McCormick’s Creek State Park

McCormick’s Creek has been a favorite place for Indianans to rest and relax for over a century and it is easy to see why. Lush cliffs line picturesque creeks. Water tumbles over falls into cool, clear pools. In mid-June, it is the perfect escape from oppressive heat and humidity. McCormick’s Creek became Indiana’s first state park in 1916 and it is a refreshing mix of nature and history.

I was racing sunset for my first arrival, and unfortunately lost. As a reminder, Indiana has entrance fees ($7 for residents and $9 for us out-of-staters), but they do take credit cards. The good news is that fee is only charged on your first entrance. Subsequent days are covered by the camping tag. If you are a frequent visitor of Indiana State Parks, there is an annual pass, but I think the break-even point is around 8 visits. Your mileage may vary. Also, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources seems to always run a special deal around December that throws in some camping gift certificates.

The campground was constructed in the 1970’s and is definitely set up for tents and smaller trailers that were more popular back then. I booked a site for a 20ft trailer. Technically, I clock in at just under 22 feet, hitch-to-bumper, but find that most reservation systems account for camper dealers who insist on touting only the size of the interior. I would have been fine if I had arrived with enough light to clearly survey the area. But in the dark I backed in a little too far to the driver’s side.

To say these sites slope is pretty mild. On my first attempt at backing the trailer, my Levelmate told me the front would need to come down 16 inches! I’m not sure that would have been possible. And on my first attempt to level side-to-side, the ground was sloping away under the wedge so drastically that rolling “up” on them didn’t really raise the trailer at all. It took several frustrating tries to get the trailer into a spot that could be leveled. And that was only when I stopped backing several feet short of the concrete block. This meant the only way I could get the truck in was by parallel parking in the site. By daylight, I can see the whole trailer should have come over to one side by another six inches. Lesson learned!

But my site was far superior to that of my neighbor. My electric post is actually located behind their fire pit! There would have been a great couple of sites for buddy camping, but certainly not private for strangers. The neighbor on the other side, however is separated by a good 25 feet of dense bushes and trees. Site 14 is entirely consumed by the entrance to Trail 8. Many of the internal sites(108,109, 95,96) might as well have shared a camp ring. Loop B seemed a little better, but trees would make backing in very tricky. I would say sites here are a case of Russian roulette, doubly so if you have a camper of any significant length. I will say that I was incredibly impressed by the primitive sites if you can stand the lack of electricity. Some of those would rank in my top 10 for the midwest.

It is not obvious from the hiking map, but it is possible to hike about a mile to falls as long as the water is low and/or you don’t mind getting your feet wet. I strapped on my Chacos and Blue and I enjoyed the cool waters on the sweltering day. To make this hike you can connect to Trail 7 between sites 174/175 or across from the fresh water fill in Loop A. Head left on Trail 7 until it ends. Pick up Trail 10 and descent 147 steps into the canyon. Here, Trail 10 veers right, but you can easily cross the creek in lower waters or the balance-inclined can cross a log. On the other side of creek, Trail 3 continues left, essentially by walking in the creek. Trail 3 diverges at the Creekside shelter. One route is more creek-walking, while the other, more developed trail climbs to the falls overlook. Both are worth exploring as a loop. The falls themselves were nice and lots of families climbed and swam, even though it was a weekday. The entire trek from the campground to the falls was about a mile, but the wading through the water made it slow going.

As night for my second evening approached, thunder approached. The campground bustled to secure loose objects and the sporadic radar I received showed some ferocious storms. As I headed to bed, I made note of the nearest stone bathrooms, set out my raincoat, and slept in a sports bra. I was ready to run if necessary. However, I slept pretty soundly under the white-noise of the rain.

As I woke up and succumbed to my bad habit of checking Facebook from bed, I was horrified to read posts of campground neighbors evacuating in the middle of the night due to flooded campsites. In a panic, I flung open my blinds, expecting to see a lake surrounding my trailer. Fortunately, I was high and dry. I quickly dressed and set out to survey the damage. I tried to turn on the TV to listen to local news, and realized the power was out.

It seems that about six sites (8, 9, 75, 84, 141, 142) in the campground were so flooded as to have the residents leave in the middle of the night or else they probably should have. I witnessed one poor tenter bundle an entire soaked sleeping system into the dumpster. The rest of us had varying degrees of spontaneous rivers running through our sites. Keep in mind, this was a 10+ inch rain event. So most of the campers faired well, all things considered.

After such an intense rain, I was compelled to revisit the falls. What I saw, literally made me queasy with the understanding of how fatal Mother Nature could be. The very creek that was a lovely ankle-to-knee-deep walk the day before, was now bone-crushing white water. I had a vertigo-esque feeling walking along the rushing waters. My primitive brain was screaming that a simple slip would be 100% fatal. I truly cannot describe it. And no video will adequately convey the force that could be felt by sitting along the angry river. But as someone who values witnessing natural phenomena, I can honestly say the highlight of this trip was getting to experience the power of a flash flood from a safe distance.

After re-centering myself and deciding I was safe enough, I decompressed by taking another hike from the campground. The park is famous for the Wolf Cave, and it is only a 2 mile loop from the campground. I think this trail would normally include the crossing of many riffles. See the above once-in-a-decade rain storm. I soon questioned my choice to wear hiking shoes. All hope of dry feet was abandoned at the actual cave when my desire to explore the low space out-weighed my sense of comfort. The cave itself is low, but perfect for small children or short adults with big packs to duck walk. In theory, you can crawl to the other side. I think the water was too high, cause I sure didn’t see how that would be possible.

The trail wraps around to where the creek comes out. More casual hikers can enjoy the tumbling waters from a platform bridge, complete with a bench. The heat and sense of adventure compelled my to climb the rushing waters. It was certainly an adventure, but the rocks were rather steady and not particularly slick. I imagine it would be an easy scramble at most times. On this day, it was nothing less than a waterfall climb and a heck of a lot of fun!

Pro tip for water crossings: A lot of people were struggling and remarking that I seemed to not be going as deep as other people. I know the instinct may be to walk up or down stream to the narrowest part of the water, but that will also be the deepest part. I crossed where the water was widest. Often it was only a few inches deep. In fairness, I follow Blue who has an instinct for this. Unless she is hot and then she leads me into the deepest part of the water.

I watched temps all day and had just decided I would tough out the evening without power if need be. I will say my trailer doesn’t have great airflow. Muggy 70 degree nights are oppressive in a tent and unbearable with the small windows of my trailer. But I was going to make it work. Fortunately, as I was heading out to buy more firewood, I learned the power had been restored!

I was super excited and headed in to town to celebrate. I found a great brewery/burger place on Yelp. I got take out and enjoyed an IPA while I waited, but really wish I had just had dinner there. I know I was really hungry, and I am always a sucker for a good pretzel bun, but I thought it was an amazing burger.

My time at McCormick’s was certainly dramatic, but I was utterly enchanted. The park definitely has downsides: small sites that are horribly sloped, limited trails, outdated facilities. But I found the whole thing charming.

As a final note, this was the first campground that I really used my AT&T hotspot. On Verizon, I had 1-2 bars, but really struggled to get weather radar. I did much better connecting to the MiFi.

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