Knobstone Trail

Think of Indiana as flat and full of corn and soy beans with no place to hike? Think again. The Knobstone Trail, located in Southern Indiana follows the crest of the Knobstone Escarpment winding its way from Deam Lake State recreation area north to Delaney Park, some 43 to 58 miles depending on which of the final loops you choose at the north end. Outside Magazine rates it Indiana's best hike, and the KT is sometimes called "Indiana's Appalachian Trail."

The Knobstone Trail climbs no 4000 foot peaks, but does the equivalent by forcing the hiker to buy and sell the same 400 feet ten times a day as the trail climbs a knob then rapidly descends into the next hollow all within a mile, then repeats itself another 50 times before letting the hiker complete the end-to-end hike.

We (Keith Drury and Paul Stonehouse of Indiana Wesleyan University) hiked the trail end-to-end in December, 2000 the coldest December on record in Indiana. Was it worth it? You bet! Both of us had already completed the Appalachian trail so we thought we were ready for any trail flatland Indiana could offer. We were, but the trail did not grant progress without taking a toll. We hiked it in four-days-and-change but faced single digit temperatures every night with the daytime highs in the teens. Our observations and data follow, especially geared to Appalachian Trail hikers:

  1. Location. The KT runs parallel to Interstate 65 in Southern Indiana almost to Louisville. Trailway. The footpath is hard--climbing up and down with few switchbacks. We hiked it in a half foot of snow but that made it easier--we shoe-skied down many of the slopes. The KT is a knee-buster. (Even though the trail's first 32 miles opened in 1980 and the rest since erosion is a serious threat in the future--properly switchbacked the trail would reach 80 miles.) And these guys really insist on all-trail walking. There is only one stretch of road walking-- about a hundred feet! Excellent planning DNR!
  2. Views. Of the woods great. Winter views from the knobs sometimes, but mostly the views are of the hardwood climax forest through which the trail travels. Heavy forest cover shields even these limited views in the summer. One does not hike the KT for the mountain views. If you like the forest this trail is for you. If you need impressive valley views to keep you going, forget the KT.
  3. Hikers. Few hikers other then weekends. Fewer still doing an end-to-end hike. And in the winter--well, we saw exactly none on the entire trail on our end-to-end hike.
  4. Water. Big problem in the summer. There are a few wet streams (which need treated). But the KT is essentially a "dry trail." End to enders cache water at several of the trailheads to pick up on the way. We did this, but the temperatures froze our gallon jugs solid. Luckily the winter seasonal streams were all wet and thus we had water every mile or so. IN dry winters don't count on this though.
  5. Lean-tos. Forget it--the sweet Appalachian Trail type shelters don't exist on this trail. You are on your own for bedtime.
  6. Campsites. Many good sites, they are supposed to be a mile away form the nearest road and out of sight of the trail or any lakes.
  7. Other uses. The KT is a footpath and no horses, motorbikes, or bicycles are allowed. There are some mountain bike cheaters at some times of the year.
  8. Trail marking. Standard (for AT hikers) white blazes on trees, supposedly 3X6 inches. Generally adequate, though when the snow completely covered the trailway they were sometimes pretty sparse--and we had to zig zag or box a route to pick up the trail again. Besides the white blazes look for the KT posts at all road crossings--nice work!
  9. Supplies. Cache supplies with your water if you want. We used plastic five gallon buckets with tight lids. You can get to Salem Indiana with a Western hitch from most roads the trail crosses, but the trail isn't long enough to really need to re-supply.
  10. Mile Markers. The KT has fiberglass mile markers at each mile point. Some might complain it detracts from the wild feel. We welcomed them in an area where one knobs-and-hallow looks exactly like the last ten knob-and-hollows you already passed.
  11. Maps. The DNR produces a delightful Tyvek map on a 7 1/2 minute scale and gives it away free. Undoubtedly one of the best free maps of a hiking trail anywhere in the USA. (We picked ours up at Galyon's outdoor store in Indianapolis). But if you prefer on-line versions (even some that print off in handy 8 1/2 X 11 format) try the site below.
  12. Road-crossings. There are several--the most prominent being routs 160 and 58. However don't expect nice little diners at these crossings. There are not even houses nearby. In fact we saw only a few farmhouses on the entire trail--and this was a winter hike with no foliage. This trail really gives one the feeling of remoteness. Even though it generally parallels I 65 as it heads into Louisville. You'll have to hike this trail without help from nearby restaurants if you do it in one trip.

