Hoosier National Forest: A Guide for Camping, Hiking, and RVing in a National Forest

Hoosier National Forest: A Guide for Camping, Hiking, and RVing in a National Forest

The Hoosier National Forest comprises about half of the public forest lands in Indiana. It provides a diverse mix of opportunities and resources for enthusiasts to enjoy. The forest’s vast size plays a key role in enhancing biological diversity on a regional scale, covering over 200,000 acres in nine counties of Indiana’s south-central area. 

This woodland is a popular choice for many enthusiasts like mountain bikers, amateur and veteran hikers, campers, and RVers because of its sheer vastness and beauty, which will relieve stress and provide an escape from the noisy, bustling streets of the urban city.

Hiker’s Paradise: Hoosier National Forest

Dispersed Camping
( © Rawpixel.com / Adobe Stock)

The Hoosier National Forest is quite popular because it has many trails that an enthusiast can enjoy. It is a hiker’s paradise because of the beautiful forest that one can enjoy while hiking and the number of paths campers can enjoy. Here’s a quick list of the available hiking sites that you can enjoy when you get to the Hoosier National Forest.

TRAILLOCATIONACTIVITIES TO ENJOYLENGTH (miles)
Brown County DElkinsvilleHiking and horse riding2.1
Buzzard RoostMagnetHiking0.8
Celina Interpretive Indian-Celina Lake Hiking0.8
Fork RidgeNorman, north of KurtzHiking3.5
German Ridge DerbyHiking, horse riding, and mountain biking24
German Ridge LakeDerbyHiking1.9
Hardin RidgeLake Monroe; Hardin RidgeHiking and biking2
Hemlock Cliffs EnglishHiking1
Hickory Ridge NormanHiking, horse riding, and mountain biking48.7
Lick Creek PaoliHiking, horse riding, and mountain biking7.7
Mogan Ridge WestDerbyHiking, horse riding, and mountain biking12.3
Mogan Ridge EastDerbyHiking6.7
Nebo Ridge NashvilleHiking, horse riding, and mountain biking8.6
Oriole West SulphurHiking, horse riding, and mountain biking7.2
Oriole East SulphurHiking, horse riding, and mountain biking6.5
Pate Hollow Lake Monroe; PaynetownHiking7.7
Pioneer Mothers PaoliHiking1.3
Saddle Lake Gatchel; east of DerbyHiking2.2
Shirley Creek West Baden SpringsHiking, horse riding, and mountain biking19.4
Spring(s) Valley PaoliHiking, horse riding, and mountain biking12.7
Tipsaw Branchville; Tipsaw LakeHiking and mountain biking5.9
Twin Oaks Interpretive Lake MonroeHiking1.4
Two Lakes Loop National RecreationIndian-Celina Lake Hiking15.7
Wilderness WestLake Monroe; Charles C. Deam WildernessHiking and horse riding32.4
Wilderness SycamoreLake Monroe; Charles C. Deam WildernessHiking4.9
Youngs Creek PaoliHiking, horse riding, and mountain biking11

CAMPING IN HOOSIER NATIONAL FOREST, WHERE TO STAY OR CAMP?

Camping in Hoosier National Forest
(© WavebreakMediaMicro / Adobe Stock)

When visiting a destination, one must decide what accommodations they would like to enjoy during their trip. Thankfully, the Hoosier National Forest is home to many choices regarding camping options or cabin accommodations. Here are some options to choose from.

CABIN RENTALS

If you’d like to stay in cabins for the duration of your trip, there are two cabins for rent in the Hardin Ridge area. These rustic cabins are conveniently located at Lake Monroe’s shoreline, offering an amazing view of the lake. The cabin is complete with electricity, a vault toilet, and centralized electricity.

This option is popular with families that want to experience the outdoors in a comfortable and rustic way. If you and your companions would like a good night’s sleep, then we recommend considering renting a cabin for you when you get to visit the Hoosier National Forest.

