Trail Riding Indiana- Horse Trails in the Hoosier National Forest
Learn about the best equine trails for riding Indiana's Hoosier National Forest from longtime trail rider Kim Humphries of Midwest Trail Ride for the Equitrekking 50 State Trail Riding Project.
by Kim Humphries
When most people think of Indiana they think of miles and miles of flat corn fields and farmland. It might surprise most folks to find that the Hoosier National Forest encompasses 202,000 acres and around 260 miles of horse trails scattered throughout the southern part of the state. Within the Hoosier National Forest, the largest and most popular trail system for horse riders are the Hickory Ridge Trails, the Charles C. Deam Wilderness area and a trail in Brown County State Park.
Cope Hollow Trail in the Charles Deam Wilderness. High on a ridge top.
Hickory Ridge Horse Trails
The Hickory Ridge Trail System has approx 55 miles of trails made up of long and short loops. Many of these trails are shared with mountain bikes and hikers–– no 4 wheelers are allowed in Hoosier National Forest–– but the majority of the traffic to these areas is horse traffic. The terrain is very hilly and scenic, but not steep or dangerous. The gently rolling terrain takes you across ridgetops and creek bottoms with cool streams where you can see the cut of the shale and limestone that is native to the area. It is a good place to take beginners and young horses, but also enough riding and exploring for even the most advanced rider.
Part of the flavor of visiting the Hoosier National Forest is finding the old cemeteries and remnants of home sites and farmsteads scattered throughout the area. The Hoosier National Forest was farmland before the depression of the 1930’s; the hilly terrain did not make good farmland because the rain washed all the good topsoil down the hills. The government purchased the land in the 1930’s to save it for parks and recreation areas. The Hoosier National Forest and Brown County State Park were born from the labor of the CCC boys.
One example of the past that lives in this area is the Hickory Grove Church found on trail 10. The church is a primitive log church and cemetery located on 1 acre of private land surrounded by the Hoosier National Forest. The church was built in 1880 and is still in good shape. Folks like to make this a destination for lunch while out on the trail. There are hitch rails and a toilet on Hoosier National Forest property, and you may enter the church and explore the cemetery if you wish…..leaving the horses at the hitch rail please.
Other destinations include Calhan Cemetery on trail 15, the picnic area on trail 2 and Lost Cabin Pass on trail 20.
Nebo Ridge Trail is a 9.5 mile trail that connects The Hickory Ridge Trails to the Brown County State Park Trails. A popular destination at the end of the Nebo Ridge trail is the Story Inn at the southernmost tip of Brown County. Midwest Trail Ride provides a guided overnight trip to Story Inn–– a 2- 3 day adventure.
Charles Deam Wilderness Horse Trails
Charles C. Deam National Wilderness area encompasses 13,000 acres of the HNF with 45 miles of horse trails. The Wilderness was designated in 1982 with special legal status to preserve the natural condition of the forest. The only maintenance provided is trail clearing. There are no prescribed burns or trees are allowed to be cut. No motorized equipment is allowed to build or maintain trails. All maintenance is provided with pack mules and hand tools. Trees that come down across the trails are all cut with cross cut saws.
If you like adventure, you will like the wilderness area! These trails tend to be more narrow and laid on the hillsides as to provide good drainage of water. The trails in this area tend to be larger loops, providing more solitude. Mountain bikes are not allowed, but you will see a lot of hikers in this area. Pack a lunch because a trip to the wilderness is usually an all day adventure with much to see!
Cope Hollow Trail in the Charles Deam Wilderness.
Hickory Ridge Fire Tower located in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area.
Some popular destinations include:
• The Peninsula Trail that goes to Lake Monroe. The lake is a good lunch destination. Be sure to take your swim suit in the summer, as you can tie your horse and take a swim or swim with your horse!
• The Axom Branch Trail has a series of switchbacks often called the “Little Grand Canyon”. The trail is narrow and steep with drops up to 500- 800 feet below to the bottom of the ravines. A popular lunch destination along the Axom Branch Trail is the historic Hickory Ridge Fire Tower. Plan to have lunch there and challenge each other to climb to the top.
• The 545 trail is laid out on the side of a large steep hill and follows a creek, 800 feet below the trail with steep sides and narrow switchbacks. This trail is a connector trail on the way to Grub Ridge and the Peninsula.
These sign markers are common in the Deam Wilderness, where the trails have names, instead of numbers.
Brown County State Park Horse Trails
Brown County State Park is located near Nashville and encompasses nearly 16,000 acres. There are 75 miles of horse trails in this park. These trails tend to be very populated, as it is the largest and most popular state park in Indiana. The trails are a mix of wide and narrow. Trail D on the back side of the State Park is actually still in the Hoosier National Forest. Trail E goes to Story Inn, a popular destination for trail riders. (Learn more in this pdf of Brown County State Park Horse Trails.)
Story Inn is a bed and breakfast located along scenic route 135 in Story, Indiana. They are famous for their 5-Star restaurant, but they also have an outdoor bar and grill where trail riders can ride for lunch and a beer.
The Story Inn, one of the Midwest’s premier country inns, in Indiana.
Private Campgrounds with full hookups, stalls and modern facilities:
• Midwest Trail Ride, St Rd 446, Norman Indiana 812-834-6686
• Hoosier Horse Camp, Norman, Indiana 812-995-8046
USDA primitive campgrounds: No modern hookups, no water
• Hickory Ridge Campground, horse camp road, Norman, Indiana
• Blackwell Horse Campground, Tower Ridge Road & 446, Norman Indiana
State Park- Electrical hook-ups, shared water and hitch rails
You can learn more on the Hoosier National Forest website.
About the Author: Kim Humphries and her husband Jeff own and operated Midwest Trail Ride in Norman Indiana, the largest private owned campground in the state. They have 108 elec/water sites, 13 cabins, 385 horse stalls, a restaurant and store. Kim and Jeff regularly ride the Hoosier National Forest and the Charles Deam Wilderness area. Bring your own horse or rent one of ours. Guide service also available by appointment and/or choose from one of our pre planned guided rides.