Sugar Creek

“As you’re paddling down, you can just smell the freshness of the country air. You hear frogs croaking and crickets chirping. You’re paddling down through these big sandstone bluffs through the trees. It’s beautiful,” states a recent canoeist.  Blue herons grace the river with their ungainly beauty, and bald eagles, recently returned to the area, roost and fish. Lucky bird lovers can spot huge eagle aeries, or nests, high in the beech-maple forest.

Sugar Creek is one of Indiana's finest treasures. In some places the creek flows in broad open valleys where, in cutting downward since the Wisconsonian glacier left the land 17,000 years ago, it had to cut only soft glacial deposits.  In other places the creek cut down into sandstone and siltstone bedrock, creating the scenic bluffs and canyons that make the Shades and Turkey Run State Parks famous.

Beautiful sandstone cliffs, unique hemlock groves and world class fossils make Sugar Creek a fantastic place to visit again and again.  It is a clear running stream which travels in a generally northeast to southwest direction as it cuts across west-central Indiana. The source lies in Tipton County and the entire river length to the Wabash confluence is approximately 90 miles.

The native peoples used Sugar Creek for navigation to access sugar trees and good hunting.  Because of its swift water, Sugar Creek was important to the early pioneers, too, for navigation and as a source of power. The Woolen, Lusk and Yountsville Mills were located along the stream and their remains can still be seen today.

Sugar Creek is not Indiana's fastest nor is it our most challenging canoe water, but it is generally conceded to be the most beautiful stream in the State. It runs either through or along a Girl Scout Camp, Pine Hills Nature Preserve, Shades State Park, Turkey Run State Park and Allee Memorial Forest. Mississippian and Pennsylvanian sedimentary rocks have been exposed by the erosive action of the stream. An added attraction in the area is the many covered bridges over Sugar Creek and other streams in the area.

Sugar Creek has more than 70 species of fish, almost all the river’s original complement, and is the best smallmouth fishing stream in the state, says Nathan Mullendore, executive director of Crawfordsville-based Friends of Sugar Creek. The hilly land along the river is still mostly forested, and it shelters rare forest birds like the Cerulean warbler. The forest is rich in white pine, Eastern hemlock and Canada yew, ice-age holdovers that are rare in today’s Indiana.

Sugar creek, one creek connecting two beautiful State parks.

Information for this page taken from The Natural History of Indiana, Friends of Sugar Creek, and Outfitters website


Every place in the universe has its own kind of beauty.  The flats of the prairies and desserts give us sweeping panoramas and unparalleled sunsets.  The mountains move us with water falling down ravines or the abundance of flora and fauna.  Farmland and cityscapes offer their own quiet or frenetic vistas.

Turkey Run and Shades have their canyons carved by the millennial waters through our sandstone bluffs.  In terms of history, the geology of these Parks offers a unique view into the past. A walk into one of the ravines takes the visitor on a trip through time when the sandstone gorges represent 600 to 300 million years of nature's handiwork.

The exposed bedrock is Mansfield sandstone, formed during the Carboniferous Period when the buildup of sand at the mouth of the ancient Michigan River was slowly compacted and cemented into solid rock. The swampy environment of this period gave birth to vast coal deposits. Coal was mined here in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Seams of coal are still visible along many of the trails.

More recently, during the Pleistocene Epoch, the sandstone bedrock was carved into today's familiar canyons and formations by the eroding action of glacial meltwaters. Turkey Run’s Punchbowl on Trail 3 is an example of a pothole that was scoured out by glacial erratics caught in swirling backwash. Erratics are pieces of bedrock from Canada that were carried here by the glaciers. Some of the larger erratics, or boulders, can still be seen in Boulder Canyon on Trail 9, and smaller ones in Sugar Creek.  At Shades a hiking Trails 7 and 8 takes you up the waterway still rushing, or trickling, depending on the season, and continuing its wearing ways.  Hiking from Shades to Pine Hills Nature Preserve gives another astounding view of Indiana’s canyons with hogback ridges and steep drop-offs down to Clifty and Indian Creeks.

In the last few hundred years, the wind and water erosion of the sandstone has continued at a slower pace. Today the canyons in Turkey Run and Shades State Parks are very similar to what was seen by Native Americans and pioneers.  Hiking these ravines is not for the faint of heart.  It may not be the Grand Canyon but going into these rugged areas will still give you quite a thrill.

partially excerpted,with permission, from The Technological Edge