Hardin Ridge Area – located on the Monroe Lake south of Bloomington, Indiana, has six campground loops, two picnic areas, and three cabins, two of which are open for reservation. They also have a lane boat launch, a beach for swimming complete with shelter and shower house, and multiple hiking trails. The  Bloomington cabins are available only by reservation (strictly no walk-ins), through the website at recreation.gov, or by calling the National Reservation System’s hotline at 1-877-444-6777.

Dispersed Camping
(© Rawpixel.com / Adobe Stock)

Hoosier National Forest permits campers to practice dispersed camping, an activity where you get to enjoy nature in its entirety by openly camping in public lands or national grasslands. And since you aren’t entering a managed campground for your nature escape, you won’t need to pay entrance fees and such. It doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want, as the Hoosier National Forest has rules and regulations when it comes to dispersed camping in their sites.

In addition to that, despite permitting dispersed camping through most of the forest, there are areas where you are NOT PERMITTED to do so.

Areas where dispersed camping is strictly prohibited:

  1. Within a managed campground
  2. Along roads, parking areas, or activity areas within developed recreation sites
  3. Within the Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower area (Monroe next to the Charles C. Deam Wilderness)
  4. Within day-use parking areas, trailheads, or boat launches.
  5. Within Hemlock Cliffs
  6. Within Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest in Orange County

As per the federal rules and regulations, there is no charge for dispersed camping; however, there are rules that you must obey so that you won’t have to pay hefty fines.

You can only do roadside camping at established sites; if there are any provided, you must also stay within 125 feet of the road. We tried to look for an available map of where these sites are; however, there aren’t any available, as per reviews from the community; as long as you drive through most forest roads, you will likely find these popular spots. Roadside camping is not permitted within any campgrounds.

Restrictions and Permit – as we mentioned before, there are no fees to pay. However, you are limited to stay at a maximum of 14-days. You are not permitted to leave your personal property unattended overnight. Depending on the area, there is a maximum group size a.) 10 in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness and b.) if exceeding 75 pax, guests must secure permits for any other parts of the forest. 

Vehicle Parking – we recommend paying close attention to possible parking locations for your dispersed camping trip; you have to ensure that your trailer is parked legally on public land. If you are sure that you’re on public land and no visible signs are saying “No Parking,” then you may park your vehicle within one vehicle length (or a distance of up to 30 feet) from the edge of a designated road.

CAMPGROUND CAMPING

Campground Camping
(©WavebreakMediaMicro / Adobe Stock)

There are many campgrounds available for camping on this site, and we’ve compiled the top sites that you and your group can enjoy. Most of these sites offer horseback riding and trailer accommodations, but we recommend contacting them beforehand to ensure that you will be taken care of when you visit.

BLACKWELL HORSE CAMP

Blackwell Horse Camp
(Credits to: https://www.fs.usda.gov/)

This site has long been a popular area for visitors and is well-known for catering to equestrians. Although the facilities are provided for horses, regular campers are welcome to stay and enjoy the beautiful nature that surrounds this site. This camp is along the Tower Ridge Road, in the center of the Charles Deam Wilderness site, which is approximately a mile away from Highway 446 and is near Bloomington.

This site is one of the trailheads for the Charles C. Deam Wilderness trail, and it also has multiple picnic shelters and a loading area for people to mount horses easily. We also love how this camp caters to people with disabilities as well.

Fees

No Fees

Permit Requirements

  • Horseback riders (aged 17 years and older) must secure a permit and stay on the designated path. 
  • Permits can be purchased on-site or from local vendors.

Open Season

Open all year

Restrictions

  • Firewoods must meet the requirements of the Hoosier National Forest.
  • Campers must only use on-site firewood from dead, downed trees.
  • Standing trees, dead or alive, may not be defaced or cut for firewood.

Closest Towns

Bloomington, IN

BUZZARD ROOST

Buzzard Roost
(Credits to: lakemurray.org)

This site is a great choice for families that enjoy scenic routes for walking, picnicking, and camping. There are parking areas that are available near the first trailhead access. Tables and grills are available in the picnic area, which gives you a chance to cook freshly grilled food for picnicking with your family. We highly recommend refilling your water before dropping by this area as they do not have a water supply available for use.

