Are you looking for a little adventure this summer? My family really likes Turkey Run State Park. We recently vacationed for the fourth time at the park in west-central Indiana, about an hour and a half from Indianapolis. During previous years, the park has been an ideal location for large family reunions.
Turkey Run State Park in Marshall is Indiana’s second state park and is known for its glacier-carved sandstone canyons and – often rugged – hiking trails. This summer, my husband, daughters, parents, sister, and I spent a week at Turkey Run hiking, checking out the nature center, touring a historic home, and kayaking on scenic Sugar Creek. With lodging options ranging from camping to a rustic inn and cabins, Turkey Run is a park with something for everyone.
What to Do at Turkey Run State Park
The Lusk Home:
Built in 1841 by settler Salmon Lusk, this restored home and its garden are open to tours. Check park literature for times. A $2 donation per person is requested, but no one collects money. We simply took the initiative to stuff our donation into a box just inside the home’s front door. The Lusk family was instrumental in preserving the land that became Turkey Run State Park during a time when lumber companies were eager to acquire such property.
The Lieber Cabin at Sunset Point:
This cabin constructed of large tulip tree logs commemorates Richard Lieber, creator of Indiana’s state parks. The cabin contains exhibits about its own history as well as the history of Turkey Run State Park. Just outside the cabin is the scenic Sunset Point, an area built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. during the Great Depression that looks west down Sugar Creek.
The Nature Center:
Always a favorite with my family, Turkey Run State Park’s nature center features information about the park’s geological features, amazing hands-on exhibits for children, snake and honey bee exhibits, reading material, and a wildlife-viewing room with large windows and couches where it’s fun to sit and watch birds, hummingbirds, squirrels, chipmunks, and the occasional groundhog eat from feeders outside. In addition, the nature center has a planetarium, with a presentation about the night sky constellations during the afternoons.
The nature center is also the place to get information about interpretive naturalist events such as day or night hikes, workshops, and educational programs. While my family was at the park this summer, park guests had opportunities to make pioneer toys, learn how log cabins were built, make a mobile, and help fill the bird feeders in the wildlife viewing area.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities at Turkey Run. The park boasts miles of trails, most of which are moderate, rugged, or very rugged. Only one short trail is marked as easy.
The lack of easy trails should not discourage your family from visiting Turkey Run, even if you have young children. Most trails will not accommodate strollers, but if your children can walk a bit, you’ll have a great time.
If you have no desire to do hardcore hiking, simply stroll down the wide gravel path from the nature center, down several long flights of steps, to the park’s iconic suspension bridge over Sugar Creek.
Once across the bridge, you can hike as little or as much as you want and you’ll get a good view of Turkey run’s beautiful canyons and rock formations. When you’re ready to be done, simply turn around and go back.
I highly recommend the first portion of Trail 10, which picks up after you cross the bridge and meanders in the bottom of a canyon with a shallow stream bed. Tennis shoes are fine, but you may want shoes that can get wet. Trail 10 leads to a waterfall, and it’s your choice whether you climb up the waterfall and continue your hike or turn around and go back the way you came.
One morning during this year’s trip, my 4.5-year-old walked with us on the two-mile rugged Trail 2, which included some tall flights of steps made of wood or uneven stone, and for 20-30 minutes we picked our way among large rocks on the edge of a cliff. We viewed some impressive rock formations at the Box Canyon and Gypsy Gulch. The amazing views may have given my preschooler extra stamina to complete the hike, and the trail led past a picnic area with a playground that provided a nice break.
My husband also took our 8-year-old on Trail 3, which is listed as very rugged and involves scaling ladders to access portions of the trail, which leads between steep canyon walls. Families with young children and pets are encouraged to select other trails.
One morning, my family hiked a moderate trail from Turkey Run’s campground to the inn. There were several flights of steps, and we picked our way along a stream bed for a short while. That trail led us to a beautiful view at Sunset Point and to the Lieber Cabin that commemorates the creator of Indiana’s state parks, then to the inn where we gave the girls a break and let them play on a nearby playground. After a quick trip to the bathrooms and water fountain inside the inn, we explored the easy, short trail behind the inn and saw memorials to Juliet Strauss and Richard Lieber, who were key figures during the early days of Indiana’s state parks, and we saw an old log church that holds services on Sundays during the spring through fall.
The entire park is interconnected by trails, and it’s possible to hike from the campground to the inn, to the nature center, to the suspension bridge and all of the trails, and to the historic Lusk home, if you have the stamina and the time. It’s a little bit addictive.
