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8 of the Best Hikes in Indiana: Waterfalls, Sand Dunes & More

June 5, 2023

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If you’re looking for the best hiking trails in Indiana, you’re in the right place! From sand dunes in the north to waterfalls in the south, Indiana has some epic scenery to explore. Whether you live in Indiana or you’re just passing through, this guide will provide ideas and inspiration for your next Indiana adventure.

I grew up in the neighboring state of Ohio and never imagined Indiana to have the beauty that it does! While I’ve always been a big fan of Ohio’s Hocking Hills State Park, Indiana’s Turkey Run State Park won me over as my new favorite state park in the midwest! Keep reading to find out why.

This blog is based on multiple trips to Indiana from December 2022 to April 2023.

8 Amazing Hiking Trails in Indiana

This list includes 8 of the best day hikes in Indiana. Most of the trails are rated moderate and a couple of them are rated easy. They are also all less than 7 miles long. At the end of the post, I’ve listed a few additional trails that are on my list for the future.

Turkey Run State Park - Trails 3 and 9

  • Entry fee of $9 for out-of-state, $7 for in-state
  • ~ 6 miles, rated moderate
A rocky cove with green moss and a waterfall inside of Turkey Run State Park.
Punch Bowl
Two large, wooden ladders leading up or down a canyon inside of Turkey Run State Park.
Ladders on Trail 3

Turkey Run State Park is my favorite park on this list due to the unique adventures that some of the trails offer! If you enjoy ladders and don’t mind getting your feet wet, this hike is for you.

Turkey Run has several intersecting trail options that allow you to pick your own adventure. I recommend combining a few different ones for a loop around the park.

Trail 3 is my favorite - it offers the most adventure! Hiking counterclockwise, you’ll begin by climbing up a waterfall and into a gorge area known as Rocky Hollow. After a narrow gorge, the trail leads to the Punch Bowl, a stunning little cove with a waterfall.

You will likely get your feet wet on this part of the hike, but it depends on the water level. You may be able to avoid it if the water is low and if you’re willing to scramble up the sides of the gorge in some areas.

Along with the water-filled gorges, ladders also provide adventure in this park. On the opposite side of the loop on trail 3, near the intersections of trails 3 and 5, you’ll find 2 large ladders that will lead you from the top of a canyon to the bottom. They are very sturdy, but may be nerve wracking if you’re afraid of heights.

After completing trail 3, I recommend heading to Boulder Canyon on Trail 9. Compared to the adventurous feeling of trail 3, I felt more danger on trail 9. Coming counterclockwise, you’ll first scramble down some rocks. From there, you can enter the canyon and see its waterfall.

However, as you make your way back up, the path gets quite narrow with a steep drop off on one side. You’ll be walking right along the cliff edge, so be sure to keep children close.

After that, you’ll climb down yet another gorge with water flowing through it. This area is known as Fall Canyon. This trail never gets boring!

As you take trail 5 along the river to complete the loop, you’ll be rewarded with much easier terrain. One interesting area to check out is the Ice Box, where giant rock faces create a cool area with towering walls.

With multiple canyons, waterfalls, scrambles and ladders, this hike is one of the most adventurous trails in Indiana. It’s a great hike to add to your midwest bucket list.

Indiana Dunes National Park - Cowles Bog Trail

  • $25 per vehicle for 7 days. Included in the America the Beautiful Pass
  • 4.3 miles, rated moderate
A sandy trail inside of Indiana Dunes National Park. You can see the blue color of Lake Michigan through bare trees.A pond surrounded by gray and brown wetland plants.
Cowles Bog Trail

The Cowles Bog Trail in Indiana Dunes National Park will lead you from marshland through the forest and onto the beach. The trail begins next to a bog area, where I saw many birds and heard numerous frogs.

After the flat bog area, you’ll walk through the forest and will start to encounter some elevation. Soon, you will get your first glimpse of the coast and Lake Michigan. Climb down a steep sand dune and you can walk out to the lake. The trail leads directly to a beautiful beach area, which is a great place for a picnic.

Unfortunately, there is a factory right next to this trail and you’ll get a clear view of it from the beach. It definitely takes away from the magic a bit.

After spending some time on the beach, climb up the sand dunes on the opposite side and reconnect to the forest trail to finish the loop.

I love Cowles Bog because the scenery is varied and the hike offers a nice amount of elevation for the area.