Fees

No Fees

Permit Requirements

No Permit Requirements

Open Season

Open All year

Restrictions

  • Firewoods must meet the requirements of the Hoosier National Forest.
  • Campers must only use on-site firewood from dead, downed trees.
  • Standing trees, dead or alive, may not be defaced or cut for firewood.

Closest Towns

Sulphur, IN

GERMAN RIDGE

German Ridge
(Credits to: https://www.fs.usda.gov/)

This campground is a great choice for hikers as it has a 24-mile, multiple-use trail, a short hiking trail that provides a great scenic view of the lake, a picnic/swimming area is also available for use. In addition to all of that, this area also has several historic buildings on-site and has long been a popular destination for people in southern Indiana.

Fees

  • Camping fees of $8/overnight
  • No day-use Fees

Permit Requirements

  • Horseback riders (aged 17 years and older) must secure a permit and stay on the designated path.  
  • Permits can be purchased on-site or from local vendors.

Open Season / Hours of Operation

  • Open All-year Round
  • Open 24 hours, Quiet Hours 10 PM to 6 AM.

Restrictions

  • Firewoods must meet the requirements of the Hoosier National Forest.
  • Campers must only use on-site firewood from dead, downed trees.

Closest Towns

Cannelton, IN

HARDIN RIDGE

Hardin Ridge
(Credits to: https://www.fs.usda.gov/)

The Hardin Ridge Area is located right on Monroe Lake, south of Bloomington, Indiana. This site offers six campground loops, three shelter houses, and two picnic areas, great for people looking for a quick getaway to nature. Kayakers rejoice! As there is also a lane boat launch and a swim beach, including a shelter and a shower house.

Fees

Day Use Fees

  • From 4/15 to 10/31
    • $5/ per vehicle
    • Buses $5, $1 per Person
    • Can purchase annual passes
    • Discounts for senior, access, and Military Pass Holders

Camping Fees

  • Primitive and Walk-to Sites
    • $20 per night
  • Electric Sites
    • $27 per night
  • Electric and Water Sites
    • $30 per night
  • Double sites with electricity
    • $43 per night
  • Cabin
    • $50 per night
  • Campsites are permitted one free vehicle
    • $5 / night per additional vehicle

Shelter Fees

  • From 4/15 to 10/31
    • $30/Day

Permit Requirements

Fishing and Boating

  • Anglers must secure a fishing permit for the state of Indiana
  • Guests must present an Indiana Launch Permit on Lake Monroe
  • Boaters are to obey Indiana state boat operations and registration regulations

Trail Permits

  • Not required to ride bikes on the Hardin Ridge trail that runs parallel to the main road

Open Season

  • Open All-year-round for hiking
  • Campsites are available only from 4/15 to 10/31

Restrictions

Firewood Restrictions

  • Firewoods must meet the requirements of the Hoosier National Forest
  • Campers must only use on-site firewood from dead and downed trees

Beach Restrictions

  • Glass containers are not permitted.
  • Pets are not permitted.
  • .

Hunting

  • Not permitted

Closest Towns

Bloomington, IN

HICKORY RIDGE HORSECAMP

Hickory Ridge Horsecamp
(Credits to: https://www.fs.usda.gov/)

This site near Bloomington is quite famous among equestrians. However, it doesn’t mean that regular visitors aren’t welcome. Any visitor would love this place because they don’t charge any fees for camping on their site. And although they only offer primitive camping, they have accessible vault toilets, hitching posts, and water for livestock.

Fees

No Fees

Permit Requirements

  • Horseback riders (aged 17 years and older) must secure a permit and stay on the designated path.  
  • Permits can be purchased on-site or from local vendors.

Open Season

Open All-year-round

Restrictions

  • Firewoods must meet the requirements of the Hoosier National Forest.
  • Campers must only use on-site firewood from dead, downed trees.

Closest Towns

Bloomington, IN

INDIAN-CELINA LAKES

Indian-Celina Lakes
(Credits to: https://cdn.recreation.gov/)

This area is a couple of miles south of Interstate 64, and they offer both day use and overnight accommodations. The site boasts two camping loops and two lakes where you and your party can fish or boat. They offer these activities at standard fees, which you can check below.

