When you think of hiking in west-central Indiana, Turkey Run and Shades state parks are typically at the forefront. They are great choices but if you only have a couple of hours and want to visit something unique and off the beaten path, try out Hemlock Ridge Nature Preserve.
This DNR-managed nature preserve is actually owned by Central Indiana Land Trust Inc. and should not be confused with Hemlock Bluff Nature Preserve or Hemlock Cliffs area of Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana. First purchased with a gift from the Herbert Simon Family Foundation in 2004, the preserve has now grown to 49 acres with the purchase of an additional 10 acre tract in 2008.
The preserve encompasses two habitats. One is an ongoing pasture reforestation program begun in 2008 while the second is the primary reason for the preserve: a rare isolated stand of Hemlock trees on the north facing bluff of Big Walnut Creek.
Visitors can park on the small gravel parking lot and find their way north on a more-or-less marked trail that follows an old farm lane. Keep in mind that approximately the first 200 yards are private property so hikers should stay on the trail.
The trail enters the reforested pasture and winds around the western edge. As you near the tree line that hugs the streamside ravines you will find signs indicating a trail, though at our last visit it was not immediately noticeable nor really maintained.
However, the preserve isn’t so large that getting lost is a concern. Simply make your way north until you find the creek bluffs and you will find the hemlock grove perched approximately 75 feet above Big Walnut Creek on a steep bluff. This area is small but secluded and offers several great spots for sitting, picnicking or pondering. Keep small children in check as the steep elevation along the cliff could be dangerous. Otherwise, there are few hazards in the preserve.
Retrace your steps back to the parking lot. While is the area, you can also visit the nearby McCloud Nature Park (approximate 2 miles east off County Road 900E) for more hiking and other activities.
Hemlock Ridge isn’t very large but it is unique and offers a quick hiking getaway if you happen to be in west-central Indiana and want to stretch your legs in a unique ecosystem.
Take Rockville Road (U.S. 36) west from Indianapolis to the Hendricks-Putnam County line (this is a few miles past New Winchester). Turn right (north) on County Line Road. Stay on this road until reaching County Road 1100 North, turn left. After a stop sign, 1100 North makes a jog south. Look for an angled gravel road coming in from the right. Turn right and follow it as it turns back into 1100 North. A grassy parking lot is located on the right side of the road.
Hemlock Ridge Map (PDF) from IN.gov