Indiana Dunes National Park - Mount Baldy Beach

  • $25 per vehicle for 7 days. Included in the America the Beautiful Pass
  • 0.9 miles, rated easy
A tall sand dune that has swallowed up some trees.
Mt Baldy
A beach with a view of a former factory.
Mt Baldy Beach

Mt Baldy is a large sand dune that’s on the move. It moves at a rate of 5 to 10 feet per year! To climb to the top of the dune, you must go on a ranger-led tour. It’s available only with a guide to protect the vegetation and because the dune can be very dangerous. You can find out when tours are happening via the calendar on the NPS website.

Even though you cannot hike to the top on your own, Mt Baldy is so neat to see. From the parking lot, you see that the dune has swallowed up trees and even utility boxes. It makes you wonder if it will cover the parking lot in the coming years.

However, you can hike next to the dune to reach the beach on your own. The trail is quick, easy and leads to a fantastic beach area. On this hike, you’ll be able to take in the views of Mt Baldy from multiple sides and get up close with Lake Michigan.

Note that there is another power plant right next to this beach. It is set to be decommissioned in the coming years.

While I’d love to do the ranger-led tour in the future, the hike to Mt Baldy beach is a great alternative to see the area.

Indiana Dunes National Park - Dune Succession Trail

  • $25 per vehicle for 7 days. Included in the America the Beautiful Pass
  • 1.1 miles, rated easy
Wooden steps built over sand dunes next to Lake Michigan.
Dune Succession Trail

The Dune Succession Trail is another Indiana Dunes National Park hike that includes access to the beach along Lake Michigan.

The hike is almost all steps. A series of boardwalk stairs that will take you over massive sand dunes. From the steps, you can enjoy some epic views of Lake Michigan, the Chicago skyline and the surrounding area.

There are signs along the way about ‘Diana of the Dunes’ (Alice Mabel Gray), a notable woman who was important in the protection of this area. She was an advocate for the protection of the dunes and lived an unconventional life that garnered the attention of the media. It was neat to be able to learn about her story on the park signs.

After the steps, you will walk back on the beach to complete the loop. Note that the sand can be a little hard to walk on. Like all of the beach front areas in Indiana Dunes, this is a beautiful area to relax on the beach. There is also a rest area and bathhouse here.

Indiana Dunes State Park - 3 Dunes Challenge

  • Entry fee of $9 for out-of-state, $7 for in-state
  • 1.8 miles, rated moderate
A sandy trail that leads down to Lake Michigan.
Views from Mt. Jackson
A brochure and stickers that are given up for completing the 3 Dunes Challenge trail in Indiana Dunes State Park.
Stickers for completing the 3 dunes challenge

The 3 Dunes Challenge in Indiana Dunes State Park was my favorite trail in the area. The hikes will take you to all 3 of the tallest dunes inside the state park: Mt. Tom, Mt. Jackson and Mt. Holden.

Mt. Tom is the tallest dune at 192 feet. It also offers the best views, and you’ll get a vantage point looking down at Lake Michigan and Chicago in the distance.

From Mt. Holden, you’ll also get views of Lake Michigan but the area is more covered by trees. Finally, from Mt. Jackson you’ll have views looking out at surrounding land and hills.

The trail involves climbing up and down multiple dunes, so it’s a bit of a workout. There are steps leading up to Mt. Tom, but the other peaks involve just climbing on the sand. However, it’s a short trail and doable if you’re reasonably fit.

The neat thing about this trail is that you can claim a sticker for completing it! Be sure to stop by the visitor center and you’ll be able to pick out a sticker for making it to the top of the 3 Dunes Challenge. The national and state park share a visitor center right off of State Route 49.

Clifty Falls State Park - Clifty Falls, Hoffman Falls, Tunnel Falls

  • Entry fee of $9 for out-of-state, $7 for in-state
  • 6.1 miles, rated moderate
An overlook looking down at a waterfall in Clifty Falls State Park.A cave overhang area on a trail in Clifty Falls.
Clifty Falls State Park

Clifty Fall is a Southern Indiana park home to a few tall waterfalls. You can see the most notable one, Clifty Falls, a short walk from the parking lot. However, it’s worth hiking a loop around the park and enjoying the various other waterfalls and views.

Clifty Falls is 60 feet tall and is visually stunning. The water cascades down rocks that make a stair step pattern. There is a trail under a rock ledge that allows you to look directly at the waterfall from across the gorge. It’s actually not the tallest waterfall inside the park, but certainly the most accessible and arguably the most beautiful.

Starting from Clifty Falls, I recommend hiking a 6 mile loop that includes several more waterfalls. Soon after Clifty Falls, you’ll pass over Little Clifty Falls. It’s a lot smaller and a boardwalk goes directly over it.

Next you’ll pass Tunnel Falls, which is the tallest waterfall in the park. Later on the loop, you can also see Wallace Falls and Hoffman Falls. There are plenty of views of the Big Clifty Creek and the surrounding forest along the way.

