Key At-A-Glance Information
Length: 4.3 miles
Configuration: Loop and out-and-back
Scenery: Woods, seep springs, and lake
Exposure: Mostly shaded
Trail Surface: Soil and exposed rocks and roots
Hiking Time: 3.5 hours
Driving Distance: 1 hour northwest of Cincinnati
Maps: USGS New Fairfield: Whitewater Memorial State Park
Wheelchair Accessible: No
Facilities: Restrooms and water at main office
For More Information: Whitewater Memorial State Park, (765) 458-5565
Special Comments: Spend the day at Whitewater Memorial State Park hiking, boating, swimming, or even horseback riding.
In 1949, Whitewater Memorial State Park was established as a living memorial to the men and women who served in World War II. Encompassing a 200-acre lake and 1,700 acres of woods, the park’s many amenities include a beach, marina, campground, cabins, seasonal guided horseback rides, and plenty of trails.
From IN 101, enter the park and follow the main drive past the docks and to the parking area on the west side of the dam. Park, cross the road, and look for the entrance to Red Springs Loop to the right.
After entering the woods, the trail splits. Continue on the crushed-gravel Red Springs Loop to the right. Dogwood, elm, large redbud, basswood, locust, and ash trees along the trail provide ample shade for hikers and plenty of nesting spots for songbirds.
At 0.1 mile the trail heads downhill, then passes by upland hardwoods of sugar maple and oak, as well as the wildflower larkspur along the trail’s edges. In spring this is the spot to enjoy the display of the season’s wildflowers.
Be careful of your footing over the exposed roots along the single-wide footpath. To the left is a ravine. At 0.15 miles to the left is Red Spring Marsh, which is fed by the spring that flows year-round from the hillside. The rusty-red color stems from the iron and minerals in the water. The year-round spring and marsh provide a unique habitat for plants and wildlife, including an array of songbirds.
Pass the large red oak to the left. At 0.21 miles is the overlook of the springs from an observation deck. Allocate extra time to sit and enjoy the view of the springs and watch for wildlife.
Return to the trail and weave through the upland forest. The understory canopy is about 20 feet up, and the top canopy is 60 to 80 feet up. This is a nice, open forest that allows you to readily see for some distance through the trees.
You’ll see a small creek to the left at 0.3 miles. At the nearby intersection, take the trail to the left for this short out-and-back that winds up the hillside. Pass over the creek and make your way uphill. Continue straight ahead on the main trail at the trail crossing at 0.44 miles. The path heads downhill through the open woods. The birds in this area seem to care less about human disturbance and are easy to spot as they go about their day.
Cross the footbridge at 0.5 miles.
At 0.54 miles, when the trail meets the gravel road, turn around, retrace your steps to the lowland intersection, and turn left on Red Springs Loop. In 400 feet you’ll pass through a grove of American beech trees and trillium. The bark of the American beech is smooth and an almost shiny gray color. Early spring is the best time to see trillium in bloom.
The trail heads downhill, with the creek to your left. At 0.84 miles cross the stream on the footbridge and continue uphill. The forest is dense with pawpaw and spicebush.
Enter the woods dominated by beech, sugar maple, and ash trees. At the top of the hill, at 0.92 miles, the forest is tulip and sugar maple trees with a high canopy of 60 to 80 feet. Near the fallen trees, keep an eye out for Carolina wrens, nuthatches, and brown creepers hunting for insects.
At 1 mile you’ll pass several red and white oaks. The trail transitions to a mowed path that leads to the road. Cross the road and parking lot and head to the left of the entrance to Hornbeam Nature Preserve, which Red Springs Loop passes through. (Do not follow Red Springs Loop at this point.) To get to the Lakeshore trailhead, follow the mowed path through the prairie, which is undergoing succession.
The trailhead for Lakeshore Trail is edged with lots of redbuds and tulip trees. Lakeshore Trail was redesigned in the fall of 1998 due to flooding and beaver activity. At 1.2 miles, follow the trail to the right and enter Hornbeam Nature Preserve. In the cove area at 1.4 miles, cross over the footbridge. The view of the lake is very picturesque from this vantage point.
The trail leads uphill and past several hornbeam trees. At the intersection at 1.5 miles, follow the Lakeshore Trail to the right. This trail leads to a secluded observation deck. Use the flat stones to cross the stream.
The trail skirts along the edge of the lake. Follow the spur trail at 1.6 miles to the point, where you can enjoy watching waterfowl activity. Cross the small stream via a footbridge at 1.7 miles.
This area is fairly cool because of the breeze off the lake. The sandy soil of the floodplain is at 1.9 miles. If there has been a lot of rain, this spot will most likely be impassable due to flooding.
Over the next 0.1 mile, wild ginger lines the edges of the trail, which leads into another sandy floodplain thick with poison ivy. Here, the trail is extremely eroded, and in some cases the trail is a groove 18 to 24 inches deep.
The trail passes through a stand of pine trees. The forest structure transitions at 2.1 miles into sugar maple, beech, shagbark hickory, and tulip trees. The trail heads downhill to another stream crossing.
Cross over the footbridge at 2.3 miles in the bottom of a gorgeous valley. It’s worth the time to sit and enjoy the serenity.
At 2.5 miles, stairs lead down to an observation deck. Watch your feet over the uneven rise and tread of the steps. Take advantage of the deck to watch and listen for birds. When you are done enjoying the solitude, retrace your steps along the Lakeshore Trail.
When you reach the intersection with the Short Loop at 3.5 miles, take the Short Loop Trail to the right. In 0.1 mile, the trail crosses a stream. This area is littered with fossil-rich flat stones, but don’t pick them up. Fossil collecting is forbidden in the state parks and nature preserves. If you are hankering for a good fossil hunt, the cut-through area along US 27 about 1 mile south of Richmond, Indiana, includes horn coral, brachiopods, cephalopods, and crinoids. A cut-through is where the hill has literally been cut through to allow the road to pass through at a safe grade. The cut-through exposes layers upon layers of rocks rich in Ordovician fossils. See the Introduction for more information on fossil hunting.
The Short Loop Trail is a flat and even grass path through the woods. At the next intersection at 3.7 miles, follow the trail straight ahead. In the grassy area, take a left and keep heading left to catch Red Springs Loop at 3.8 miles. Red Springs Loop passes through Hornbeam Nature Preserve—it was the trail you passed by earlier.
Hornbeam Nature Preserve is a dedicated state nature preserve with 81 acres of mixed-hardwood forest, including several large American hornbeam trees. You might know the American hornbeam by some of its more common names: blue beech, musclewood, and ironwood. The bark of the tree is a pale gray-blue and looks similar to striated muscles. Hornbeam Nature Preserve is well known for its spring wildflower display. Your best chance of seeing it is early to mid spring.
Even in the heat of summer, Red Springs Loop through Hornbeam Nature Preserve is a cool retreat. Continue on Red Springs Loop until you reach the parking lot and your vehicle.
GPS Trailhead Coordinates
The Brookville Lake area includes Quakertown State Recreation Area and Whitewater Memorial State Park, both of which offer additional hiking and wildlifewatching opportunities. Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary and Shrader-Weaver State Nature Preserve are also nearby and offer serene hiking trails.