~story and photo by Jeff Tryon
Although sometimes overshadowed by the nearby Brown County State Park and often overlooked by visitors seeking to enjoy the natural beauty of Brown County, Yellowwood State Forest is a family-friendly park filled with opportunities for outdoor fun for people of all ages and interests.
Hiking, camping, boating, and fishing are among the many available activities. You can bring your horse, kayak, or mountain bike. You can have a cookout, picnic al fresco, or just plop yourself down beside the pristine 133-acre lake and enjoy the epic view.
Hikers can enjoy any of six trails, ranging in difficulty from easy to rugged, and in length from half a mile to four-and-a-half miles. There are great flat trails suitable for the whole family. You can also hike on any of five marked horse trails.
The most popular hiking trail is the 4.5 mile loop around Yellowwood Lake, which offers a variety of scenic views down into ravines and across the lake. Stop by the kiosk for the scavenger hunt pamphlet, which points out things to look for around the lake.
The 4.7 mile Scarce O’ Fat Loop ascends High King Hill, almost 200 feet above the Lake, then follows the ridge.
The 42-mile Techumseh Trail also passes through Yellowwood, borrowing parts of the Yellowwood Lake Trail and Scarce O’ Fat Ridge Trail. It begins near the head of Panther Creek and ends 42 miles later at the Morgan-Monroe State Forest office.
Don’t forget your binoculars! There are over 400 species of birds in Indiana, according to the state Audubon Society, ranging from the state bird, the common cardinal, to his rarer cousin, the black-headed grosbeak, which is among the 125 Indiana bird species classified as rare.
And it’s not just birds. Yellowwood State Forest is one of the largest and most undisturbed interior forests remaining in Indiana, with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. A recent survey by scientists from 13 Indiana colleges and universities cataloged more than 3,100 species there.
The 30-foot deep lake is noted for its excellent fishing. A valid Indiana fishing license is required. Bring your own kayak or canoe, or rent a rowboat there for only five dollars per hour or $20 for the entire day. There is a boat launch at the south end of the lake, but only electric trolling motors are allowed.
Bear Lake and Crooked Creek Lake, also on Forest property, are popular fishing areas.
Swimming is not permitted.
Yellowwood State Forest is a popular destination for hunters of whitetail deer, ruffed grouse, turkey, squirrel, fox, and raccoon. A valid Indiana hunting license is required. Hikers and horseback riders are advised to wear hunter orange or other bright clothing while on trails during hunting season.
Camping in Yellowwood is a little bit retro—there are only traditional camping sites with no outlets or water hook-ups.
Along the east side of the lake is a campground with a nice old shelter house available for day use. It may be reserved by contacting the property office. There is a playground nearby. Separate camping sites and horsemen’s camp sites are nearby.
There are 80 primitive (class C) campsites south of the Forest office and a carry-in tent site area north of the office, located picturesquely on an open, grassy meadow overlooking the lake.
There are picnic areas with tables and grills.
Horseback riding is permitted with an annual horse use tag. Bring your own horse. The class C horsemen’s campground has 10 sites convenient to the 19 miles of horse trails that meander through the forest. No reservations are taken. Please register at the forest office.
An off-road cycling permit is required for bicyclists who use mountain bike trails with trail ratings above beginner. A permit is not required for property roadways and paved biking trails.
Here’s a family activity you may not have considered—gold panning! Early settlers discovered that soil deposited here by the glaciers contained some small amounts of the precious gold metal, which tended to wash down into the creeks. Panning for gold is allowed with a free “permit for panning gold on a hobby basis,” available at the forest office (812) 988-7945.
The 23,326-acre Yellowwood State Forest is located seven scenic miles west of Nashville and 10 miles east of Bloomington, just north of State Road 46. Turn onto Yellowwood Road at Knights Corner.
Yellowwood State Forest was created during the Great Depression when more than 2,000 abandoned and eroded acres were planted with pine, black locust, walnut, and oak by work crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration.
Those crews built many of the structures still in use today.
Yellowwood Lake was completed in 1939. In 1940 the federal government leased the forest land to the state of Indiana, which was deeded the land in 1956.