Key At-A-Glance Information
Length: 0.5 miles
Scenery: Woods, wetland, wet woods, and ponds
Trail Surface: Paved, recycled plastic boardwalk, and gravel
Hiking Time: 30-45 minutes
Driving Distance: 2 hours west of Cincinnati
Maps: Chestnut Ridge
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Facilities: Nature center and shop, restrooms, and drinking water
For More Information: Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, (812) 522-4352 or www.fws.gov/midwest/muscatatuck
Special Comments: Plan to spend a weekend exploring the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge. Eight hiking trails and one driving trail provide a variety of ways to view wildlife.
Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge was established as Indiana’s first National Wildlife Refuge in 1966 to provide resting and feeding areas for waterfowl during their annual migrations. Muscatatuck is a Native American word meaning “land of winding waters,” and as one of more than 545 refuges of the National Wildlife Refuge system, its mission is to restore and preserve a mix of forest, wetland, and grassland habitat for fish, wildlife, and people.
This is a wonderful place to introduce children to hiking. Muscatatuck has a lot to see—if you slow down and take a close look. Be wary of the trail borders, as an ample supply of poison ivy dominates the edges. If you come in contact with poison ivy, use cold water and soap to wash it off immediately. If that isn’t available, look for jewelweed (it looks like gangly impatiens), crush the stem, and rub the plant on the affected area. The plant’s juices help to remove the oils from your skin. If you don’t recognize jewelweed, don’t guess! Find a place to wash the oils from the poison ivy off of your skin.
After entering the refuge, pass through a gate and take the first turn to the right to the Conservation and Nature Center. Follow the road back to the center and park in either lot.
Take some time to explore the nature center’s exhibits, as well as the birdviewing room. For the shopper in you, the well-stocked nature store is delightful. Immediately outside the nature store, you’ll find maps at a self-serve kiosk on the wall to the right. Grab a copy of the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge Chestnut Ridge Trail interpretive guide.
When you exit the front of the nature center, walk to the parking lot and look to your left.
You will see the sign for the entrance to the Chestnut Ridge Trail. Immediately to the right of the sign is the trailhead. If you forgot to get a copy of the interpretive trail guide inside, you’ll find maps in a self-serve container on the front of this sign.
The Chestnut Ridge Trail is relatively short at 0.5 miles, but it covers a broad timeframe of history and contains a great variety of habitats, as well as the animals that live in these habitats. While we hiked, we saw white-tailed deer, frogs, turtles, and a very unconcerned water snake.
This trail is excellent year-round. In spring expect to be serenaded by an assortment of songbirds, including neotropical migrants. In fact, Muscatatuck is a well-known birding location, celebrated each year in early May at the Wings Over Muscatatuck Migratory Bird Festival.
Throughout the year, Muscatatuck hosts several events, including butterfly counts, National Public Lands Day Cleanup, National Wildlife Refuge Week, and the Log Cabin Day Festival. For more information, visit www.fws.gov/midwest/muscatatuck.
The Chestnut Ridge Trail’s 13 interpretive points cover the area’s history as well as the plants and animals you are most likely to see and hear. The first 400 feet of the hike pass through a tulip- and oak-dominated forest. Chestnuts used to grow in this area, but a blight wiped out the species.
The enormous white oak tree that is 484 feet into the hike is estimated to be more than 100 years old. At this point, the trail becomes a boardwalk, which was built using “limber” created from recycled plastics, and heads downhill over a series of steps.
One-tenth of a mile into the hike, take the steps down into an old creek channel that keeps the woods wet during spring. In this low area, chestnut oak, hickory, musclewood, and pawpaw trees shade the multitude of wetland plants. The elevated boardwalk provides a bird’s-eye view of the area without the fear of sinking into the mud.
Along this bottom-area boardwalk is a bench at a little over 0.1 mile, the perfect spot to get comfortable and listen to the chorus of frogs and songbirds. The boardwalk ends, and the trail leads uphill on a gravel path at 0.15 miles. At 0.2 miles it becomes paved again. There is an alternate paved route, but it doesn’t go down into the valley.
At the trail split at 0.17 miles, stay to the right. As you pass the man-made ponds throughout this area, look for waterfowl, herons, egrets, turtles, snakes, and songbirds. The pond at 0.2 miles is a nesting spot for wood ducks and is surrounded by chestnut oaks, pawpaws, and sugar maples.
Over the years, the area has been through many changes, with the landscape evolving from chestnut woods to farm fields to forest succession. At 0.34 miles, you’ll see a spot where the forest joins open meadow, creating an edge habitat. Whenever one habitat borders another, a vital habitat is created. Edge habitats are excellent areas to look for various wildlife species, including songbirds.
Another good spot where two habitats meet is at 0.39 miles. This simple pond with the surrounding woods has many surprises—if you sit and wait. In fact, there is a handy bench to facilitate this process. (This is where we saw the water snake plus five turtles that were more interested in sunning than evading us.)
The hike terminates at the nature center. More hiking adventures await, such as the East River and Richart Trails, which are also included in this book. When your feet are too tired to hike, you can choose an auto-tour trail that leads past several of the controlled water structures. Expect to see egrets, cedar waxwings, great blue herons, and hundreds of ducks and geese.
GPS Trailhead Coordinates
UTM Zone (WGS84) 16S
Latitude: N 38 degrees 57' 34.72"
Longitude: W 85 degrees 47' 55.10"
Other hiking opportunities in this area include Versailles and Clifty Falls state parks, Hardy Lake State Recreation Area, Selmier State Forest, and Pennywort Cliffs Nature Preserve. Seymour, Indiana, is less than 5 miles away from Muscatatuck and offers the standard medium-sized-city amenities.