Trail 9 Map | Turkey Run State Park
Trail 9 | 1 Mile
Trail 9 From South | 4 Miles
Trail 9 From North | 4.5 Miles
Trail 3, 5, & 9 Loop | 5 Miles
There is no such thing as a bad or unexciting hiking trail in this state park, but if you were to ask visitors which trail they love most, it would be a combination of Trails 3, 5 & 9. As a matter of fact, this 5 mile “double figure- eight” loop through deeply cut ravines filled with waterfalls, boulder scrambles and ladder climbs is considered one of the most thrilling in the Midwest. Since all three of these trails loop right besides one another, its quite easy to transfer from one to the other at any given point. Containing some of the most scenic sights and adventure filled hiking in Turkey Run, I made it my mission to tackle these trails on my first ever visit to this beloved state park.
Hiking Trail 9 is the last part of our three part series of hikes attempting the Trail 3, 5, & 9 loop in Turkey Run State Park. To start the journey right alongside us, head on over to The Ladders, Canyons, & Waterfalls of Trail 3 and The Wildflowers and Rock Shelters of Trail 5 articles. While a park map may designtate Trail 9 as only being 1 mile long, that only accounts for the portion traveled through Boulder Canyon and Falls Canyon. To reach this area one must hike along portions of Trail 3 and 5 first. Taking the southern route along Sugar Creek will make it a 4 mile roundtrip, while going north through Rocky Hollow will add up to being 4.5 miles roundtrip.
Listed as the most difficult trail in Turkey Run, Trail 9 contains a very rugged 250 ft descent filled with strenuous boulder scrambles that will challenge even the most experienced backpacker. Having just completed the loop around Trail 5, I chose to start Trail 9 from its northern point in Boulder Canyon to spend the journey traveling downhill as opposed to climbing up. In my mind that seemed to make sense, but as I was about to find out, this trails difficulty is deceptively hidden behind its jaw dropping beauty. Nevertheless, prepare to climb, slip and fall a few times, get wet, and enjoy this last stretch of one of the most beautiful natural areas in Indiana!
Soon after veering west (or LEFT) onto Trail 9 from the northern end of Trail 5, the trail began its smooth descent into a wet weather ravine via a long boardwalk. Enjoy this short stretch of trail because its the only flat, even surface you’ll be walking on for the next mile. Almost as if riding a rollercoaster up a few small hills just to get warmed up before the big dive, you soon reach the precipice above Boulder Canyon. Looking down over the boulder strewn canyon littered with massive stones in every shape and size, I came to understand the meaning behind this sections namesake. With a small creek streaming beside us as we traveled down the well worn stone steps, we began the most arduous part of todays trip.
While you are more than welcomed to continue traveling down the stone creek path, we took an alternate path that splits off midway down, meandering high above the canyon cliffs. Squeezing our bodies through the thin passage, we got a chance to explore a small rock shelter on a high perch overlooking the canyon. If you think you traveled far and wide to reach this point, just take a look at all of those boulders down below. Most of them are not even native to this area, having arrived all the way from Canada along the backs of a giant ice sheet some 700,000 years ago.
As this massive ice sheet moved south from Michigan, it forever changed the surface of Indiana, damming up river valleys into lakes and in some cases filling them up completely, leaving little record of their existence. The giant Teays Valley system is believed to be one such victim. Prior to glaciation, the Teays Valley was the largest drainage in eastern North America, extending from the Mississippi River in western Illinois to its headwaters in the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. The gorge like valley of this river is believed to have been as much as 200 to 400 feet deep and crossed north-central Indiana between Adams County and Tippecanoe County, just a short distance north of Turkey Run.
Continuing along the steeply graded path, I was forced to get on all fours as I made the scramble up to a small ridge with one of the best views on this entire trail. Just beyond this point, hidden out of sight from our approach, was the majestic sight of the Falls of Boulder Canyon. This wet weather waterfall is notorious for being dry most of the year, making it even more special to see it running with a solid flow. This feature is known just as much for the rock formation, resembling a birds wingspan, as it is for its cascading falls.
Getting down to the falls from here is via a near vertical stretch of trail which can only be descended by sitting on your rear and slowly sliding down. It feels a bit silly at first, but once you get going it turns out to be a lot of fun. Once reaching the outer crest of the falls, the trail leads through the rock shelter just behind the waterfall much like that of our hike in Broke Leg Falls. Passing beneath the falls, I couldn’t help but stick my hands out to feel the cool water as it rushed by. As the tallest waterfall in the park, it plunges roughly 20 feet into a plunge basin that feeds the stream running through Falls Canyon.
