceremonial mounds.  The mounds date to around 160 B.C., and they display a wide variety of sizes and shapes.  In addition to the mounds, the park features a campground, a tent area, several picnic shelters, and a 500-person swimming pool with bathhouse. 
For hikers, Mounds State Park features 6 trails, but most of the trails are short trails that connect one developed area of the park to another.  The exception is the 2.5 mile Trail #5, which circumnavigates the entire park.  Combining Trail #5 with a tour of the park’s famous mounds yields the 2.7 mile loop hike described here.
            This park’s trail system is a bit of a maze, and it is not as well-marked as the trails at some other Indiana state parks.  Thus, I advise stopping in the Visitors Center to pick up a trail map before heading out.  The Visitors Center also has a nice nature observation area that featured several squirrels, a few birds, and a few frogs on my visit.
Trailhead: Trail #5
            After walking out the front door of the Visitors Center, angle right across the handicapped parking area to pick up Trail #5, a wide two-track gravel trail that starts beside an information board.  Almost immediately you pass the brick Bronnenberg House, a two-story structure built by Frederick Bronnenberg Jr. in the 1840’s.  Almost all of the materials to build this house came from the present-day park land, including the limestone foundation, the clay for the bricks (hand-made on site), and the tulip poplar woodwork.
Bronnenberg House
            Past the Bronnenberg House, the park’s mound collection soon comes into view across a mowed grassy area to the right.  Walk across the grass to get a close-up view of the mounds.  The largest mound, called the Great Mound, is a circular enclosure that measures over 1000 feet in circumference and several feet in height.  Several smaller mounds near the Great Mound line up with astronomical events such as the summer solstice sunset, which suggests that the mound was used for ceremonial and time-keeping purposes.  A single gap in the circular enclosure allows you to view the interior of the earthwork.
Southern end of the Great Mound
            Rather than returning directly to Trail #5, continue your mound tour by walking northwest partly around the Great Mound to reach Fiddle Back Mound.  Fiddle Back Mound gets its name from its unusual figure-eight shape, which looks like the back of a violin.  This mound measures less than a foot in height, but it is the only figure-eight-shaped mound in the entire world that remains intact.
Fiddle Back Mound
            Walk to the left of Fiddle Back Mound, now following Trail #1 as it enters the woods.  Where the trail forks, turn left to quickly pass a low circular mound.  At 0.4 miles, Trail #1 ends at a junction with Trail #5.  Turning left would take you directly back to the Visitors Center for a total distance of only 0.6 miles, so this hike will turn right to hike the entire Trail #5 loop.
            Trail #5 used to be the park’s horse trail, as evidenced by the wide treadway and gradual to moderate grade, but Mounds State Park has been hiker-only for several years.  This section of trail lies very close to SR 232, so it would not be a great horse trail anyway.  At 0.5 miles, you pass some concrete piers in the ground beside the trail.  These piers date to the early 1900’s, and they are all that remain of a waiting station for Anderson’s interurban train system.  This stop was a popular one due to a nearby amusement park that was located in the southern part of the present-day state park.
            The trail soon curves right to begin a gradual to moderate descent toward the White River, which forms the park’s western boundary.  The forest here is a beautiful mix of maple, beech, and tulip poplar.  At 0.7 miles, you reach the east bank of the White River as the trail curves right to head upstream.  The river was high and muddy on my visit.  Some large sycamore trees live in the lowland area beside the river.
Descending toward the White River
            Trail #5 stays within sight of the river for most of the next mile.  Several trails (including Trail #3 three times) exit right to head for higher ground.  Most of these trails are unsigned, but at each junction Trail #5 stays to the left to remain near the river.  Points of interest along the river include an exposed limestone rock outcrop (a rare sight in central Indiana) and a brick foundation that appears to be the remains of an old chimney.
Brick structure beside the White River
            Just after Trail #3 exits right for the last time, a brief steep climb brings you to a bluff almost 50 feet above the river.  A couple of benches here provide rest for the weary.  One last Adena-Hopewell mound called Circle Mound can be seen through the trees on the right just past the benches.
Circle Mound, through the trees
            At 1.7 miles, Trail #5 reaches the paved campground road.  Cross the road and re-enter the forest on the other side.  Just after re-entering the forest, Trail #4 exits right, but Trail #5 turns left to descend and cross a small stream on a wooden bridge right beside the campground road.  Immediately after crossing the bridge, you need to turn right twice to continue following Trail #5.
            The trail climbs on a gradual to moderate grade to attain the highlands along the park’s eastern boundary.  Near the top of the hill, you reach two unsigned intersections in short order.  Turning left at either intersection would take you to the family campground, but you need to turn right at the second intersection to stay with Trail #5.  The trail drops to cross two small streams on footbridges with the first ravine much deeper than the second.
            After crossing the second creek, the trail comes very close to the park boundary on the left.  The last segment of the loop passes through a narrow strip of woods between houses and private property on the left and the developed park on the right.  After crossing a gravel maintenance road, you come out at the grassy area beside the park’s gatehouse.  A short walk across the grass returns you to the parking lot and completes the hike.

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