This trail crosses the river at the southern end to create the loop and has a nice amount of elevation change along the way. It’s a great place to get your heart pumping on a day hike. This park also makes for the perfect day trip from Cincinnati, as it’s only an hour and a half away.

Brown County State Park - Trails 7 and 8

  • Entry fee of $9 for out-of-state, $7 for in-state
  • 5 miles, rated moderate
The view of a lake surrounded by trees in Brown County State Park.
Ogle Lake

Brown County State Park offers some beautiful hillside views, many of which can be experienced from your car or along various overlooks. However, there are several trails inside the park that offer different types of views.

Trail 7 will take you all the way around Ogle Lake. It’s a great trail if you’re looking for something flat and offers plenty of views of the lake.

From the same parking lot, you can take Trail 8 through the forest and to some popular viewpoints. This hike includes some steps and steep areas, and will take you to Hesitation Point and the West Overlook.

While you’re in the park, it’s also fun to climb to the top of the fire tower next to the Brown County State Park Nature Center and take a scenic drive around the park. I’m hoping to return to this park in the fall someday to see the foliage!

McCormicks Creek State Park - Falls Canyon Trail

  • Entry fee of $9 for out-of-state, $7 for in-state
  • 4.9 miles, rated moderate
A waterfall next to a rock overhang in McCormick Creek State Park.
McCormick Creek Waterfall

McCormick Creek State Park has a gorgeous waterfall that can be seen with about a quarter mile walk from the Canyon Inn. You can see the waterfall from above, but you can also take steps down to the bottom and see the waterfall from a closer vantage point.

After seeing the waterfall, there are several more trails you can take around the park. If you continue along McCormick’s Creek, there are smaller waterfalls along the way. During a 5 mile loop around the park, you’ll get a great taste of varied terrains and need to make some river crossings throughout the journey.

More Hiking Trails in Indiana

Here are some trails high on my list for my next trip to Indiana!

Hoosier National Forest - Hemlock Cliffs

Hoosier National Forest offers all sorts of recreation in Southern Indiana. One popular trail is Hemlock Cliffs, which leads to rocky ledges, a slot canyon and some waterfalls along the way.

Yellow Birch Ravine

Yellow Birch Ravine is located right next to the Hoosier National Forest and leads you into a towering ravine. The photos remind me of Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio!

Shades State Park - Pine Hills Nature Preserve

Shades State Park is right next to Turkey Run State Park and has several rocky trails to explore. One of the top trails in Pine Hills Nature Preserve, which leads to Honeycomb Rock, a rocky cliff with an impressive texture.

Tips for Hiking in Indiana

Indiana is nice to hike year round. In the winter, you may experience snow and ice, but the trails will be less crowded. In the summer, you may experience hot temperatures and mosquitos. As with many places, your best bet is probably the Spring or Fall, when you can enjoy mild temperatures. You can also find nice foliage in the autumn months.

As with any hike, make sure to come be prepared with the proper hiking essentials. This includes plenty of water, snacks, a knife, a first aid kit, a light source and more. It’s always best to be over prepared in case of an emergency!

It is also so important to leave no trace while you’re exploring. This means you should research current conditions ahead of time, pack out all of your trash, never carve on rocks or trees, travel on durable surfaces and never feed wildlife. You should also be careful to minimize campfire impacts and respect those around you.

All Trails is a great tool to use for navigation while hiking in Indiana. I’ve included links to All Trail routes for each of the hikes above. If you hike often, I highly recommend purchasing All Trails Plus so that you can download maps for offline usage.

Non-Hiking Activities in Indiana

If you’re going on an Indiana road trip, here are some other things to do beyond the hiking trails!

A large room with a ceiling projected in abstract blue and red colors at the Newfields Museum of Art.
Newfields Museum of Art
Looking up at an American flag and a tall room with giant pillars at the Indiana War Memorial.
Indiana War Memorial
  • Explore Indianapolis. Some of the best things to do in Indianapolis include visiting the Newfields Museum of Art, touring the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, visiting the Indiana War Memorial & Museum and exploring the Bottleworks District.
  • Visit the small town of Nashville. Shop at the various boutiques and make sure to have a coffee from the Daily Grind Coffee House.
  • Take in the view of the impressive Cataract Falls, which can be seen a short walk from the parking lot.
  • See the Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress homes in Indiana Dunes National Park.

Final Thoughts

Indiana is certainly an underrated state when it comes to outdoor adventure and hiking. While much of the state is farmland, these hiking trails all offer something unique and beautiful. I hope this helps you discover some of the most beautiful day hikes in Indiana!

For More Midwest Travel Guides, check out these blogs:

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