- Associated Press - Sunday, April 10, 2016

ECKERTY, Ind. (AP) - Kevin Davidson remembers repelling down the side of the big waterfall at Hemlock Cliffs as a teenager - about a 90-foot descent.

“I just love this waterfall here,” Kevin said. “My favorite part used to be repelling.”

At 59, Kevin’s done with repelling (it’s not allowed anymore, either), but Hemlock Cliffs is still one of Kevin’s favorite hiking spots in Hoosier National Forest. Lots of other people love it, too.

On a Saturday in early March, cars lined both sides of the gravel road a good quarter mile back from the trail head, a problem for anyone farther up trying to leave. The road is barely a lane and a half wide. In the meadow-turned-parking lot at the trail head, two guys unloaded their camping gear, hoping that all the good spots hadn’t been taken this late in the afternoon, a mom cleaned off her son who had a little too much fun in the mud and several families gathered for picnics behind their cars.

Amber Olberding and her son, Logan Angel, of Evansville, were getting ready to head home after a day of balancing on tree bridges across the river, climbing the boulders strewn along the creek bed and hunting crawfish.



“I got pretty dirty,” Logan said, looking at his mud-stained pants.

The pair has come to Hemlock Cliffs several times over the years, recently for a treasure hunting activity with Logan’s Boy Scout troop. The troop split into teams to make a compass then use the tool to find hidden treasure boxes. Logan’s pretty sure some of the treasure boxes are still there.

Hemlock Cliffs lies a ways off the beaten path, if the beaten path is State Road 37. Between Eckerty and St. Croix in Crawford County, there’s Bethany Church Road, the gravel road that leads to another gravel road that leads to another gravel road that leads to Hemlock Cliffs. The good news is Google Maps can get you there.

Once you’re there, the activities are endless. Enjoy rock climbing? Awesome. There are tons of large boulders near the waterfalls you can climb. A small cave cuts into the cliffside begging spelunkers to crawl in, and campers are welcome to pitch a tent anywhere along the trail, as long as they choose a spot 300 feet from the trail head.

A favorite spot is a clearing on top of the 90-foot waterfall. There’s a pile of charred wood where groups of campers have lit their fires and circles are worn around the tree trunks from hanging hammocks.

Kevin’s done it all at some point over the 40 years he’s been visiting Hemlock Cliffs. Today, though, he’s showing off the place to his 12-year-old daughter, Gracie, for the first time. She’s snapping photos she’ll post to her blog, Photos by Noodle.

“Oh, I got wet!” Gracie exclaimed. She was climbing behind the waterfall trying to find the perfect photo.

“Well good, good,” Kevin said. “You should get wet.”

They had a bet going about who would be the first to slip and fall. The weekend before, they went hiking near Paoli and had a similar contest. Gracie swears Kevin slipped first; Kevin disagrees. At Hemlock, they planned to settle the argument. Last one to slip gets bragging rights.

Hemlock Cliffs might be a small area (the hiking trail is 1.2 miles), but it’s rugged. To get to the clearing on top of the water fall, hikers walk along a narrow path not far from the edge of the cliff. Single-file is a must. To reach the creek bed, hikers descend a collection of large stones that passes for stairs.

If the stones are wet or covered with leaves, they’re slick. One misstep could lead to a concussion. Traversing the beginning of the trail near the waterfall and a section farther down the creek near a giant basin carved out of the sandstone from centuries of erosion is more like bouldering than hiking, but it’s worth the physical exertion.

In the early spring warmth, the icicles have started to melt, making the cliffside glitter under the clear blue sky. Even when there’s not a cloud in sight, it sounds like it’s raining and the ground is damp from the melting ice. A few green spots are starting to pop out.

It’s not just the recreation that makes Hemlock Cliffs a unique place. The U.S Department of Agriculture Forest Service recognizes Hemlock Cliffs as a designated special place for its archaeological and botanical value.

Native American artifacts from as early as 10,000 years ago have been unearthed in the area, and historians believe the ancient people used the caves carved into the sandstone as shelters. For plant lovers, wintergreen, a rare type of mint, wild geranium, French shooting stars, liverwort, mountain laurel and, of course, hemlock trees all grow in the creek bed.

The area is open year-round and warrants multiple trips a year. A few weeks from now, Kevin said, the area will look completely different.

“This is about as good of hiking as you can get in a small loop,” Kevin said. “It’s my favorite place to hike in all of southern Indiana.”

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Source: The (Jasper) Herald, https://bit.ly/1MTmcYe

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Information from: The Herald, https://www.dcherald.com

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