The Southern Indiana-Western Kentucky region is bountiful with some of the most accessible and beautiful nature spots. Current guidelines and precautions with COVID-19 have changed how travel looks for many. Instead of vacationing far away, take a moment to explore the interesting and unique nature points available just an hour or so away from Evansville.
Crawford County, Indiana
Growing up in Perry County, Indiana, I found myself lucky to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful Hoosier National Forest locations in the state. But my favorite as a child and still today is Hemlock Cliffs.
Located just over an hour from Evansville, north of Interstate 64 exit 79, this area is what is known as a box canyon and named for the Hemlock evergreen trees that grow in abundance. Like many areas in southern Indiana, the forest includes sandrock formations around its 1-mile loop trail. According to information from the U.S. Forest Service, Hemlock Cliffs sandstone is a part of the Tar Springs Formation — a geological area of sandstone covering southern Indiana and parts of Kentucky — and “springs, small caves, and subterranean drainage conduits are in the underlying Glen Dean Limestone.”
Though this tranquil Hoosier National Forest gets its beauty from the trees around it, trust me when I say you want to plan your visit after a good rainfall has occurred. One of the best sights to take in during a hike at Hemlock Cliffs is the waterfalls. There are several along the trail, with the largest being halfway through the hike. This waterfall falls in front of a large, half-moon open cavern in the rock. Archaeological work in the area has found that Native Americans occupied the area of Hemlock Cliffs as early as 10,000 years ago.
This hiking trail is open year round, though I always enjoyed going in the spring as the landscape starts blooming and rains give the waterfalls an extra boost. When you go, be mindful and stay on the provided trail to protect the local plant life. Also, wear proper footwear as parts of the trail can be slippery and steep.
National Forest Road, English, Indiana
Western Kentucky Botanical garden
Fans of gardens and peaceful settings will enjoy a short trip over to Owensboro, Kentucky, to take in the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden (WKBG). Created in 1993 by a Daviess County Master Gardener’s class, this outdoor sanctuary offers many themed areas as well as gardens for the University of Kentucky Extension and the Western Kentucky University experimental garden. It also is home to a large collection of daylilies with an American Hemerocallis Society recognized display garden.
“Our family rediscovered the beauty of the gardens during COVID-19 quarantine,” says Evansville Living Art Director Laura Mathis, who lives in Owensboro. “We took several walks out there, and we were enchanted by the variety of garden areas. There is something blooming in every season.”
The gardens started with an 8.5-acre donation from residents Dr. and Mrs. William Tyler. Today, it sits on more than 12 acres just west of the city’s riverfront.
Guests can leisurely stroll through the multitude of gardens, including herb and rose gardens, an ericaceous garden (a family of heath and heather plants including cranberry, blueberry, and rhododendron), a Kentucky symbol quilt garden, Japanese memorial garden, and more. These spots also house various buildings which were donated to the WKBG, ranging from an English Cottage to a country doctor’s office and antique ticket booth, both originally built in 1890. The Playhouse in the Garden is a popular spot for children.
Events are held regularly in the gardens as well, from volunteer work sessions to keep the garden in shape to kids’ activities. Educational programs and classes often are found at the gardens as well, teaching the public and specific groups about gardening.
“I have bought several plants from their annual plant sale, and they are still growing strong,” says Mathis. “Our favorite event is the annual Dazzling Daylilies Festival with Balloons Over the Garden. But you don’t need a special reason to go there and enjoy its natural beauty. Strolling the gardens on quiet Sunday morning is very peaceful and relaxing.”
25 Carter Road, Owensboro, KY
Twin Swamps Nature Preserve
Mount Vernon, Indiana
Posey County residents are very familiar with The Point — the area where the Wabash and Ohio rivers combine and create fertile farmland and a plethora of spots for kayaking, hunting, fishing, hiking, and more. One such spot is Twin Swamps Nature Preserve.
Swamps are unique ecosystems, and the wetlands at Twin Swamps are no different. An interesting hike through 597 acres of river bottom flats awaits visitors, with the loop trail taking you through two swamps. Though the name suggests the swampy areas are one in the same, they actually are not — one boasts cottonwood-bald Cypress trees while the other is filled with Overcup Oak, which is rarely found outside the area.
“Twin Swamps is a great place to go with the kids,” says Evansville Living Staff Photographer Zach Straw. “It’s definitely one of the most accessible cypress sloughs in the area with its walking trail that brings you directly into the swamps, rather than just looking at it from a distance.”
If you are looking for a hiking experience, the 300-foot boardwalk into the Cypress swamp ends with an elevated viewing tower, which gives visitors a chance to take in the red-tipped Cypress knees rising up out of the water.
According to the Visit Posey County website, “The purpose of cypress knees is unknown, but many scientists believe they have something to do with circulating oxygen to the underwater parts of the tree.”
The swamps also are a great place for those wishing to partake in some bird watching — the forests and land are home to several species including the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Prothonotary Warbler.
“It’s one of the area’s best hidden gems, especially for admiring local flora and fauna as well,” says Straw. “It’s also not so intense of a hike to be daunting for newcomers.”
County Road 1400 South and Raben Road, Mount Vernon, Indiana