In a state not known for an abundance of natural arches, the few it has are absolutely stunning. Ravine Arch is one of the most striking arches found in Indiana, hidden deep within the Yellow Birch Nature Preserve. There are no marked trails here, but the well worn paths follow the contours of several deeply cut ravines leading to wild caves, rock shelters and waterfalls. Visiting this little known nature preserve is a true outdoor adventure where you never know what you might discover.
Yellow Birch Ravine Nature Preserve | Google Maps Directions
Located just outside the village of Taswell, we arrived at the Yellow Birch Nature Preserve, parking in the tiny gravel lot on Trestle Rd. Its not uncommon to see cars lined up along the road for a quarter mile in each direction on busy days. Although the official entrance into the nature preserve is in the parking lot heading west, Ravine Arch is located across the street on the eastern half of the reserve. Crossing Trestle Rd, walking towards the creek, you should be able to spot a well worn path heading down the embankment and crossing the small stream.
After countless hours of research and using the marker on my Natural Atlas App, I discovered the best way to reach the arch is to follow the main creek. Orienteering skills are not required, but definitely a plus on this hike. As a reminder, always make sure to leave detailed plans of your hike with other people before heading out into a backcountry area. Trails in this nature preserve are not marked, but different maps from previous hikers can easily be found online after a bit of research. These basic precautions will go a long way in helping you out in the worst case scenario where you get lost or injured in areas people don’t frequent too often.
Following the well worn trail while keeping the tributary on my left, we began our journey heading deep into uncharted territory. Despite being late winter, there are signs of springs emergence everywhere we look. I spot the blotched leaves of trout lily and bright red buds of maple trees growing all around us. Songbirds including robins, cardinals, and the occasional wren flutter just above our heads. Its a lively contrast to the tiresome shades of browns and grey’s from this years winter. We can also hear the distant rumble of dirt bikes, as this area is popular with off
There are a total of 5 creek crossings along this path, including the first one at the trailhead, with each requiring a gentle descent down steep embankments. Take extra precautions with the crossings as the creek beds are very slippery. At about the 1 mile point, we spotted a waterfall pouring over a tiny cavern right off the creek.
Small waterfalls are in abundance along our journey thus far, some falling into natural pools in the most interesting shades of teal and turquoise. Its hard to tell right now, but this nature preserve is known for its abundance of wildflowers and rare plant species. Dozens of different ferns grow here, including the native Christmas Ferns. This evergreen fern keeps its fronds year round and clumps of them crowd the entire trail here.
Just around the time you reach the 4th creek crossing the landscape starts to become even more interesting. As you travel deeper into the ravine, the cliffs being to rise even higher, revealing small caves on the upper ridges. We counted four separate caves, all large enough to walk into upright. Its hard to tell wether they are frequented by people as I could not find a well worn path leading to them.
Requiring steep climbs and being unfamiliar with this area, I was not too keen on wandering into them. Entering wild caves is extremely dangerous. Some cave passages in the state have been known to lead to sudden drops ranging from 10 to 100 feet below ground. Most wild caves in Indiana are closed during the winter months to human visitation in order to curb the spread of white-nosed syndrome (WNS), which has decimated bat populations in the eastern United States over the last decade.
Here we ran into a large group making their way back from Ravine Arch. They gave us some pointers, instructing us to follow the creek as it turned towards the right heading northeast. Along with some directions, they pointed out some landmarks we hadn’t yet noticed. Just off in the distance we could make out a large cliff at the end of a ravine, with a tiny arch “window" near the top. Each of these separate creek tributaries lead to wet-weather waterfalls and rock shelters which could take up an entire trip all of their own. Nearing the final creek crossing, the trail seemingly disappeared beneath our feet.
This is the point where the path joins the creek. Just follow it upstream, heading slightly northeast as it curves into the ravine where the arch is located. A small cave guards the entrance into this area high up on the hill to your right. Once inside the ravine, the trail picks back up crossing from the right to the left bank and back to the right again, until beginning its climb up into the Ravine Arch rock shelter. I could finally see the full structure once I got about 20 yards away from it. The arch itself is part of a section of the cliffs roof that collapsed into the center of the rock shelter, leaving behind a thin bridge of rock 16 feet high by 25 feet long.
A small waterfall emanating from the cliff above was streaming right through the center of the arch into the shelter below. It was an incredible sight. From below the arch we could make out a large room in the cliffs above. Part of the trail requires a mildly treacherous scramble up several ledges to get into this area. Use extreme caution, the rocks are slippery and the path is narrow.
Once we made it to the top, we stepped into the large room within the structure. This cavern is 6 feet tall by 10 feet wide and shaped like a triangle, with the farthest point reaching almost 12 feet deep. From up here, you can see the entire ravine all the way to the main creek.
Its hard to tell, but we are standing beneath a large hillside which hides the arch from every direction except the approach we made through the creek. This would have made the perfect spot for early inhabitants to seek shelter while also having a good sense of security. Being this high up would have also meant protection from larger predators, lurking in the woods below.
The skylight in the center of the room lets in just enough light to make the space habitable and see your way around. A thin ledge connects this room with yet another area in the back of the arch. It requires a dangerous, slow crawl under the arch to access. From back here you can see the arch in its
After having visited dozens of arches, I have to say that Ravine Arch is truly one of the most fascinating structures I’ve explored. From the shape of the rock shelter to the complex array of rooms spread out over several levels. Theres even a small cave entrance leading to passages that have yet to be fully mapped. To head back to Trestle Rd, just retrace your steps carefully, remembering to follow the main creek and always staying to the right of any forks. On future visits, I plan to venture onto some of the smaller paths we crossed, leading into the other ravines where some of the largest waterfalls are located. Drop a comment below and let us know if you’ve visited this hidden gem! Until next time, stay safe and see ya'll on the trails!