Hiking the Priceless Turkey Run State Park

A walk in the magnificent Indiana forest isn't exactly a straight line, but getting turned around is half the fun.

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 Kirsten Rhine

“You are entering an area that contains deep sandstone canyons and one of the last remnants of the magnificent forest that originally covered most of Indiana. Protect and enjoy this priceless heritage.”

This is the sign that you first see at Turkey Run State Park. As an active and adventurous kid, I grew up going to the park and I can confirm it is both magnificent and priceless.   

Rocky Hollow Falls Canyon Nature Preserve at Turkey Run State Park in Indiana
Rocky Hollow Falls Canyon Nature Preserve

I hadn’t been to Turkey Run in a couple years, so when my best friend and I headed to the park recently in Parke County, Indiana, we were operating off of our memory.

Luckily, the drive to the park is pretty easy and straightforward. However, once we got there our memory failed us. We passed the main entrance to the trail heads and ended up walking in one giant circle around the lot (which did give us a good view of the Turkey Run Inn, cabins, and recreational activities available).

After stumbling around the outskirts of the park for thirty minutes, we finally reoriented ourselves and found our way back to start of the hiking trails. To avoid our mistake, keep to the right when you first enter. The path that leads to the trailheads starts by the Nature Center.

Turkey Run State Park Inn - lodging at Turkey Run State Park in Indiana
Turkey Run State Park Inn

Exactly seventy steps down and a suspension bridge over Sugar Creek separate you from eleven different trails. The trails range from easy to very rugged and are anywhere from half a mile to 3 miles.

You’ll want to leave your bike at home though, as bikes aren’t allowed on these trails. The easy and moderate trails are great for hikers just wanting to take an easy stroll through the scenery. If it’s a challenge you’re after, there are trails for you, too.

View of Sugar Creek from Suspension Bridge
View of Sugar Creek from Suspension Bridge
Suspension bridge over Sugar Creek in Turkey Run State Park
Suspension bridge over Sugar Creek

We chose trail #3 to set out on. This 1.7 mile trail is usually the most popular, and happens to be my favorite trail. The trail is the most adventurous and passes almost every picture-worthy natural site.

The first noteworthy feature of the trail is the “Ice Box.” You do have to venture slightly off the path to reach this sight. The “Ice Box” is a massive cavern (find my friend in the picture to see its size) tucked under a portion of the trail, completely sheltered from the sun. It’s known for being the coldest spot in the park, even on chilly fall afternoons.

Path along Sugar Creek on Trail #3
Path along Sugar Creek on Trail #3
Ice Box
Ice Box

The trail follows along Sugar Creek before jutting north, cutting a path straight through giant walls of rock. We wandered down the path taking pictures of the orange-leafed trees and hopping from one side to another to avoid the puddles of water.

The trail was a little wetter than I was expecting for the fall, but it was nothing a little strategic foot placement couldn’t solve. I would recommend wearing shoes you don’t mind getting dirty, no matter what season you choose to go.

Wooden trail along Sugar Creek in Turkey Run State Park
Wooden trail along Sugar Creek
Trail cutting through the rock walls
Trail cutting through the rock walls
Rocky hiking path in Turkey Run State Park
Rocky hiking path

We hopped along until we reached Bear Hollow, which is basically a dead end. This means the only way is up. A series of ladders perched against the steep sides of the hollow transport you to the next portion of the trail.

I remember always being a little nervous about the ladders when I was younger, but as long as you’re careful the ladders are safe to climb.

Ladder in Bear Hollow
Ladder in Bear Hollow

Now prepare to get your daily steps in, because after you successfully climb the ladders, you are congratulated with a whole new set of stairs! The seventy steps down to the suspension bridge at the beginning feel like a cake walk compared to these steps. But, it’s hard to complain when you’re surrounded by this beautiful forest.

Staircase through Trail #3
Staircase through Trail #3

The trail does offer relief from the stairs in the form of a small clearing that serves as a bit of a “rest stop” for multiple intertwined trails.

Several different trails converge and then diverge at this clearing. They are marked with numbered posts and as long as you pay attention to what trail you are on, you should have no trouble continuing on the path you set out on. My friend and I didn’t pay attention and ended up on the wrong trail.

This is one of those moments where you should do as I say, not as I do.

It was a beautiful trail dotted with yellow and lime green leaves, but it wasn’t the trail we originally set out on, so we looped back around to the clearing and made our way down the correct path.

Leaf-covered trail in Turkey Run State Park
Leaf-covered trail in Turkey Run State Park

The homestretch of trail #3 passes by the Punch Bowl, a large pothole filled with water; Rocky Hollow; and Wedge Rock, which is a massive boulder shaped like a wedge perched on its side.

Unfortunately, we trekked three quarters of the way down the trail to find out that we couldn’t finish the remaining quarter of the trail. Turkey Run occasionally does maintenance, and we happened to choose one of those days.

While I was unable to get pictures of these landmarks, I know from past trips that they are all worth the trek down.

Trail closed for repairs
Trail closed for repairs

We turned around and headed back, vowing to come back and finish the rest of the trail later on. I didn’t mind retracing our steps back through the trail and seeing the parts of the forest we had already been through. It’s just that pretty.

No matter how many times I’ve been to Turkey Run State Park, I always jump at the chance to go again. With over 800,000 estimated annual visits, it’s safe to say that the park is doing something right.      

Suspension Bridge over Sugar Creek
Suspension Bridge

Looking for more Indiana fun? Check out our guides to West Lafayette / Lafayette and Brown County.

Visiting Turkey Run State Park

Turkey Run State Park is one of 25 Indiana State Parks and is located in the west central part of Indiana. It’s a little over an hour from either Lafayette or Indianapolis. 8121 E. Park Road, Marshall, IN 47859, (765) 597-2635

Admission: $7 for noncommercial vehicles with Indiana license plates, $9 for out-of-state non-commercial vehicles

Turkey Run State Park Camping

Turkey Run has 213 campsites with electric hookups and access to modern bathrooms and showers. Equestrian camping is available. There are also cabins as well as Turkey Run Inn. Check Tripadvisor for rates and reviews of the Inn. (affiliate link)

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