Fees

Day Use Fees

  • From 4/15 to 10/31
    • $5 per vehicle
    • Buses $5, $1 per Person
    • Can purchase annual passes
    • Reduced fees for senior, access, and Military Pass Holders

Camping Fees

  • From 4/15 to 10/31
    • Primitive and walk-to sites $20 per night
    • Electric Sites $27 per night
    • Electric and Water Sites $30 per night
    • Double sites with electricity $43 per night
    • Cabin $50 per night
    • Campsites are permitted one free vehicle and cost $5 / night per additional vehicle
  • From 10/16 to 4/14
    • Primitive sites $5 per night
    • Electric sites $10 per night

Permit Requirements

  • Anglers must secure a fishing permit for the state of Indiana
  • Boaters are to obey Indiana state boat operations and registration regulations

Open Season

All-year Round

Restrictions

  • Trail Use – The two Lakes trail is for hiking only
  • Firewoods must meet the requirements of the area
  • Campers must only use on-site firewood from dead and downed trees

Closest Towns

Tell City, IN

SADDLE LAKE

Saddle Lake
(Credits to: https://www.fs.usda.gov/)

This recreation area was one of four sites associated with flood control lakes, built along the Middle Fork of the Anderson River. They used to have a fully developed campground area but now only offer primitive camping as an option. Since it is no longer a fully developed site, visitors love the ‘remote vibe’ the place has to offer, a real escape from the bustling city life.

Fees

$5 per night for a campsite

Permit Requirements

No Permit Requirements

Open Season

All-year-round

Restrictions

  • Firewoods must meet the requirements of the HNF
  • Campers  must only use on-site firewood from dead and downed trees

Closest Towns

Tell City, IN

SHIRLEY CREEK HORSECAMP

Shirley Creek Horsecamp
(Credits to: https://www.fs.usda.gov/)

This area caters to equestrians specifically but accommodates normal campers who would like to enjoy their beautiful site.

Fees

No Fees

Permit Requirements

  • Horseback riders (aged 17 years and older) must secure a permit and stay on the designated path, especially if it’s raining. 
  • Permits can be purchased on-site or from local vendors.

Open Season

All-year-round

Restrictions

  • Firewoods must meet the requirements of the HNF.
  • Campers must only use on-site firewood from dead, downed trees.

Closest Towns

Orleans, IN

TIPSAW LAKE

Tipsaw Lake
(Credits to: https://www.fs.usda.gov/)

This area offers boating opportunities for kayakers and fishing for anglers as well.

Fees

Camping Fees

  • Regular Fees
    • Primitive and walk-to sites $20 per night
    • Electric Sites $27 per night
    • Electric and Water Sites $30 per night
    • Double sites $40 per night
    • Double sites with electricity $43 per night
    • Cabin $50 per night
    • Campsites are permitted one free vehicle and cost $5 / night per additional vehicle

Day Use Fees

  • Required from 4/15 to 10/31
    • $5 per vehicle
    • Buses $5, $1 per Person
    • Can purchase annual passes
    • Discounts for senior, access, and Military Pass Holders

Permit Requirements

  • Tipsaw Trail Mountain Biking requires a Trail Permit
  • Anglers must secure a fishing permit for the state of Indiana
  • Boaters are to follow Indiana state boat operations and registration regulations

Open Season

  • Open for Hiking all-year-round
  • Camping loops are open 4/15 to 10/31
  • The beach site is open Memorial Day through Labor day (depending on the weather)

Restrictions

Trail Usage

  • Tipsaw Trail is only for hiking and biking

Beach Usage

  • No pets or glass containers in the beach area

Firewood Restriction

  • Firewoods must meet the requirements of the HNF
  • Campers must only use on-site firewood from dead and downed trees

Closest Towns

Tell City, IN

YOUNGS CREEK HORSE CAMP AND TRAILS

Youngs Creek Horse Camp and Trails
(Credits to: https://www.californiabeaches.com/)

This area offers a primitive campsite with vault toilets and hitching racks. There are also picnic tables situated around the area.

