Yellow Birch Ravine Nature Preserve | Google Maps Directions
As with our previous hike here to find Ravine Arch, we begin our hike at the entrance to the nature preserve on Trestle Rd. This time instead of heading east across the road, we will be heading west through the trail in the gravel parking lot. Again, the trails in Yellow Birch Ravine are not marked, but the well worn paths are easy to follow and often lead to incredible formations hidden within the rugged ravine, such as Double Falls located even deeper within the preserve. Orienteering skills are not necessary, but really helpful when exploring anyplace in a backcountry situation. You should always carry a compass and map of the area or use one of the many Hiking Apps available for download on smart phones. Even taking a screenshot of the area on your phone can be helpful in case you lose your sense of direction.
The path you will be traveling on follows along the northern banks of the main main creek, which should always remain on your left. At 1.5 miles long, the trail comes to an abrupt end at the bottom of a sheer cliff containing Ravine Falls (also known as Double Falls & Horseshoe Falls). While Ravine Falls is easily one of the most fascinating and impressive waterfalls in the entire region, this article will focus on the lesser known Bowl Falls.
This wet-weather waterfall lies 2\3 of the way along the main trail, on a short spur heading north. What makes this waterfall so special is its unique middle ledge which resembles a dinner bowl. As the water falls from the cliff above, it pours over the bowl collecting into a small pool, before streaming over the opening of a small rock shelter to create a two tiered waterfall. Slightly obstructed by the lush vegetation of the valley, its often bypassed by hikers as it is not always running.
Right from the get go as you enter the trail from the gravel lot, you encounter the deeply cut cliffs of this ravine. In a state known more for its flat expanses of farmland, these formations are only found on the far southern half of Indiana. Created by the erosion of this stream over millennia, the deeply cut slot canyon has its own unique ecosystem filled with plants such as mountain laurel and yellow birch, which typically thrive in colder regions of the country. Yellow Birch Ravine is also known for its beautiful wildflower display every spring.
A little further in we spot the first of many large rock shelters along the trail. This particular rock shelter sits high on a slope just across the creek. Its wide opening is large enough to accommodate a two car garage. In the back of it lies the entrance to a wild cave, some of which are known to house bobcat dens.
This secretive animal has been spotted more pervasively by hunters in Crawford County during recent years. As with any other wild cave, it is extremely dangerous to enter and explore these unknown spaces. Some wild caves are known to have sudden and steep drops of up to 100 feet, which have led to numerous deaths. If you’re interested in exploring wild caves, join one of the many National Speleological Society local chapters, also known as Grottos.
A handful of tiny tributaries cut through the trail, mainly requiring a simple hop over. The third creek we approach is wider and steeper, but thankfully we get a hand crossing over. We use several of the downed trees laying over the path as footbridges. Following this crossing, the path traverses what is usually a shallow bog during the wetter part of the year. Directly ahead of us, I can make out another large cave opening on the hillside above. To be honest, being surrounded by so many caves, with their entrances obscured by darkness, is a little intimidating. I can’t help but let my mind wander as to what may be lurking in the shadows.
At this point there is a small Y intersection on the trail. You want to veer right, continuing to have the main creek on your left hand side. We initially made the mistake of continuing straight, which led us across the main creek and up a ridge line on another obscure trail. Getting a sense that we were on the wrong path, we backtracked until reaching this intersection, finally getting back on track. From here its just a straight shot to the back of the ravine. Most of the hillside to the left and right of the ravine seem to fall away into the creek, creating sheer cliffs with interesting rock formations. To the left are a series of small shelters created by overhanging boulders. These seem like ideal spots for wild animals to hide out in.
On the right is yet another entrance into a wild cave with a well worn path leading right to it. Crawford County is known for its rich culture of prehistoric habitation going back to the last Ice Age. The area we are in is right in between two of the best documented archeological sites in all of southern Indiana, Hemlock Cliffs and Potts Creek Rockshelter. Native Americans once roamed these very hills in search of food while taking shelter in the many overhangs and caves encountered throughout this trail. Some of the best evidence obtained from these early periods of human life were found within rock shelters just like these. Arrowheads, stone tools, and even bones from leftover meals give archeologists a glimpse of what life might have been like for our earliest ancestors.
Once you pass these two landmarks, start paying close attention for a small creek tributary on the right hand side. This is the path into Bowl Falls. We were lucky enough to hear the falls before even seeing it. Bowl Falls is a mere 20 yards off the main trail inside a tiny cove. During the warmer months this area is obscured by dense brush and hardly noticeable due to the stream being dry. To reach it just follow the creek bed up towards the falls.
Just below the falls is a short rock shelter measuring roughly 6 feet tall and 12 feet wide. After roaming through the small space, we climbed up the steep hillside to get a better picture of the bowl shaped ledge. With so many unexplored coves within this area, it won’t be long until someone discovers another interesting waterfall or rock shelter to visit. From here its a little less than half a mile to the end of the trail and Double Falls. This is the creme de la creme of the nature preserve so if you haven’t seen it, hold on to your hat. If you’ve visited Yellow Birch Ravine, leave a comment down below and share some of your discoveries with us. Until next time, see y’all on the trails!