Clifty Falls State Park is located in the lovely, historic town of Madison, Indiana, just a few steps north of the Ohio River. It is also just a short drive from Indianapolis, Louisville and Cincinnati, so if you are from or visiting any of those areas this is a detour you will want to take. Why should you visit? On the 1,519 acres of land, Clifty Falls State Park has FOUR waterfalls 60 feet or taller! Since our family can’t resist a beautiful waterfall and this place has four, we didn’t need another reason. However, if that doesn’t persuade you, the 12 miles of hiking trails will take you through beautiful forests and along steep cliff edges that provide excellent opportunities for bird watching, a chance to see rocks over 425 million years old and even an occasion to make your way through a 600 ft. tunnel that is the remnants of an abandoned railroad project. Clifty Falls also happens to be an amazing year-round park. Even with creek accessibility and hiking conditions being more optimal in the summer months, Clifty Falls State Park gets even more beautiful in the winter. Our family loves snow, but winters in Indiana usually mean a lot of freezing rain, muddy trails, and frigid temperatures. Doesn’t exactly make you want to grab your hiking boots and hit the trails! However, at Clifty Falls it makes those four beautiful waterfalls even more majestic with a significant increase in its cascading waters during the winter months. It makes this park hard to pass up, even on the coldest, wettest, and muddiest of days!
Entrance Fee: $7 In State Daily Entrance, $9 Out of State Daily Entrance
Dining: Clifty Inn does have one restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Madison, IN also has plenty of food options as well!
Must Know Before You Go:
1. This park is not well labeled, and every trail has you changing directions quite a few times. We knew this beforehand, and still struggled, particularly on Trails 2 & 3, the first time we went! A map and compass would be very helpful in finding your way back to the car😊
2. The park is separated down the middle by Trail 2/Clifty Creek. The trails on either side are at a very high elevation and Trail 2/Clifty Creek is at a very low elevation. That means any time you are taking a trail to or from the creek, it will be mostly straight uphill (if you are traveling away from the creek) or straight downhill l(if you are traveling towards the creek).
3. You will be walking through quite a bit of rocky, wet terrain so sturdy, waterproof shoes are a must!
4. Apart from Trail 10, every trail in this park is appropriately marked “rugged” to “very rugged” so expect, especially with small kiddos in tow, for each trail to take you more time than expected. Our kids are 5, 7, and 9 and can totally do this whole park! Don’t let the “very rugged” scare you away! I just want you to be prepared to take your time😊
Cell Service: Not reliable cell service on trails. Call only.
2 Day Itinerary
However, if you are only visiting for one day, day 1 will take you past the best of what Clifty Falls State Park has to offer!
Trail 7- This 1.5-mile trail will take you past two impressive 60 ft. waterfalls- Big Clifty Falls and Little Clifty Falls. Parking for Trail 7 is located near the North Gate entrance. Trail 7 looks very messy on the map so I would recommend finding the restrooms and start Trail 7 from there. Follow the paved path outlined with a stone wall to your first stop-Big Clifty Falls. There are several outlook areas to explore before moving on to the rest of Trail 7. When you come to the bottom of the stairs, to a split in the path, take 2 rights (west then north) to another lower lookout of Big Clifty before continuing south, past Cake Rock. After Cake Rock, you will head to Little Clifty Falls. Go down the stairs and cross the bridge to walk over Little Clifty Falls. Once on the other side, to easily complete the loop just make sure you stay on Trail 7 at the 6/7 split. Trail 6 heads south but you will want to head north to complete the rest of Trail 7 and head back to the parking lot. There are several stairs on this trail and almost all of them are both steep and wet so please watch your step😊
Trail 5/4/3/2 Loop– To start this 4-trail combo I would hop in your car from the Trail 7 parking lot and head south. Park in the first parking lot at the start of the one-way road (the lot just south of Tunnel Falls).