Fees

No use fees

Permit Requirements

  • Horseback riders (aged 17 years and older) must secure a permit and stay on the designated path, especially if it’s raining. 
  • Permits can be purchased on-site or from local vendors.

Open Season

All-year-round, 24 hours a day

Restrictions

  • Firewoods must meet the requirements of the area.
  • Campers must only use on-site firewood from dead, downed trees.

Closest Towns

Paoli, IN

ACTIVITIES TO ENJOY

Boasting over 200 acres of land, the Hoosier National Forest has tons of activities to enjoy within its bounds. Here are some that you should try when visiting.

Hiking
(© Jacob Lund / Adobe Stock)

Hiking – the main attraction of this whole forest is its vast hiking system. A lot of campers and hikers join in hands in exploring the beauty of nature that this place has to offer; with over a couple of dozen paths to choose from, you will surely come back more times than you would think!

Horse Riding
(© Jeremy Bishop / Adobe Stock)

Horse Riding – since this area is vast and wide, most sites mentioned above are horse-friendly, and equestrians are most welcome in bringing their mount for a ride in the trails. Just be sure to bring your horse’s medical records and secure a special permit for horseback riding.

Mountain Biking
(© RawPixel.com / Adobe Stock)

Mountain Biking – the rough paths that the mountains have to offer also attract bikers that love a challenge. No special permits are required to do so; make sure to stay on the designated paths for your safety.

Fishing
(© RawPixel.com / Adobe Stock)

Fishing – Anglers are most welcome to most sites that we mentioned above, and since many lakes and rivers are surrounding the whole area, there are many opportunities to enjoy fishing. Most sites require special permits before they permit you to fish; we recommend purchasing this beforehand or on-site to enjoy it fully.

ESSENTIAL ITEMS TO BRING WHEN HIKING

Hiking and camping are essentially the same. Since this is an outdoor activity with many unknown variables in play, we recommend preparing mentally and physically before setting out to enjoy the great outdoors. In addition to preparing yourself for a wonderful journey, you should also consider preparing the following things to ensure a safe, enjoyable, and hassle-free trip in nature.

PERSONAL ITEMS

  • Insect Repellent – regardless if you’re hiking or just camping, insect repellents are always a must. Doing so protects you from insects such as bees, mosquitoes, and other stinging or biting insects. We recommend bringing extra bottles of repellent while hiking so that you can top-off during the trip.
  • Water Bottles – hydration is always a must! And you must always have a water bottle for everyone in your group. Please do not purchase plastic water bottles as these can generate trash and might even be banned by some national parks to prevent littering. You can easily purchase reusable water tumblers in convenience stores.
  • Sunscreen – much like the insect repellant, we recommend carrying a bottle of sunscreen for reapplication during the tour. If you’d like to save some money, there are insect repellent variants out there that offer UV protection too!
  • First Aid Kit – even though the rangers in a national park often have a first-aid area, we recommend carrying a simple first-aid kit in your pouch for a quick fix. A simple kit may include a disinfectant, band-aids, and cotton balls.

RV ESSENTIALS

If you’re planning on visiting this destination with your recreational vehicle, then we strongly recommend getting these essential things for your vehicle to ensure a comfortable and hassle-free trip.

  • Coffee Maker – enjoying the great outdoors doesn’t mean you can’t have delicious coffee with you. Though you can still brew your coffee using primitive methods, we recommend using the best coffee maker to ensure that you will have your daily dose of caffeine right on time for a beautiful sunrise.
  • Grill – even though most sites provide a picnic and grill area, some of them don’t have a built-in grilling station for you to enjoy your excursion. We recommend checking out the best portable grills that you can fit in your trailer so that you can always have freshly grilled food like steaks or hotdogs on your picnic table.
  • Bike Rack – if you’re a cycling enthusiast, then we recommend purchasing one of the best bike racks on our top list. This item ensures that your bike is secure and safe throughout your trip to this vast woodland.
  • GPS – if you’re an out-of-state traveler, you should consider purchasing a GPS, which helps you navigate unfamiliar roads and paths. This device also provides nearby points of interest and trailer-friendly destinations that you can visit.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
On Key

Most Viewed Posts