In the heart of southern Indiana, in the historic city of Madison lies the scenic Clifty Falls State Park.The park covers over 1,500 acres. It includes 14 miles of trails, 2 historic railroad tunnels (one open to the public), and 4 enormous waterfalls. Both an inn and campsites are available for the convenience of overnight guests.
Clifty Falls State Park was created in October 1920, when the State of Indiana purchased over 600 acres of land to form Indiana’s third state park. The effort was spearheaded by local residents who wanted the land to be preserved and turned into a park. They collected the funds needed for Indiana officials to purchase the property.
The heart of Clifty Falls State Park is a 300-foot deep canyon, known as Clifty Creek Canyon. Running north-south, it covers the full length of the park. The exposed limestone in the canyon is over 425 million years old, making it some of the oldest exposed bedrock in Indiana. The modern landscape is the result of runoff from glaciers that formed in Indiana during the Ice Age and once covered the northern flatlands of Indiana.
Tourists flock to Clifty Falls each year to see its four magnificent waterfalls: Clifty Falls, Little Clifty Falls, Hoffman Falls, and Tunnel Falls. Of the four, Tunnel Falls is the tallest, with approximately 83 feet of falling water. The waterfalls are beautiful year-round but are at their best in the winter and spring.
Another popular attraction, Brough’s Folly, is a failed railroad tunnel from the mid-1800s. The tunnel, known as Brough’s Tunnel, recently reopened after biologists discovered a bat-killing fungus inside nine years ago. It is open seasonally, to accommodate hibernating bats during the cold winter months.
The tunnel was constructed in 1852 by John Brough, president of the M&I Railroad. He attempted to cut a railroad line around Clifty Falls to form a Madison to Indianapolis railway. The project ran over budget and was still in progress months after the anticipated completion date. As a result, it was never finished, eventually becoming known as Brough’s Folly.
Clifty Falls has been a popular place to stay since the park was established. In 1921, an inn with six rooms opened in a converted farmhouse. It was so popular that the following year, a barn was renovated to expand guest rooms. Even this addition was not enough to meet the demands of visitors.
Again, the local residents collected funds, this time to construct a large new inn. The brick inn opened in 1924 and immediately became a favorite destination for tourists. In fact, Eleanor Roosevelt spent the night there in 1934 when she was visiting a local Civilian Conservation Corps encampment.
In 1965, the park more than doubled in size when the State of Indiana acquired some of the adjoining lands. The area was mostly fields, making it the perfect spot for recreational activities.
Today, Clifty Falls remains a popular tourist attraction. It is open year-round with a daily admission charge per vehicle. It’s a family-friendly spot to experience the magnificence of Indiana’s natural heritage.
Be aware that some of the waterfalls are only visible after hiking steep and winding trails. Those with small children or health restrictions may have to be satisfied with pictures. In fact, Clifty’s Trail 2 is considered the most rugged trail in all of Indiana’s state parks.