Indiana backpackers have some pretty awesome trails to choose from. It may be considered a flyover state, but it’s undeniable that Indiana is home to some beautiful backpacking trails. The glaciers that paved Indiana flat stopped short of southern Indiana, where you can find rolling hills, hidden caves, and lots of fun water crossings. Whether you want to do a single overnight or spend the weekend in the woods, there’s a backpacking trail for you. If you’re looking to backpack Indiana, these Indiana backpacking trails will satisfy your need for adventure.
I’m showcasing four of the best Indiana backpacking trails. You can read through the whole article, or use the table of contents to jump to the trail you’re most interested in.
The 42 miles Tecumseh Trail begins at the Morgan-Monroe State Forest Headquarters located at 6220 Forest Rd. in Martinsville, IN. Pre-planning is necessary because there are limited spots where camping is allowed, and limited parking areas as well.
You can access the trail via 5 different trailheads
- On Crooked Creek Road, which is about 5 miles west of Nashville, IN.
- Yellowwood Lake, at the North boat launch. This is near the Yellowwood State Forest Office
- At Prange Pond on Dubois Ridge Road
- Bear Lake along Bear Creek Road
- At Morgan Monroe State Forest Headquarters (The beginning of the trail).
The terrain is a little less difficult than the Knobstone Trail. There are a number of large hills but they have gentler slopes than the hills of the KT, making this a great option for you if you’re a newer backpacker or think the KT may be a little above your current fitness level.
When backpacking the Tecumseh Trail, you’ll get great views of Bear Lake and Prang Pond. Autumn is particularly gorgeous near the waters. There are many stream crossings, some will be dry, but be sure to pack your favorite water crossing footwear just in case.
There are places where backcountry water is available, but some of them are unreliable, therefore, you should plan to carry or stash water along the trail. If you choose to stash water, you should mark it with the date you plan to use it and hide it out of sight. It’s also a good idea to draw or write something memorable on your water jugs. Sometimes there will be more than one jug in an area and it can be hard to tell them apart.
During heavy rains, flooding may block parts of the trail. You can ask about current conditions by emailing Morgan Monroe State Forest.
The Hoosier Hiking Council has created an amazing guide for the Tecumseh Trail. You’ll find it very helpful in planning your backpacking trip. It includes mileage, water sources, camping and lodging locations, as well as more planning tips. You can find their guide here.
Adventure Hiking Trail
Located within the boundaries of Harrison-Crawford State Forest and O’Bannon Woods State Park, the Adventure Hiking Trail (part of the American Discovery Trail) is rated as difficult due to some steep inclines you’ll encounter. Some of these inclines give you some amazing view points that are worth the climb.
This 25 mile trail gains a total of 3,374 feet of elevation. It’s got a lot of things to see, including cliffs, sinkholes, caves, and pioneer homestead remnants. The chimney from an old homestead built around 1855 still stands at the Homestead Overnight Shelter.
This trail has 5 shelters, one is fully enclosed with windows and doors. The shelters are first come- first served, however camping is allowed along the trail and there is lots of space for backcountry camping.
The shelters are taken care of and there’s even a broom to help keep it clean. Please remember to practice Leave No Trace, even at the shelters. If you bring it in, pack it out.
There is a campground along the trail where you can get water. The creek beds can run dry, so you’ll need to carry or stash your water along the trail.
No permit is required to day hike, but if you’ll be using the trail overnight you are required to register with the O’bannon woods State Park Office, located at 7234 Old Forest Rd, Corydon, IN 47112.
This 48 mile trail, aptly nicknamed the Little Appalachian Trail, has a whopping 10,500 feet of elevation gain. It’s named for the hilly terrain known as the Knobstone escarpment. The trail stretches from Deam Lake in Clark County, Indiana all the way to Delaney Park in Washington County. You’ll be trekking mostly through hardwood forests, but you’ll also encounter rocky outcrops as well as wild flowers.