My family has always used the indoor pool at the park’s inn, but there also is a large outdoor pool open to the public that has a small admission fee. It features a few slides, a wading pool, and a large mushroom that spouts a waterfall.
Horseback and Pony Rides:
The saddle barn at Turkey Run State Park offers pony rides, guided horseback rides, and sometimes hay rides. Our daughters rode a pony a few years ago. Check at the barn for times and prices.
My family doesn’t fish, but we always see a few people who do. Bass and bluegill are common at Turkey Run State Park.
Several covered bridges are a treat to see and walk across around Turkey Run State Park, including the Narrows Bridge near the Lusk Home. There is no good parking near the Narrows Bridge, so we parked at the Lusk Home and hiked a short way down the road to the bridge.
Canoeing, Kayaking, and Tubing:
About half a mile down the road from Turkey Run State Park, you can rent canoes, kayaks, and tubes from Sugar Valley Canoe Trips, which is not affiliated with the state park. My family enjoys this experience, and the cost is reasonable. Employees bus you to a drop-off point at the creek, provide you with all equipment and life jackets, and pick you up at a designated time at an end point. Tubes float down a 3.5-mile stretch of Sugar Creek. If renting a canoe or kayak, you can choose from the 3.5-mile trip or 6-mile, 12-mile, or 15-mile trips. My family has canoed with our daughters on both the 3.5-mile and 6-mile trips, with some other relatives coming along in kayaks. Check Sugar Valley’s Facebook page for regular updates on creek conditions, as age restrictions for children are sometimes in place if water levels are high.
Where to Stay
Visitors have several lodging options at Turkey Run State Park: camping, the inn, or cabins.
My husband, daughters, and I pitched our tent at the campground, which features sunny and shady sites, bathhouses, playgrounds, and a camp store that sells firewood, ice, some food, and a few basic camping supplies. Camp sites have electricity, but there are no individual water or sewer hookups for trailers or RVs. Our camp site this year was about $25 per night.
Several of my relatives over the years have stayed at the Turkey Run Inn, with rooms running roughly $100 per night for two full/queen beds. It’s an older building with rustic décor, nature-inspired framed art on the walls, and quilts on the beds. The second-floor veranda above the main entrance is a pleasant spot to sit and watch people come and go. The inn is surrounded by nice landscaping, and it’s worth taking a walk around the place. Bikes are available for rent here as well.
The lounge in the inn is a great place to hang out and spend time in the air conditioning during a hot day after a hike. While I’ve never seen any specific guidelines, the lounge appears to be open to all park guests, and as tent campers we have sometimes retreated to the inn’s lounge when it rains. The large room features plenty of overstuffed couches and chairs, tables, and a television in one corner. Shelves are stocked with board games, puzzles, and books that are free to use. A piano is even available for those who are musically inclined, and a front desk employee will unlock it upon request, which prevents kids from banging on it during all hours.
Down a flight of stairs near the lounge is a game room with a few video games and some coin-operated kids’ rides, open to all park guests.
The inn also has a pool for use by its guests. It is fairly large, with adequate seating and lots of windows, but the water has always been cold when my family has gone swimming there, so be warned.
Outside the inn is a group of cabins that are like detached hotel rooms with fully made beds, televisions, and bathrooms (containing a toilet, sink, and walk-in shower with no tub). They cost about $85 a night and are within easy walking distance to all the amenities at the inn, including the pool, lounge, and game room. My husband, daughters, and I stayed in one of these cabins four years ago when we didn’t want to tent camp with an infant. They were nice, but we did get badly bit by mosquitoes while sitting outside the cabin at night, so pack plenty of bug spray if you stay here.
A few special cabins that cost more, including a family cabin and some fully furnished multiple-bedroom cabins, are also located behind the inn, but they are so popular that my family has never been able to reserve them.
Where to Eat at Turkey Run State Park
Whether you camp or stay at the inn or in the cabins, be sure to eat at the Narrows Restaurant in the inn. Like the rest of the inn, the restaurant has a rustic atmosphere with brick walls and wood floors. The restaurant has a full menu off of which to order, with prices comparable to a mid-range sit-down restaurant like Applebee’s. My family likes eating from the dinner buffet, which includes an array of classic comfort foods. When we were there this summer, the evening buffet was $15 per adult.
Although we didn’t get there this summer, the gas station/diner/convenience store across the road from the campground usually sells delicious hand-dipped ice cream and is a good place for a snack or meal.
After several years, we have exhausted many of our entertainment options at Turkey Run State Park. Still, there are miles of trails that beckon us to come and explore. Although the park is an oldie for my family, it’s still a good one, and we just may be back again in another year or two.
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