If You Live In Indiana, You Must Visit This Amazing State Park
Less than two hours south of Indianapolis, the beautiful city of Madison sits overlooking the Ohio River. In 2006, 113 blocks of the downtown area, now known as the Madison Historic Landmark District, was declared the largest National Historic Landmark in the US. While there are plenty of excellent places to explore in this area (and we suggest you check it out!), a site just outside this city will leave you speechless in awe of its natural beauty.
Clifty Falls State Park is a truly unique place. Founded in 1920 and expanded in 1965, this rare natural area features an outstanding overlook of Madison and the Ohio River, but turn your gaze inland and you will find one of the most beautiful views in the entire state!
The park was named for its four waterfalls; the largest, Tunnel Falls, drops 83 feet; however, the other three – Big Clifty Falls, Little Clifty Falls, and Hoffman Falls — aren’t much smaller (60 feet, 60 feet, and 78 feet, respectively). Clifty Creek Canyon, which stretches the entire length of the park and empties into the Ohio River, provides many other smaller falls to explore as well.
The Canyon was formed during the Ice Age, which uncovered 425 million-year-old limestone and shale — some of the oldest exposed bedrock in the state. You can find countless fossil remains of prehistoric marine life, including shells, brachiopods, corals, and even squid locked in the rocks for all eternity. Though collecting these fossils within the State Park is not allowed, there are several easily accessible fossil-hunting spots nearby.
While the falls are certainly the “stars” of the show, the park also includes over 12 miles of walking and hiking trails (rated from “easy” to “rugged”) for you to get out and explore the unbelievably beautiful natural space. You may even encounter some amazing wildlife. There are several families of deer (including cute baby fawns in the spring) that live within park boundaries, as well as many squirrels, salamanders, turtles, and even wild turkeys! The park is a birdwatcher’s paradise all year long, and the colorful wildflowers that bloom in the spring and summer months attract butterflies to the area.
Clifty Falls State Park is open year-round, and every season puts on a spectacular show — you will definitely want to come back to see it change. The bright red and orange fall foliage is truly awe inspiring, but even the coldest days of winter provide tranquil snow-capped scenes filled with iced-over trees and partially frozen waterfalls.
At the center of the park, you will find a long-abandoned railroad tunnel (built in 1852) that stretches 600 feet through the rocky walls. Although visitors are no longer allowed to walk through the tunnel, there are numerous places to stop and take a peek.
While you can easily drive through the park to see the falls, we highly suggest turning an afternoon adventure into an overnight stay. There are over a hundred campsites and RV areas to rent. (And the park is dog friendly!)
If you prefer the comfort of a warm bed, you will also find some beautiful views (and an excellent brunch!) at the Clifty Inn, which sits atop a bluff overlooking both the Ohio River and the State Park below. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt famously visited the Clifty Inn, which was built in 1924, when she came to see the local Civilian Conservation Corps working in Madison. The Inn has undergone some major upgrades since then, and now includes a restaurant, conference center, observation area, and nature center, as well as tennis courts, a swimming pool, and even a small waterpark for kids to play in.
Clifty Falls State Park is located at 221 Clifty Dr., Madison, IN, and there are entrances on both State Route 56 and State Route 62. The park is open for day use between 7:00am and 11:00pm. Admission for Indiana residents is only $5.00 (per car) and $7.00 for nonresidents. This is, without a doubt, one of the best (and cheapest) ways to spend an afternoon (or a weekend!) exploring and appreciating the epic beauty of this amazing Indiana treasure.
Have you been to Clifty Falls State Park? Do you have any tips for other visitors? Share your experience in the comments section below! We would love to see photos from your own trip—feel free to share them our Facebook Page, Only In Indiana!