Pine Hills Nature Preserve, Shades State Park

An early morning walk in pristine Pine Hills Nature Preserve is the perfect start to any day! Locals try to keep this natural gem a secret because the gorgeous natural views and solitude it provides are second to none!

Pine Hills is Indiana’s first dedicated nature preserve (1969). This 470-acre  “superlative” and “unsurpassed” (ecologist Alton A. Lindsey) preserve has been left natural except for trails, a few signs and stairs. Pine Hills is the 107th National Natural Landmark in the nation (1970).

Steep ravines, cliffs and sandstone bluffs feature a diverse forest. Northern white pine trees are unique to this area along Sugar Creek. Clifty Creek and Indian Creek have cut deep loops through the preserve’s ravines.

Indiana State Nature Passport

Indiana State Nature Passport

Shades State Park is part of the Indiana State Nature Passport! Check-in and explore participating locations throughout the state to earn great prizes! The more you visit, the more you win. This program is 100% free, but property entrance fees apply when you visit. Learn More.

The 'backbones'

Pine Hills Nature Preserve, Shades State Park Turkey Backbone

Enter the property and wind through an old pine plantation approaching Turkey Backbone. Descend stairs to the streambed and ‘The Slide.’ Cross Clifty Creek to hike up to Devil’s Backbone – this is not an easy climb and the sandstone is slippery (use extreme caution). Carvings of passenger pigeons and the devil’s face from the early 1900s are still visible.

A cut for what turned out to be an unsuccessful woolen mill gave one backbone its name. Honeycomb Rock gets its name from small pockets in the sandstone cliff.

Wildflowers, mosses and wildlife throughout the ‘backbones’ add to the unique features of the property.

Devil's Backbone

Wild hydrangea


Native Americans and French voyagers were active in the park area prior to the 1820s settlement of Indiana. Pine Hills was the first preservation project begun by the Indiana Academy of Science in 1953. In 1960, The Nature Conservancy purchased the property from the Hasselman family for $15,000. TNC donated the property to the state in 1961. The foresight of these groups allows visitors a unique glimpse into the natural heritage of Indiana.

Getting there

Access to Pine Hills is through Shades State Park. Be sure to check out the J. J. Daniels 1878 Deer’s Mill Covered Bridge over Sugar Creek north of the park entrance.

Pine Hills Nature Preserve is a reminder of Indiana’s lush beauty. Walk, look, listen and feel the unique richness.