The Knobstone Trail is Indiana’s longest hiking trail. It’s a rugged path winding through 58 miles of the Hoosier State’s most isolated territory, and it draws in brave trekkers from all over the region. If you want to join their ranks and complete this hike, you’ll need to set aside some time.
It will take the average hiker between 20 and 30 hours to complete all 58 miles of the Knobstone Trail. Most people hiking at a moderate pace can expect to spend three or four days on the trail, though rough terrain and steep inclines could potentially slow you down.
The Knobstone Trail offers an exciting challenge to intrepid thru-hikers, but there’s a lot to learn before you set off to tackle this trek. Read below to learn about the Knobstone trail’s key features and to plan your adventure for the best experience possible.
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Where Is The Knobstone Trail?
The Knobstone Trail is in southern Indiana. The terrain here is rich and varied, passing through the protected areas of Clark State Forest, Elk Creek Public Fishing Area, and the Jackson-Washington State Forest. The Knobstone trail is Indiana’s longest footpath.
The southernmost trailhead is located at Deam Lake, a few miles off Interstate Highway 65 near Borden, Indiana. From there, the trail runs through 58 miles of rugged Indiana backcountry. It ends in Delaney Park in Washington County, near the town of Scottsburg.
Options On The Trail
Some sources claim the trail is shorter than it really is. Why so many conflicting stories? 58 miles is the length of the entire trail, including two small loops at the end in Delaney Park. If you choose not to hike these loops, the trail will be around 49 miles.
Throughout its length, the Knobstone Trail has a number of smaller sections suitable for day hikes or shorter trips. There are nine trailheads in total, with each one offering a unique experience. But to truly enjoy the character of this infamous trail, you’ll need to hike the whole thing.
Why Hike The Knobstone Trail?
Total Length: 58 Miles | Difficulty: Hard | Elevation Gain: 7,352 ft
The Knobstone Trail offers a singular glimpse into Indiana’s geologic history and beauty. Winding along the infamous Knobstone Escarpment, the trail gains 7,352 ft in elevation throughout its length. Most hikers need three or four days to complete it, though speed hikers might finish in just two.
Regardless of your pace, you might want to linger here. Lush greenery surrounds hikers in Indiana’s collection of vast state forestland, which stretches out as far as the eye can see. Though these 42,000 acres offer pristine serenity, this is no relaxing stroll through the forest. It’s a formidable footpath with sharp inclines, rough terrain, and harsh conditions.
Despite its difficulty, the Knobstone makes for a moving meditation of sorts, a way to get back to nature in the most extreme way possible. Unlike tamer trails in the Hoosier State, this one doesn’t have too much traffic once you get away from the major trailheads. Day-trippers and families tend to thin out, and hikers are left to marvel at features along the trail’s Knobstone Escarpment.
The escarpment was formed over 200 million years ago as a rock strata ridge forced its way to the earth’s surface. This was surely the geologic event of the century, and the resulting ridges or “knobs” serve as a reminder of nature’s sheer power. They tower above the forest floor, offering both a breathtaking view and an extreme cardio workout to any who dare hike here.
The land is dominated by sandstone, brownstone, and siltstone. You’ll find thick forest and rich dark soil on parts of the path, while other areas offer only stark hillside and steep gorges to navigate through. Because the hike is so difficult, many use it as a training ground for the Appalachian Trail, earning the Knobstone the nickname “Little Appalachian Trail.”
How To Pack For Hiking The Knobstone Trail
To be on the safe side, plan on a four-day hike. You may complete it in three days, but the trail is rugged enough that you’ll want to go slowly no matter how fit you are. The trail can be especially treacherous if you aren’t prepared, so it’s important to pack smart before you head out.
Food And Water
You’ll burn through a lot of food on these hills. Most thru-hikers need between 2,000 and 5,000 calories per day when backpacking, but your needs could vary significantly. If you bring along 3,000 calories per day, you should be safe even if you fall into a slight calorie deficit for a while.
This equates to about 1.5 pounds of food per day, so it won’t be too difficult to carry with you. Pack your food in a dry bag, separately from the rest of your gear. Simple, easily prepared foods like instant oatmeal, dehydrated beans, and freeze-dried ready meals are your friend here. Don’t bring anything too heavy or time-consuming to prepare.
