As I type this, snow is snarling commutes for thousands of folks. Not 24 hours ago, most of us were comfortably walking outside in short sleeves.
Yep, it’s three-seasons-in-a-week territory for North Central Indiana right now. Provided March’s lion remains tame, there will soon be plenty of opportunities to get outside amid more predictable weather.
Here’s a pair of low-cost outdoor options to enjoy as the sun lingers longer and into spring, summer, and autumn!
PORTLAND ARCH NATURE PRESERVE
For the last-half century, Indiana has protected a system of statewide nature preserves – land and water whose unusual flora and fauna pair scenic beauty and scientific value.
Think of them as outdoor museums – a vibrant record of unspoiled sights awaited those who settled Indiana … and that we often forget about in the bustle of busy days.
The 436-acre Portland Arch Nature Preserve in Fountain County is named for a natural bridge there, carved into the sandstone gorge by water that flows through a deep ravine with high rock walls.
These sandstone sights await you, too, via a pair of freely accessed self-guiding trails – the North of which lets you descend into the ravine. Leave time to soak in views of the bluffs, and pick up a brochure to spot white pine (rare in Indiana), oak and hickory trees as well as other plants and wildflowers.
From Attica, head south on U.S. 41 for about five miles and then west on County Road 650 N. Once you hit Fountain, follow signs to the preserve, choose your parking lot and start exploring! Admission is free.
SHADES STATE PARK
Nearby Turkey Run often overshadows Shades. However, it’s hard to beat for some of Indiana’s most rugged trails and serene nature spots. About 17 miles southwest of Crawfordsville, this hiking, fishing and canoeing hotspot celebrates its 70th anniversary as an Indiana State Park this year.
Shades affords spectacular views of oak, maple and sycamore trees, sandstone cliffs, shady ravines and rarities like the Silver Cascade – a convex waterfall best seen from the Lover’s Leap Observation Deck. Nearly 12 miles of interconnected trails – rated easy to rugged – dot the park and the Pine Hills Nature Preserve (located within the grounds on the park’s eastern edge.)
Pack a lunch or snacks to enjoy at the creek on Trail 7, which hikers recommend for its plethora of flat rocks and peaceful quiet. Conversely, seek thrills atop the Devil’s Backbone – a walkway 100 feet up, and only six feet across, inside the nature preserve with a bas relief of the devil’s face carved into it!
Admission is just $7 per in-state car. The Shades entrance is located at 7751 S. 890 W. in Waveland, and you can access Sugar Creek for canoeing from the Deer’s Mill Covered Bridge area (on State Route 234).
As with any outdoor trek, be prepared: Cell service at each location is spotty at best. Portland Arch trails are moderately rugged due to uneven or wet footing, so wear appropriate gear and watch your step. At Shades, most trails cover steep terrain, cross ravine streambeds and / or incorporate ladders – all of which can be slick or uneven. At all times, dress appropriately, turn away from high water, remain aware of advisories, use discretion with kids and pets, and consider your own fitness.