 

Key lessons learned from our winter trip:

    1. Sleeping bag hood. Keith used a 7" loft down bag with no hood and was colder than Paul with a 4" loft bag with hood. Lesson: the hood raises the useful range of a bag.
    2. Dark Hanging sack-cache. Every water cache we made was frozen solid except one where we hung a dark nylon bag cache from a branch and in that one, facing the sun one bottle was thawed (though the other was solid--go figure).
    3. Fuel tabs. Esbitt fuel tablets used in a soda-can stove won the day over all stoves in the cold.
    4. Leaves as insulation. The trick to sleeping on the snow was to dig under the snow to pile six inches of leaves between two logs on which to place the sleeping pad.
    5. Sleeping pad. We should have carried the extra weight of a therm-a-rest inflatable. Keith used an 8 Oz generic pad only to discover it was not closed cell--and let cold drift upwards into the sleeping bag, a big problem when the bag is down.
    6. Fly-in-winter vs. tent. We regret using the 10 Oz fly for shelter and should have taken the 5 pound Sierra Designs Clip-flash-lite tent for snow conditions.
    7. Convection & Conduction. We were amazed at how convection affected temps--the icy wind robbed heat quite as much as the drifting heat from the icy ground.
    8. Polypro gloves. Coulda', shoulda', will next time.
    9. Gore-Tex jacket. Amazing how much heat these things hold in. Keith hiked all day every day in 8-18 degree temps with only a tee shirt and Gore-Tex jacket. No wonder they are useless in the summer!
    10. Synthetic. Both of us are doubting down at temps below 20 degrees. We wish we had taken synthetic bags, even though much heavier.
    11. Zero degree accessibility. We really saw why large zippers and giant handles are needed on everything. Just zipping on three layers with those tiny zipper-pulls was enough to make out hands freeze painfully. Winter stuff needs giant handles and pulls like baby toys.
    12. Simplicity. In winter hiking one chooses the simple over complex every time--in food, equipment, and activities. Fancy gadgets might be cool at Galyons, but are mostly useless in 5 degree temps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milepost

Ascension

Descend

# of times up or down 150ft. continuous

Approx. Minutes (including breaks)

Comments

0-1

200

90

0

27

 

1-2

130

140

0

27

 

2-3

180

150

0

20

Overnighted mid-mile

2-3

40

0

0

4

 

3-4

320

100

0

34

 

4-5

430

430

1

59

 

5-6

350

270

1

51

 

6-7

230

160

0

31

 

7-8

180

430

1

1:37

Lunch

8-9

260

190

0

35

 

9-10

360

140

0

33

 

10-11

200

310

1

23

 

11-12

370

110

0

42

 

12-13

100

180

0

28

 

13-14

0

130

0

7

Overnighted mid-mile

13-14

270

40

0

25

 

14-15

100

130

0

26

 

15-16

90

240

1

37

 

16-17

30

360

0

30

To the Laundry mat in Salem to dry our bags

16-17

90

0

0

11

 

17-18

100

0

0

28

 

18-19

90

10

0

32

 

19-20

180

420

1

48

 

20-21

60

80

0

32

 

21-22

10

10

0

18

Overnight mid-mile

21-22

260

120

0

32

 

22-23

260

190

0

42

 

23-24

180

160

0

35

 

24-25

280

210

1

31

 

25-26

0

190

1

7

Cache

25-26

270

330

1

39

 

26-27

50

180

1

28

 

27-28

70

10

0

10

Lunch

27-28

440

370

1

51

 

28-29

360

190

0

46

 

29-30

400

310

1

46

 

30-31

310

340

1

36

 

31-32

390

230

1

52

 

32-33

330

20

1

1:04

Overnight

32-33

0

230

1

9

 

33-34

490

350

1

51

 

34-35

210

270

1

50

 

35-36

240

240

0

38

 

36-37

200

220

0

39

 

37-38

230

240

0

1:34

Lunch

38-39

250

270

0

42

 

39-40

80

70

0

30

 

40-41

300

300

1

47

 

41-42

0

100

0

27

 

42-43

0

60

0

30

 

 

Links.

Great selection of Knobstone Maps

 

To order maps from DNR: (Also site where Indiana Canoeing guide is posted)

http://www.state.in.us/dnr/public/publicat/outrec.htm

 

 

All of Indiana's hiking trails... even the .1 mile ones! http://www.news-sentinel.com/ns/heartlnd/outdoors/nshiking.htm

 

Survey of 1490 miles of trail in Indiana:

http://www.ai.org/dnr/outdoor/supply.htm

 

  1. Pictures. Here are a few Winter 2000 photos for reference:

Keith on one of many knobs

Double fly camping

Liquid water lunch stop!

Paul losing hiking-steam

Snowy pathway

Mile marker #43

Paul in frosty fly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to chat more? Drop us a line

Keith Drury-- kdrury@indwes.edu

Paul Stonehouse -- pstonehouse@indwes.edu

 

Other outdoor writing and trails: http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday/travel.htm