Just north of Tower Ridge RD., west of SR 446, is the Hoosier NF Hardin Ridge Recreation Area.
On my way back to camp after hiking the Pate Hollow Trail I decided to stick my nose in and check it out.
I was not impressed.
As I drove up I was confronted with an elaborate three-lane, two-bay, two-kiosk entry gate that seemed more fitting for a military base than a National Forest. Not that I didn’t expect something there, since most NF recreation areas are fee-entry, I just didn’t expect all this!
But never mind, I ease on up to the day-use lane with geezer-card smuggly in hand, only to find out that my coveted card (The pre August-2017 $10 version ) only covered half the $5 entry fee.
Well crap! If I’da known that I probably would’a just skipped the place, (Not that I’m cheap or anything. It’s the principal of farming out our so-called public lands to for-profit concessionaires that are intent on squeezing every last dollar out of us just so we can use our own lands that I object to. OK, and I am a little cheap. . .) but since I was there and a car had just crowded up behind me, I grudgingly paid and drove on in, primarily to check out the 200 campsites spread across 6 loops, as well as the one-mile Ted T. Turtle Interpretive Trail. (No, really! That was the guy's name!)
According to the official web site reservations are required for campsites, (For a $10 fee per reservation. Remember the concessionaire wants his money!) but when I talked to the host at the Eads loop he said that 50% of the sites on all 6 loops are reserve only and the other 50% are first-come, at least for now.
The campsites are a mix of no-hookup ($20), electric ($27), and electric-water ($27 - $30) sites. Having a pass cuts the cost by half. All the loops have flush or vault toilets but no showers. (For $20 at most Texas State Park campsites you get a water-electric site with flush toilets and hot showers.)
If you are an off-season camper (Oct – mid Apr) you can get a break by staying at the Southern Point Loop (The only loop open in the off season.) for $5 a night, half that with a pass. This loop has only non-electric sites, there will be no water available, and only the vault toilets will be open. (But then again you can stay at the horse camp a few miles away for free and get the same amenities as well as clear access to solar. . .)
If you are dependent on solar you are going to want an electric site as all the campsites are shaded. The Eads Loop allows 4 hours per day of generator time between 0700 and 2200. Fortunately that’s the only loop where generators are allowed so it isn’t too difficult to get away from the racket of those addicted to their coffee-makers.
|Typical campsite. The next site is just out of the frame to left or right.|
All the sites are pretty typical of NF developed campgrounds with more privacy and space than commercial campgrounds but less than many boondocking sites, especially if it gets as full as the campground host indicated. (Remember, there’s 200 campsites here and the place is only a couple hours from Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Louisville, not to mention that the college town of Bloomington is literally just up the road.)
Also typical of NF campgrounds, most of the sites are best suited for tent to modest sized RV’s and getting level on many of them will be a challenge.
There are two trails listed in the recreation area but since the Hardin Ridge Trail is little more than an unpaved sidewalk snaking along the Ridge Rd connecting the camping loops to the day-use area I find it difficult to actually consider it a trail.
The other one isn’t so bad though because it is a true interpretive trail with real signs along the way discussing the history, geology and environment. That’s the Ted T. Turtle trail. To pick it up park at the amphitheater about half way along the Ridge Rd then walk around to the back or north side near the picnic pavilion.
From there the out and back trail, initially paved for a little bit with some steps to help with the slope, follows one of the hollows down to the lake.
But I suspect the main draw of the Recreation Area is the picnic area/beach at the end of the Ridge Rd. In addition to a few picnic tables, and the beach of course, there’s a small (fairly modern) playground and (old and in need of refurbishing) flush toilets. This place is popular enough that it has a dedicated beach-host living right on site.
To each their own but since the parking area is twice the size of the beach I’m not sure there’s much elbow room or peace on popular days. If I wanted to feel that crowded and jittery I could just as well go sit in an airport departure lounge!!
So, while not horrible, the Hardin Ridge Recreation Area would not be my first choice when in the area. But then again, that’s just me.