Double Falls is a hidden waterfall located within the 441 acre Yellow Birch Ravine Nature Preserve on the outskirts of the Hoosier National Forest near Taswell, Indiana. This nature preserves rugged beauty is marked by its abundance of limestone bluffs found more typically in the Appalachian Mountain Region of the eastern United States. There are no marked trails here, but the well worn paths follow the contours of several deeply cut ravines leading to wild caves, arches, towering rock shelters, and numerous waterfalls. Visiting this little known nature preserve is a true outdoor adventure where you never known what you might discover.
Double Falls Trail | 1.35 Miles Out & Back
Yellow Birch Ravine Nature Preserve | Google Maps
After experiencing a period of heavy rainfall over the course of several days in the Kentucky and Southern Indiana region, I thought it would make the perfect opportunity to hunt down Double Falls. Created by a diverging stream of water cascading over two separate ledges from the top of an expansive circular rock shelter, this waterfall is the largest known in the nature preserve. Its name is derived from the horseshoe shaped cliff that surrounds the end of this expansive box canyon. The formation is often referred to as Horseshoe Falls, Double Falls, Ravine Falls, and a combination of the two: Horseshoe Double Falls
Our journey begins at the tiny gravel lot just off Trestle Road. This marks my third visit to Yellow Birch Ravine just this year alone, having visited earlier to explore Ravine Arch and Bowl Falls. Seeing the landscape completely awash in greenery is a stark contrast to my earlier trips during early spring and winter. Much of the landmarks I’ve come to remember, which helps me to navigate this wild and untamed landscape, are completely hidden by the dense canopy of trees. It really feels like I’m stepping foot here for the very first time again.
The enormous rock shelter that sits on the hillside just across the creek about 200 yards from the start of this trail is nowhere to be found. After a little bit of searching, I spot the opening through the trees and begin to wade across the creek to the other side of the ravine to get a closer look. Ferns rising knee high crowd every open piece of real estate surrounding the massive boulders lining the hillside. I’ve told myself that I will eventually go explore this rock shelter, but the ground surrounding it is too soft and crowded with plants to make a sensible trail, so I decided to turn back towards the falls. Its important to follow the Leave No Trace principles in order to help preserve this beautiful place, even if it sucks a little bit of the fun from exploring.
The important thing to remember when heading towards Double Falls is to always STAY TO THE RIGHT on any trail junctions. At the SECOND creek crossing, after 0.35 miles, the trail all but disappears in front of you without a trace. Most people would instinctively go straight across the wide creek and follow the path ahead, but this will lead you to a whole other part of the nature preserve away from the falls. Instead you will turn RIGHT and follow up the creek.
You should be able to spot a well worn path heading up on the opposite side of the creek bank as it ventures into the woods. Once back on the main trail, the scenery takes on a whole other feeling. Massive ferns growing alongside beautiful wildflowers, with a clear line of sight under this mature woodland canopy would make anyone second guess wether they were in the Pacific Northwest or Southern Indiana.
This path runs for 1.0 mile ending at the waterfall and is where the real fun begins. As with any wild place, Yellow Birch Ravine receives virtually no trail maintenance aside from an annual trash cleanup. This means that if a tree falls over the path, you have to climb over it and when the stinging nettle grows tall, you have to hike through it. I made the rookie mistake of wearing shorts with ankle sock on this outing, leaving my legs completely exposed. Over the course of the next 0.25 miles, the pain from brushing up against the stinging nettle encroaching on all sides of the trail, would become so excruciating that I would contemplate aborting this hike on several occasions.
Roughly nearing the halfway point, I spot the side trail leading to Bowl Falls and make a quick detour to explore it once more. Seeing it covered by so much brush and with very little water streaming down really drives the point that this is a rock shelter first and foremost. The cavern below is nearly tall enough for me to walk into at almost 6 feet high and stretches out about 15 feet. This would make for a decent shelter, away from the elements in a pinch. Just above us, on top of the bowl shaped ledge for which this waterfall is named for, is another smaller overhang just below the main ridge.
A small trail near the creek leads up to this area. The going is a bit tough as the trail has a deep grade, but some careful maneuvering will get you up there in just a few moments. This is by far the best way to view this formation and see the smaller pool above the falls before it cascades over the bowl. With so many wild caves and rock shelters in the area its natural to wonder wether they were ever used by early peoples. Yellow Birch Ravine lies in an area, alongside nearby Hemlock Cliffs and Potts Creek Rockshelter, with a significant amount of archeological evidence suggesting that this region was inhabited by prehistoric people as far back as the Early Woodland Period. In more recent times closer to Columbus arrival, Wyandottes from the Great Lakes region and Delawares from the Atlantic coast settled here after being displaced by European expansion.
These cultures would have utilized the rock formations here as short term camps during their hunting expeditions. To get around, they navigated one of the most heavily used systems of trail in the Midwest which runs just a few miles north of here. Crossing from Vincennes, Indiana to the Ohio River near Louisville, Kentucky is the Buffalo Trace. This major land route across the southern half of Indiana was originally created by migrating buffalo herds over the course of thousands of years. Its southern terminus was used by early European American explorers such as Daniel Boone, to forge a path through the Cumberland Gap into the little known parts of what would eventually become Kentucky.
This trail seems to go on forever, but you know you’re getting close when you’re forced to jump down into the creek, coming face to face with a sprawling rock shelter. Hidden beneath the towering cliffs of the ravine, one would never know it existed without running into it from ground level. After a bit of exploring, we followed the trail up a few small humps, towards the sound of trickling water until we emerged at the pool beneath Horseshoe Double Falls. It creates quite a entrance entrance to walk straight into this hidden cove with the falls streaming into a turquoise blue pool right in front of you.
Its hard to tell the height of Double Falls, with some estimating its somewhere between 25-30 feet high. The stream is not flowing as heavily as i thought it might with all of the recent rains so only one of the falls is running. Still, the small trickle gives you the idea of what it might look like in with a full flow. The rock shelter behind the waterfall extends from one end of the canyon to the other. Climbing over the large rock piles, you can get a glance at several openings that lead into small underground passages that disappear into the darkness. Its not something I would venture to explore without some experienced wild cavers by my side so I opt to stay out of them.
Returning to the falls, I sat to enjoy a snack break in front of the small pool when I noticed a few creatures moving about in the water. Upon further inspection I discovered them to be small crayfish. Once my eyes got adjusted to the light I could see a dozen of them walking amongst the rock piles underwater. These terrestrial crayfish switch between living in the depths of streams and lakes to moving inland and creating small mud burrows, giving them the name Burrowing Crayfish. While these cool crawdads are only a 2-3 inches long, they’ve been known to grow as big as an ocean lobster. The cajun in me wants to build a small fire and roast a few of these suckers over a spit, but I guess ill settle on a pb & j for now.
The Yellow Birch Ravine never ceases to amaze me overtime I visit. I learn and see something new on each and everyone of my adventures here. On a future visit, I might wander down some of the less traveled trails to one of the many unnamed waterfalls here. Up next, Ill be driving several hundred miles north to the shores of Lake Michigan to check out a unite nature preserve in the heart of downtown Chicago’s Lakefront. The site protects a globally rare habitat of panned, or internal wetlands, that supports over 200 species of plants and animals. Its a hidden gem in the city and a haven for not just animals, but the residents of the crowded major metropolis. Stay tuned and until next time, see y’all on the trails!