Trail 5-Take the first set of stairs off the parking lot down to Trail 5. At the bottom of the stairs will be the third and tallest waterfall of the day- the 83-foot, Tunnel Falls. There is an overlook of the falls before continuing south on Trail 5. The best view of Tunnel Falls is actually a little farther down on Trail 5 but you are right on the cliff edge if you’re stopping to get a picture😊 Not far past the falls is the tunnel entrance. If tunnels aren’t your thing or its bat hibernation season and the tunnel is closed (November 1st-April 30th), trail 5 continues around the tunnel. If able, the tunnel is very cool! You will have to bend down for the first few steps into the tunnel but then it opens up and most adults should be able to walk upright the rest of the way. You will need a flashlight to make your way through the 600 ft tunnel. It will drop you off a little farther down trail 5, where you will continue south to Trail 4.
Trail 4- Trail 4 starts at the bottom of a very long, steep set of stairs. Continue straight to stay on trail 4. Do NOT take the stairs to Lilly Memorial-you will have to drive right past the top of those stairs on your way out at the end of the day. I would recommend stopping at the overlook then. When you get to the first split in Trail 4, head left(east). If you take a right, you will miss the falls! Trail 4 will take you to your fourth and final waterfall of the day- the 78-foot, Hoffman Falls. After you stop at the falls overlook, continue in the direction that will take you OVER the falls. Do NOT take the path that takes you away and up from the falls. That path only leads to a parking lot and none of these paths are labeled well, making it very easy to get turned around. Once you are on the other side of the falls, you will continue to Trail 3.
Trail 3- Trail 3 is probably going to be the trickiest part of this whole day. Not because it is especially difficult, but because Trail 3 goes in so many different directions, so it is again, easy to get lost or turned around. You are using this trail as a connector to Trail 2. You should be headed DOWN to the creek bed most of the way. This trail is steep and often muddy but worth the effort to get to our favorite trail-Trail 2! For the first three splits in trail 3 you will want to stay right to continue west toward Trail 2. When you get to the last split, just before going over the creek, stay to the left(you should be traveling northwest). If you veer to the right(northeast) it will put you back on Trail 4, in the opposite direction of Trail 2!
Trail 2- Once on Trail 2, you will walk along and through Clifty Creek. This was our favorite part of the hike. You are literally walking on the creek bed, so you may have to get creative in spots to keep your feet out of the water, but this trail is truly beautiful! This trail will take you much longer than you expect. Our kiddos took lots of breaks to skip rocks and play in the creek and it is just slow going walking on a bed of rocks the entire time. About a mile in (you will end up clocking more than a mile due to switching creek sides several times to avoid deep water), just before a large split in the creek there will be a small sign for Trail 5. You will follow the switchback trail back up to your car. After the initial Trail 5 sign, there are several splits in the trail with no signage. The parking lot is to the northeast, so stick to the left with most splits in the trail.
The last part of this combo trail is the most difficult (Trail 2 and 5) but is so worth it! Just be prepared to take it slow. Once you have hopefully made it back to your car, follow the one-way road out to the South Gate. Don’t forget to stop at the Lilly Memorial Overlook on the right!
Trail 8/2- For this hike, park in the lot right next to the North Gate entrance. Trail 8 will take you along the very western border of the park. About a mile south will be a split. Go left(east) to Trail 2 and Clifty Creek. Once you come to the creek bed on Trail 2 it should look familiar! It is right around the same place (just opposite side of the creek) where you ended Trail 2 the day before. Today continue north on Trail 2 until you get to the bottom of Big Clifty Falls! There will be two large splits in the creek heading up to Big Clifty. Veer to the left(northwest) both times. After spending time at the beautiful waterfall, you will back track the same way you came in. Also, same as the day before, the creek bed makes for slow hiking. This trail on a map would be right around 3 miles. However, with all the crisscrossing you will do on Trail 2 to avoid deep water it ends up being a much longer hike (closer to 4 miles total).
Trail 10- This 0.75-mile trail is a short, easy hike. Park near the swimming pool for this quick loop trail that is much flatter than the rest of the park and takes you through an old ecology field. Our middle bro loves fossils, so we had to hike Trail 10 where archaeologists have been known to find marine fossils!
Please reach out if you have an questions!
Hope you have a wonderful adventure!