The northern ‘section’ of the Hoosier National Forest, specifically the area just south of Brown County State Park and the forested area surrounding the eastern part of Lake Monroe, includes Hardin Ridge & Charles Deam Wilderness. Learn more about what to explore in this area of HNF below.

Growing up in Indiana, the Hoosier National Forest played a large part in our family’s annual summer travel plans. We usually took a few different trips into the forest each summer. Though it’s not among the largest of the nation’s national forests, it’s the largest forest in the state of Indiana and comprises approximately half of all public forest land in the state. Given all the amenities the forest has to offer, it’s sometimes hard to know where to begin exploring the forest.

Sprawling across two large sections and 202,814 acres, the HNF offers visitors a great variety of outdoor experiences. From hiking, to horseback riding, fishing, mountain biking, bird watching, camping, picnicking, canoeing, and just plain old sightseeing, the HNF is a great place to quite literally get away from the hustle and bustle of life.

I’ve traveled through the Hoosier state many times in recent years, including some wonderful drives through the forest to points south along the river. However, it’s been decades since I actually ventured into the Hoosier National Forest as a destination. So this summer, in honor of some great childhood trips to the forest, I plan to make a few journeys into Southern Indiana to explore the HNF anew.

A Bit of History To begin with, people have lived in the area we now call the Hoosier National Forest for many thousands of years. After colonization, the area became the state’s go-to spot for timber production, which led to major deforestation in the early 20th century. By the 1930s, the Great Depression had caused many farms to close. Plus, the heavy erosion of the hilly parts of the area made farming untenable. As a result, the federal government designated a large swath of Southern Indiana as a national, public forest in 1935. Over time, the federal government added acres to expand the forest. In the ensuing years, reforestation efforts have allowed for much of the forest to come back.

First Trip into the Forest For my first trip this summer, I visited the northern ‘section’ of the Hoosier National Forest, specifically the area just south of Brown County State Park and the forested area surrounding the eastern part of Lake Monroe, including Hardin Ridge & Charles Deam Wilderness

My first stop was to Sundance Lake - a quiet repose just west of Waymansville. I was alone on the lake, alone except for about tens of thousands of 17-year cicadas that were busy serenading the day way in the forest canopy. The 5-acre lake is a great spot for fishing and offers visitors several piers.

I then traveled to the Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower - the last remaining fire lookout tower in the Hoosier National Forest. It’s definitely worth the climb to the top, 110 feet to be exact. It’s worth the 133 steps to the lookout box, as the views are spectacular. But it isn’t for the faint of heart.

The tower’s, how shall we say, rather ‘open design’ concept is harrowing to say the least. The tower was built in 1939 by the CCC and remained in operation until the 1970s.

My final leg of this first journey was to the Charles C. Deam Wilderness, the largest wilderness in the Hoosier National Forest. The wilderness was established in 1982 and named after Indiana’s first state forester, Charles Deam. Covering almost 12,500 acres, the Deam Wilderness is an excellent place to get lost deep in the forest. Trails, ideal for hiking and horseback riding, range anywhere from the 1.8-mile Terrill Ridge Trail to the 12.1-mile Grubb Ridge Trail. I opted for the 4.7-mile Hayes Trail.

Coming Up... Hardin Ridge & Charles Deam Wilderness aren't the only incredible places to explore within Indiana's largest forest. The Hoosier National Forest also sits over karst, a way in which land forms to create sinkholes and cave systems. We’ll explore some of the caves in my next installment of this series!