Some history, some topography, some good hiking

Some history, some topography, some good hiking

Versailles State Park lies between the long, rolling hills of central Indiana and the steep topography that covers the southern part of the state. A mix of the two locales, the park’s trails traverse flat expanses marked by deep ravines. With 6 1/2 miles of trails, Versailles offers moderate to easy hiking over a variety of terrain. 

Versailles is the second-biggest park in Indiana with 5,998 acres. Its history stretches back to the Great Depression when the Civilian Conservation Corps began work on the park in August 1934. Four years later, the National Park Service deeded Versailles to the state of Indiana and the park was born. Much of the original CCC stonework is visible on the property. 

Hiking options at Versailles are divided between trails 1, 2 and 3. Trail 1, a 2 1/2 mile loop, is the roughest. It circles the upland woods and ravines along the eastern bluff of a large valley. Oak, hickory, maple, beech, tulip poplar and black walnut trees populate the forest along the trail. 

Look for sinkholes near the center of the loop. 

Trail 1 crosses multiple ravines. Up and downstream from many of the bridges, small limestone-terraced waterfalls flow after rains and during other wet times. Access Trail 1 from Old Fire Tower Road or near Oak Grove picnic area. 

Trail 2, at 2 3/4 miles long, runs through the area around the campgrounds and south of Fallen Timber Creek. It consists of two loops with a connecting trail between. The hiking is moderate to easy, providing convenient access between trails 3 and 1. Access it from the east end of Trail 3, at the Oak Grove picnic area or from several points in the campgrounds. 

Trail 3 travels the farthest north and runs east along the north side of Fallen Timber Creek for 1 1/2 miles. It hugs the creek, providing views of the water. Trail 3’s flat topography should be easy for hikers of all levels to enjoy without trouble. When the water is low, look for (but don’t take) fossils in the rock of the creek bottom. Keep in mind that Trail 3 doesn’t loop; it turns into Trail 2 after the second crossing of the creek. Access the trail north of Fallen Timber bridge. 

All together, the trails provide about 3 to 4 hours of hiking, depending how fast you travel. To do all three, get on at any point along trails 1 or 2, or north of Fallen Timber Creek for Trail 3. Be sure to take a map. The trails don’t stray far from the roads of the park, but crossing between trails and over the roads can be tricky without proper reference material. 

In addition to hiking trails, the 10 miles of mountain biking trails begin north of the bridge over Fallen Timber Creek, just north of the start of Trail 3. Three more miles of bike trails will soon be available. Versailles also has facilities and trails exclusively for horseback riding. Call the park for details. 

Enthusiasts of rare plants also have good reason to visit the park. Verified by both the DNR Division of Nature Preserves and Hanover College, Versailles is home to the very rare running buffalo clover. Ask the staff for more information about where to find the park’s stand of this plant. 

Versailles State Park provides a good half-day walk for hikers looking for an easy-to-moderate trail with sights along the way. If you fish, take your rod for Versailles Lake. If you’re into fossils and rare plants, pack a camera.

Originally published in Outdoor Indiana magazine.

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