This piece is part of a series of articles submitted to The Local Tourist through a cooperation with a 400-level travel writing class at Purdue University.
By Erin Kelly
I spent Christmas at McCormick’s Creek State Park a few years back in 2015 when it was my dad’s turn to celebrate the holiday with my siblings and me. We stayed in one of the rooms at the Canyon Inn on site and got to spend the holidays out in nature. It is one of my fondest childhood memories with my family.
While it had been almost five years since my last visit, I still remember my favorite trail and wanted to make sure I walked that one again, so I journeyed back this fall.
As someone who would consider themselves an avid hiker, I often fail to take the opportunity to take in what beauty Indiana has to offer in the way of hiking. A majority of my hiking has been done on vacations out West, in deserts and mountains and national parks, so I felt nothing could compare in my home state.
However, McCormick’s Creek State Park is beautiful in its own way. It offers more than 10 miles of hiking on 10 trails of various lengths that showcase the scenery of Indiana. As Indiana’s first state park, there is a lot of history that can be learned while enjoying the hikes.
The trails range from easy to moderate to rugged, with one marked as accessible. Since I enjoy the intensity, I like that there are two trails on the rugged end of the scale.
Hiking McCormick’s Creek State Park
I made my way down to Spencer, Indiana, just after 3:00 p.m. to get some good hiking in before the sun set. The town is about 15 miles northwest from Bloomington and the Indiana University campus. The park is open until 11:00 p.m., so I had plenty of time to walk around and enjoy the area before heading back to school.
I am not normally one to go out hiking alone, but all of my friends were busy with school and work, so I took advantage of the quiet. I am, however, not a huge fan of the dark, so I made my way out of the park around 7:45 p.m. once the sun had set.
Since I had only a few hours after arriving at 5:00 p.m., I set out to finish one trail at each difficulty. I started out strong on trail number 3, which was one of the two rugged ones and also my favorite.
With the great weather, I was expecting many people to be out on the trails, but I only encountered a few as I explored beyond the trails. With the large amount of trails, it makes it so there isn’t overcrowding on the paths.
Easy Hikes (Trails 6 and 9)
Two of the trails at McCormick’s – 6 and 9 – are categorized as easy hikes.
I chose trail 9 by default when I couldn’t find trail 6. I received a map at entry, but clearly struggled to use it to find my desired destination.
The entrance was a little off from the road, so I asked some nearby hikers where it was so I didn’t wander for minutes like I had earlier. These two kind ladies who shared they visited often pointed me in the right direction and I headed straight in.
On both sides of the path were tall trees for what seemed like miles. It takes you deep into the woods, so it was peaceful to hear the animal noises from up in the trees as I made my journey through.
I didn’t complete this whole trail because it was getting dark and I, of course, was getting nervous, so I made my way out to the car after getting a feel for the trail. As I appeared from the entrance, the two ladies who previously helped me were driving past again and were waiting to make sure I got out okay, which was super kind experience.
One of my favorite things about hiking is how kind those around are, whether it’s a friendly hello as you are walking past or keeping an eye out for others you encounter.
The reward for making it close to the end of trail 9 is the Historic Peden Farm site. A home for the daughter of John McCormick, the original land owner, and her husband stood on this site.
The three marked places at the site include the home site, spring house, and the barn site. While little remains of the home and barn sites, the spring house, which is where the family stored food, is fully standing. It is locked from the outside, but you’re still able to glance in and read about it on a marker placed outside.
I enjoyed this trail because I was able to focus on taking in the beauty rather than whether I would trip down a steep incline, which may or may not have happened as I made my way through trail 4.
Moderate Hikes (Trails 1, 2, 4, 5, and 7)
The moderate trail I chose to embark on was 4. This particular one has a fire tower that I remember visiting back when I was 15. The area was closed for construction, but it was still neat to see from afar.
I clearly struggle with reading maps because I found myself wandering for about 10 minutes before giving up and taking a break on the swings I found instead.
After my little break, I made my way back toward the inn to attempt finding the alternative entrance to the trail. After learning that the entrance fell behind the inn, I went that way to begin my hike.
I eventually came across the fire tower, which was the whole reason I chose this path over the others. This fire tower is often climbable, depending on whether or not construction is being done in the area. If you want to take on the 105 stairs, you are rewarded with a view of the tree tops and park from 86 feet in the air while standing in a mini fort at the top.
I liked this particular hike because despite being only moderate, it still had some steep inclines with narrow paths that added to the challenge. There was even this fun zig-zag wooded deck to walk across, which was something unique in comparison to the many other trails I have hiked.
Related: check out the hiking at Turkey Run State Park
Rugged Hikes (Trails 3 and 10)
I saved my personal favorite trail to write about for last. Trail 3 was filled with beautiful views of the changing trees as the sun peeked through before sunset. This trail follows a stream, and as you meander along its banks you’re surrounded by towering trees on both sides.
I love this one because I remember making my way across the rocks that add to the difficulty of this trail back when I was younger with my family.
My one recommendation for this trail would be to make sure you’re not wearing your nicest tennis shoes. While making my way across the rocks to make it to the other side of the stream, I stepped onto an unstable rock and headed straight for the water. I spent the rest of the trail with one wet pant leg and one wet shoe, but thankfully nobody had been around to witness my clumsiness.
The rocks are definitely what adds to the ruggedness of this trail, but I am always up for a challenge of finding the best way across. It definitely made for a tough warmup for the rest of the trails I hiked that day, but remained my top trail despite it resulting in my soggy shoe.
Happy Hiking at McCormick’s Creek State Park
I am so glad I went back to visit McCormick’s Creek after many years. The trails were just as great as I remembered. While it wasn’t a hike in the mountains, this park still captures the beauty of Indiana and offers a variety of trails for hikers with differing abilities.
McCormick’s Creek State Park is a great place to step into nature and enjoy Indiana. With it being so close to the Bloomington area, making the 15 mile drive to the Indiana University campus is a perfect additional stop. If looking for a delicious place to grab a bite, Mother Bear’s Pizza is a dining staple on the campus.
Related: go hiking at Indiana Dunes National Park
McCormick’s Creek State Park Information
McCormick’s Creek State park is open every day, all year long, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m..
Cost of Entry:
$7.00 In-State Daily Entrance Fee
For noncommercial vehicles with Indiana license plates, every day including holidays. Admits driver and passengers.
$9.00 Out-of-State Daily Entrance Fee
For noncommercial vehicles with out-of-state license plates, every day including holidays. Admits driver and passengers.
Visit in.gov for more information on McCormick’s Creek State Park.
Where to Stay in McCormick’s Creek State Park
Canyon Inn – This is where I stayed back in 2015 with my family. There are 76 rustic rooms and can be booked online prior to a visit.
The inn also has common areas in the lobby and a dining area. All hikers can access the dining area for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, even if not staying at the inn.
Campgrounds and Cabins – For those who want a more outdoor experience, there are cabins for rent. These are popular, so it is recommended to book early to ensure a place to stay.
If camping is more your style, there are both electric and primitive sites. The electric sites have electricity as well as modern restrooms, whereas the primitive sites do not have either.