Working my way down from the upper cliffs, I reconnect with Trail 9 as it continues its path through Boulder Canyon. Hiking downstream from the falls, the swelling creek starts to resemble some of our earlier hike through Rocky Hollow. Jumping from one small pebble island to the next, trying to avoid the deeper parts of the stream, the trail abruptly changes course. A large roadblock with a yellow arrow points left, up a set of stairs and onto a narrow ledge above the canyon. There are some interesting rock formations on the way up, including a small rock shelter created by some heavy erosion.
If I had to pick a part of the trail that I personally thought was dangerous, I would say this next short stretch would be it. Much of the trail in the southern half of Boulder Canyon is heavily eroded in spots with near vertical drops. I came across a large section that appears to have been rerouted below the original trail, due to a past landslide. There are no guard rails stopping hikers from sliding down off the ridges and into the gorge, so take note to trek cautiously in areas where the path becomes slick and narrow. Rounding past a protruding cliff, the trail finally begins a short scramble up and out of Boulder Canyon.
Having hiked the better part of almost 3 hours at this point, I became disoriented and started to believe that I was finally out of the gulches and onto the last stretch of Trail 5. It might have just been wishful thinking, but I was rudely shaken out of it, upon reaching the north entrance to Falls Canyon. Three more flights of stairs down and we were back in another stream filled gulch. With only about a half mile left to go through the last canyon on this epic loop, I resided to savor every last bit of it. While the hike through the streams of Rocky Hollow were mostly water, Falls Canyon is intermingled with stretches of serene woodland. Pockets of forest stretching along the stream banks were dotted with newly emerging wildflowers and large swaths of spotted ferns poking through the leaf litter
This is one of the few areas where hikers commonly see wildlife as Trail 9 skirts the outer edges of Turkey Runs vast and undisturbed virgin forest. Park crews regularly set up trail cams in order to monitor the comings and goings of animals in the park and to their surprise bobcats have become a regular presence near Boulder Canyon and Falls Canyon. Some of the best times to catch a glimpse of these elusive creatures are near dawn or dusk. Chugging along downstream through Falls Canyon, the water levels begin to pick up as we begin to enter the bottoms near Sugar Creek.
The last real obstacle on this trail is the scramble through a steep waterfall, shooting down into the lower basin. I had a deep sense of “deja vu” sliding down this part as it resembles the waterfall climb up in Rocky Hollow on Trail 3. At this point the trail seemingly washes away and your left following the stream downhill. Large swaths of dirt and debris that would normally cover this creek have all been washed downstream revealing remarkable rock formations and fossils along the bedrock. One of the most commonly found fossils in Turkey Run are individual pieces of crinoid stems or arms. Crinoids are part of a large group of marine invertebrate animals which include starfish, brittle stars, sand dollars, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers. Some of these fossils can be as much as 350 million years old. Just remember that it is against the law to remove any material including fossils from state parks, national parks, and nature preserves. So leave those suckers behind and always practice Leave No Trace Principles when hiking.
Passing this area I spot a dirt trail just off to the right of the creek, signifying the end of Trail 9. If you want one last hurrah before departing, follow the small path near the mouth of Sugar Creek at the end of Trail 9, which leads to a gorgeous little waterfall. This unique little waterfall appears to be traveling down two cylinder shaped keyholes as it tumbles from the upper cliff down into Sugar Creek. To finish off the days hike, travel east along Trail 5 and 3 along the banks of Sugar Creek. Although you might be tempted to “check out” mentally, keep your eyes peeled as the southern section of Trail 3 has some incredible rock formations worth checking out. Just past Bear Hollow, the path mounts a series of long boardwalks over the creek, ducking in and out of various rock shelters and crevices. Some of these have wet weather waterfalls including the steep gulch known as the Ice Box. You’ll know you’ve reached this area when the temperature inexplicably drops almost 10 degrees cooler!
Hopefully you’ll enjoy this hike as much as I have. The more I get a chance to explore the various areas of Indiana, the more appreciation I gain for its marvelous natural areas. If you’ve had the pleasure of hiking the trails in Turkey Run State Park, drop a comment below and share your experience. Until next time, see y’all on the trails!