If you’ve been following along, you know we’ve been making an effort to check out some of Indiana’s State Parks this year. You can see my other reviews, here and here. We managed to squeeze in one last trip of the season back in November and this time added on a night at one of the State Park Inns, which was a first for us. The weekend of Thanksgiving we headed to Madison, IN in southern Indiana to visit Clifty Falls State Park and spend one night at The Clifty Inn. Both turned out to be great adventures and I would highly recommend a trip to both.
Clifty Falls State Park is located about 2 hours south of Indianapolis along the banks of the Ohio River. In fact, from many of the bluffs around the park, you can look out and see Kentucky across the river and watch the giant barges pass. Late November is a pretty quiet time of year and it was pretty chilly, but we bundled up and hit a couple of trails including the short hike to the fire tower on Trail 1 near the Nature Center (a fun stop for kids and restrooms) and an unexpectedly rugged climb on Trail 4.
Be prepared to do some serious hiking in and out of ravines as you explore the park’s namesake, Big and Little Clifty Falls. Trails are well marked but the easiest trail in the park is marked as moderate and most are rugged or extremely rugged. It made me a little nervous as a mom, but my kids loved the challenge, and as long as you go slow and take your time, you’ll be fine. I would not recommend most of the trails for anyone 3 and under unless they’re riding in a carrier since there are lots of steep drop-offs. The map is hard to read since it doesn’t show elevation, so make sure you check in with a ranger if you have questions.
The northern part of the park has a few more short trails that take you to some of the well-known park landmarks like Cake Rock and the Falls but you’ll still be doing lots of stairs. I think my husband’s Fitbit said we did 37 sets of stairs after just one hike. I would love to return in the summer to see all the foliage but with the humidity of southern Indiana and all the strenuous hiking I’d imagine it’s a pretty big workout. Be advised too that some park roads are closed during the winter to protect bat habitats so make sure you grab a map to help you find your way around.
After hiking we checked into Clifty Falls Inn, one of eight state park inns around Indiana and our first experiencing staying at one. We booked just a couple of weeks before and the only remaining room, a parkview family suite, ended up perfect and super spacious for us. It includes a living room, queen-sized bedroom, huge bathroom, and small kitchenette. The hotel was fairly busy because of the holiday weekend but we were impressed at how quiet it was. The Inn overlooks downtown Madison and the Ohio River and has several porches and overlooks to enjoy the view. I loved the variety of small sitting areas and cozy nooks that encouraged families to just hang out and spend time together.
The large fireplace and lounge had dozens of games and puzzles and the indoor pool was well heated and a perfect place for my kids to burn off some energy. We had breakfast at the inn’s Falls Restaurant before leaving the next morning and enjoyed the buffet (much better quality and variety than I was expecting). Everything about the Inn felt like it was designed to encourage people to relax and really utilize the hotel as part of their vacation. I know not all of the Inns are as newly-renovated at this one so I’m curious to check out some others. For our first experience, I was a very happy with our stay at Clifty Falls Inn.
While many of Indiana’s State Parks are located in remote areas, Clifty Falls is just up the hill from Madison, IN, one of the state’s oldest towns. Madison has a remarkable and charming historic district that covers much of their downtown and features one of the Indiana’s largest collections of National Historic Register buildings. The Visitors Center is located right next to the Lanier Mansion and has information about activities and restaurants.
We had lunch at The Red Pepper Deli and Cafe. My son couldn’t get enough of their chili and my husband and I both enjoyed our sandwiches. For dinner, we tried the historic Hinkle’s Hamburgers and loved the old-fashioned diner feel of this cute restaurant right on the main street. We also managed to grab some cookies at the annual Great Cookie Caper! held in conjunction with their Night Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes, which my husband and I both agreed we’d love to check out on a kidless weekend sometime.
There are lots of adorable shops and I could have spent hours walking around to admire downtown’s architecture, but with the chilly weather and antsy children we ended up doing one of our favorite activities; visiting the local library. We have found libraries to be the perfect stop when the weather is too cold or hot for the local park. The children’s area always has new books and games to look at and I get to feel like a small-town local for a few minutes. The Jefferson County Public Library didn’t disappoint and we enjoyed warming up inside before looking at the beautifully lit town Christmas tree just down the street.
Have you stayed at a State Park Inn before? What park is next on your list to explore? I’d love to hear your suggestions for where we should head to next!