Key At-A-Glance Information
Length: 3.1 miles
Scenery: Woods, fields, and lake
Exposure: Shaded and full sun
Trail Surface: Soil and mowed paths
Hiking Time: 1.5-2 hours
Driving Distance: 2 hours
Maps: USGS Deputy; Hardy Lake State Recreation Area map
Wheelchair Accessible: No
Facilities: Restrooms and water at picnic area
For More Information: Hardy Lake State Recreation Area, (812) 794-3800
Special Comments: During the summer, look for juicy black raspberries along the edges of the trails and pack industrial-strength insect repellent to slow down the deerflies. The hike is a pleasant escape with wonderful views of the lake.
Hardy Lake was created in 1970 when Quick Creek was dammed for water supply and recreation. At 2,449 acres (which include the 741-acre lake), it is Indiana’s smallest stateoperated reservoir. This area has much to offer visitors, including trails, archery practice trails, a beach, boat ramps, and electric and primitive campgrounds, as well as fishing, hunting, and picnicking areas.
After passing through the main gate, follow Hardy Lake Road to the trailhead parking lot, which is the first parking area to the left. The trailhead for Cemetery and Island trails is on the west side of the parking lot.
Trails pass through a state recreation area’s wildlife unit and are open for hunting. Be aware of hunting seasons and show courtesy to others. To be safe, wear a blaze-orange jacket and cap; stay on the trail; and never imitate the sound of a wild animal such as the grunt of a deer or the gobble of a turkey.
Cemetery Trail enters the woods near the sign for the Whitsitt Wildlife Unit. Be sure to watch for activity in the nest box on the back of the sign. The narrow soil path weaves under the canopy of sugar maples, red oaks, and a few white oaks, as well as near spicebush and mayapple.
Pass through an open area and then over a footbridge at 0.17 miles. Continue on the main trail and at 0.22 miles pass by McClain Cemetery, which dates back to the 1700s. The narrow exposed soil path leads downhill through an area of American beech, oak, and shagbark hickory trees. This is a classic example of an oak-hickory climax forest structure.
Cross footbridges at 0.27 and 0.31 miles. There is relatively little groundcover under the high canopy of the sugar maples. Be careful not to take a spur trail near 0.42 miles. Stay on the main trail to the left, which is marked with hiker icons. This trail passes by some beautiful large red oak trees. Cross straight ahead over the access road at 0.47 miles and follow the marked trail for Outward Bound Trail, which skirts the edge of the lake and coves where wildlife-viewing opportunities abound.
The trail reaches a large open area at 0.48 miles.
Watch out for the abundant poison ivy. Jerusalem’s artichoke is easily identified by its miniature sunflowerlike blooms. There are also plenty of deerflies during the warmer months. The trail’s edges are dense with greenbrier and small sassafras trees.
Cross yet another footbridge at 0.59 miles, and in 0.1 mile, cross an access road. The trail continues across the road. Follow the markers for the hiking trail and pass between the sentinel shagbark hickory trees. Cross another footbridge at 0.68 miles over a stream. This area is dominated by shagbark hickory trees, which are easy to identify by their peeling gray bark.
Listen and watch for a variety of songbirds, such as chickadees, nuthatches, and towhees, flitting through the canopies of the white oak and beech trees. In the early morning this is a birder’s nirvana. Cross the large bridge over the top of the creek at 0.79 miles. The white oaks with woodpecker holes in them are good places to look for smaller birds that are using the cavities for nests. You may also see numerous deer throughout this area. The trail is marked with white blazes.
The trail enters into a serene open valley at 1 mile. At the access road crossing, at the fork in the trail take the trail to the right labeled with the hiker medallion and look for small white blazes. Basswood, sugar maple, oak, and shagbark hickory trees provide ample shade. Within 0.1 mile, cross a long footbridge through the wet area. At the end of the bridge is a trail junction. Follow the trail to the left.
Cross another footbridge at 1.15 miles. The cove to the left is filled with lotus and water lilies. Here, stop and listen to the frog calls and watch dragonflies skim the water’s surface.
At 1.4 miles, shagbark hickory and sugar maple trees dominate the woods. In spring look for mayapples in this area. The trail crosses over a few more footbridges before intersecting with another access road at 1.56 and 1.72 miles.
At the trail junction at 1.74 miles, turn left to follow Island Trail through a stand of red cedars. (Look for the green markers.) At 1.8 miles, pass through the open grassy area. Cross over an access lane and continue straight across to the sign for the Island Trail. Look for wild turkey dusting spots along the trail.
In summer the open meadow area is complete with wildflowers such as yarrow and goldenrod and plenty of juicy blackberries. Be careful when you pick the berries—the plants have thorns, and blackberries and poison ivy typically grow near each other, so watch your step.
At 1.96 miles, pass over the fire break and remain on the trail straight ahead. Pass the fork at 2.03 miles and continue following the green markers. This area is dominated by sweetgum trees. At 2.05 miles follow the trail to the left. This portion of Island Trail loops up into the peninsula. Follow along the edge of the lake and into the woods of red cedar trees. This portion of the hike is eerily serene, with the sounds of the lake, woods, and birds drowning out the noise of everyday life.
To fully appreciate the wetland area at 2.13 miles, time your hike to arrive here early in the morning. That’s the best time to watch the wildlife. Bring a field cushion to sit on, find a comfortable tree, sit at the base of it, and try not to move. The tree will help to conceal you, and if you sit still you’ll be able to see a variety of waterfowl, songbirds, neotropical migrants, wild turkeys, and deer going about their day.
Pass by the large beech at 2.25 miles. Continue uphill and into a younger forest. In the open area, at 2.4 miles, the lake is visible to the left through the red pine and red cedar stand. At the end of the loop in the Island Trail at 2.46 miles, follow the split to the left through shagbark hickory, white oak, and sugar
At 2.87 miles the trail borders the cove and enters into a forest of shagbark hickory, white oak, and red cedar trees. Cross the footbridge at 2.96 miles. At the trail junction at 2.98 miles, follow Cemetery Trail to the left. At 3.04 miles cross a footbridge before entering into an open area bordered to the right with dogwoods and poison ivy.
Continue on Cemetery Trail to the main trailhead, parking area, and your vehicle.
GPS Trailhead Coordinates
Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Clifty Falls State Park, and Pennywort Cliffs Nature Preserve offer more hiking and wildlife-viewing opportunities. Madison, Indiana, has plenty of specialty shops, restaurants, gourmet coffee and candy stores, and wineries to keep you occupied.