If you start from Delaney Park, traveling north to south, you’ll be saving the best views (and the hardest climb!) for last. The most difficult section of the trail is also the most scenic. The New Chapel to Jackson Road section offers views all the way to Louisville (about 20 miles away). You’ll have to climb the extremely steep slopes to get to the views but it is more than worth it.
Many hikers choose to start at Spurgeon Hollow Lake, but some like to start at Delaney Park where there are multiple ways to connect to the trail. When planning your trip, be sure to take into account the route you choose to start so that you end up with accurate mileage.
The trail is managed by the Indiana DNR and sometimes they have land management operations happening, such as logging. Reroutes and detours are possible on this trail, and the DNR strongly recommends checking their page or calling (812)-837-9536 for trail information before you begin. Since you’re required to register as a backpacker anyway, you can get both done at once by asking about closures while you register.
Water can be hard to come by along the KT, with July through September being the hardest months. You’ll need to pack in your water, so plan accordingly for this. You are allowed to stash water along the trail, the DNR just asks that you mark the water with the date you plan to use it to help them clean out any forgotten or unused water jugs.
Planning your hike can be a little tricky, but careful and accurate planning is important. Steve Schaftlein, vice president of the Knobstone Hiking Trail Association, has some valuable resources to help plan your KT hike on his website. Among them you’ll find a data book with mileage resources, a downloadable map and guide, GPX file, interactive map, and a town guide with information about restaurants, grocery stores, and lodging along the trail.
Recently, the Knobstone Trail became listed on the AllTrails app. You can search for Knobstone Trail: 160 or click here.
German Ridge Trail
Traversing the woods and hills of southern Indiana, the German Ridge Trail is 24 miles of shared trail, allowing horseback riders, mountain bikers, and hikers.
It’s the southernmost section of the Hoosier National Forest’s 260 mile trail system. It offers scenic views of the surrounding landscape and of the Ohio River. Along the trail you can expect to see the remains of old homesteads, a waterfall, and German Ridge Lake.
The trail is laid out in a way that allows you to hike different lengths of the trail in loops. This way, you can choose your own path to fit the number of days you’d like to backpack for.
The loops vary in difficulty and there are frequent climbs. The south end of the trail is pretty easy going. It’s a gravel lane and is popular with horse riders. The northern part of the German Ridge Trail is somewhat more difficult than the southern end, and includes some stream crossings.
Hiking on the GRT is free, and there are no camping fees for hikers/backpackers.
Bug repellent is a must. Ticks can be really bad along the trail. Take the proper precautions and have tick removal gear in your first aid kit. Taking a lint roller will let you quickly remove crawling ticks from your clothing.
Water is available in some streams and small creeks, but it is heavily reliant on rainfall. While planning your trip, you should not rely on these as a water source. Expect to carry your water in with you.
Things to Keep in Mind
- Remember to plan your trip carefully and prepare for water shortages along the trails.
- Call and register as a backpacker with the proper authority and check trail conditions before beginning your trip
- Be aware of hunting seasons and dress appropriately for them
- You should always leave a hiking itinerary with someone back home. I have a free one you can download here.
- If you’ll be using backcountry water, remember to bring a filter/purifier to treat it with before drinking or using it for cooking.
- On any of these trails, please remember to practice Leave No Trace. Pack out what you bring in and clean up your camping areas for the next person.
Need some tips on preparing for a hike? Check out my 10 tips here.
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure and want to get out into the wilderness, Indiana has some amazing backpacking trails. Some are not well-known or easy to find but they offer many miles of beautiful scenery and peace. The Hoosier National Forest is one such place with 13 different trail systems in total that explore all different types of terrain from forested areas to rocky hillsides. There’s also Yellow Wood State Forest which spans nearly 20,000 acres including more than 16 miles of scenic footpaths through tall trees by streams. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, try the Epic Knobstone Trail – it covers 75+ miles across four counties!
A special thank you to the Hoosier Hiking Council and the USDA Forest Service- Hoosier National Forest for providing images of these beautiful trails and offering their expertise.