People flock to the most famous waterfalls in the world each year because of two qualities: power and majesty. The larger the waterfall, the greater respect humans have for the beauty in front of them. There's nothing like that constant, thundering roar of the water spinning up white foam as it rolls over a huge cliff.
But there's something to be said for the quiet nature of waterfalls. Hiking off the beaten path until you hear a calm rumble, following it until you turn a corner and come face-to-face with tumbling water you didn't expect to find. Less power, just as much majesty. A towering waterfall like Niagara Falls or Angel Falls can be awe-inspiring. A waterfall in the woods can be soothing and even more breath-taking.
But what about four of them?
Along the Ohio River on the border of Indiana and Kentucky, you'll find a whole family of waterfalls at Clifty Falls State Park. Here, the Clifty Creek forms four waterfalls as it falls over the Clifty Creek Canyon on its way to the Ohio River. The four waterfalls here preserve fossil remnants of an ancient marine system. Along with its stunning river views, hiking trails cover this site.
Clifty Falls State Park is a popular year-round destination for folks visiting from nearby cities like Louisville and Indianapolis. Whether you plan on staying overnight or just rolling through to use the picnic area, we hope this guide can help you plot your waterfall adventure.
The Four Waterfalls of Clifty Falls State Park
As you might expect, reaching this secluded, serene experience will take some good hiking boots.
The headliner of the waterfall group is Big Clifty Falls, at the north end of the park. You can reach views of this 60-foot waterfall via Trails 2, 7, and 8. There's not an easy route in the bunch. Trail 2 starts in the south of the park and leads north along Clifty Creek, but rockslides and water damage have made the route nearly impassable at times. Call the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for updates. It depends on your timing.
And that's the fun of Clifty Falls. Weather and rain constantly change the flow strength of each waterfall or the usability of the ten available hiking routes. Sure, this could be frustrating. But it also encourages return visits! By the way: Trail 7 was built with ADA accessibility in mind, making it the best choice for easy viewing. This trail will take you past Little Clifty Falls, which, despite its name, also drops an impressive 60 feet.
Park at the Hoffman Falls parking lot to start Trail 4, which takes you past the impressive Hoffman Falls and a steep staircase to the Lilly Memorial. You can get there by way of trail 3 or 4, which are a mile or less in length. Even though these two hiking trails are on the short side, they're still considered rugged, so be prepared for a more strenuous hike.
Our personal favorite, however, is Tunnel Falls. In 1852, John Brough tried to build a better railroad route between Cincinnati and Louisville at Clifty Falls. The only problem? He ran out of money. Today, you have to walk through the five-foot-tall failed project on your way to Tunnel Falls. So kind of John Brough to build a path for everyone. Thanks, John!
Pouring from a streamlet named Dean's Branch, you can access Tunnel Falls by taking trail 5. At 83 feet, Tunnel Falls are the tallest falls in the park, and getting to them is half the experience.
Where To Stay at Clifty Falls
I mean, we have to recommend Clifty Inn. You cannot beat those views, nestled above the state park expanse just minutes from downtown Madison. The inn takes reservations and offers an in-house restaurant, too.
Campers can expect to find everything they need overnight at the park, including electric sites for RV hookups and a dump station for RVs. For those who prefer to enjoy a more rugged nature, non-electric camping sites are available. To make reservations, head over to the Indiana State Parks website. Nearby Hardy Lake also offers excellent views for some great social media pictures if need be.
Bring The Kids To Clifty Falls
In addition to its waterfalls, the park has fun features kids will love, like a Nature Center and a swimming pool with a waterslide. There's also an incomplete railroad tunnel open for exploration between May and October. Meanwhile, kids 30-and-up will probably appreciate the Clifty Inn's restaurant and the many community events scheduled at the park.
Since this part of the U.S. was sitting under a shallow sea around 400 million years ago, you might find fossils along its creek beds. Unfortunately, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources prohibits the collection of fossils on park grounds, so look and touch, but don't take.
Editor's Note: Article originally published 05-05-2021.
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