Make sure to leave snacks in an accessible pocket that you can reach quickly and easily while you’re taking a small break. If you want to get the most bang for your snacking buck, prioritize protein. Jerky, cured meats, and trail mixes will keep you energized longer than crackers or chocolate bars.
During most months, there is plenty of water to be found in streams along the Knobstone Trail. If you’re one of those ill-advised adventurers sojourning in late summer, you should stash water-jug caches near the intermediary trailheads in case the streams run dry. But even if you rely entirely on caches for resupplying on water, bringing a filter along with you is a good idea.
The Knobstone Trail isn’t the longest thru-hike in the nation, but it’s still a rough piece of path. Pack ultralight if you can, keeping food to the essentials and putting an emphasis on water and shelter. Even if you go minimalist, you’ll need a sturdy pack with at least a 40-liter capacity to get you through.
Whatever you do, don’t neglect your footwear. Good shoes are essential for a hike of this magnitude, and this is one that requires some fancy footwork. Many prefer solid boots because of insects and ankle stability issues, but you could get away with lighter hiking shoes or trail runners if need be.
Bringing along an empty water bottle or hydration pack is a smart move. The trail is hard, and you’ll sweat a lot, so staying hydrated is essential. Plus, you’ll want to have a container ready whenever you run across a water source. If you wait until your water is empty, you could get very thirsty before you find a natural stream to drink from.
As far as shelter goes, bring along the lightest tent you have. If you don’t want to attempt this trail in the winter, a two or at most three-season tent would be perfect. To lighten your load even further, consider bringing a hammock and a rainfly instead of a tent. There are lots of trees along the trail, and hammocks are very lightweight.
Unless you’re going in the dead of winter, there will be insects. While mosquitoes and biting flies are a problem, the tick population is a bigger one. It explodes to staggering numbers during the summertime. An overabundance of biting creatures can make you absolutely miserable and ruin the serenity of the hike, so you need to take precautionary measures.
You can bring Deet with you on the trail to keep mosquitoes at bay, but ticks are far more insidious and dangerous. They need the stronger stuff to get the message, so consider spraying your clothes and backpack with Permethrin. Sunscreen is smart for uncovered areas of the trail, and some foot powder for soreness and chafing will make the hike infinitely more comfortable.
Don’t forget to bring along some first-aid supplies as well. At least take some band-aids and antibiotic ointment, as you will probably get scratched and dented on this hike. Wear moisture-wicking clothes for excessive sweating, and choose wool over cotton for its quick-drying, comfortable properties.
What To Know About Hiking The Knobstone Trail
The Knobstone is known far and wide as Indiana’s most challenging hike. It’s certainly the longest trail in the state, but its rugged terrain, beautiful features, and remote location make it an incredibly unique trail. But before you set off, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Camping On The Trail
This is a multi-day hike that requires camping on the trail. There are no designated campgrounds in this remote area, so backcountry camping is the only way to do it. You won’t find any amenities along the way, so be prepared to rough it. Backcountry camping is permitted after mile marker two and is open to everyone as long as the rules are followed.
Camping is only allowed on public lands. There are private lands that intersect the route, so make sure you’re out of this area when you set up camp. Stay at least 100 feet away from the main trail to camp, and keep a quarter-mile away from public road systems.
Cost And Expenses
Generally speaking, the Knobstone Trail shouldn’t incur any more expenses than other thru hikes of similar length and difficulty. You’ll need to buy supplies, a shuttle, and caches if necessary. If you are traveling to do the hike from out of town, you’ll also have to pay for a hotel or a campsite to sleep in when you’re finished.
Since the trailheads are located within state parks, you’ll need to pay a fee for entering and parking your vehicle. This is generally kept to a minimum to encourage park attendance, but you should be aware and be ready to pay when you arrive.
There are a few outfitters in the area that offer shuttle services. The shuttles can pick you up at the end of your hike and drive you back to your starting point, so you can get reunited with your car withoutwalking 58 miles back to it. Additionally, these outfitters can help you with food and water caches.
If you want to have water jugs or food dropped off to you along your route, you can make arrangements beforehand and just pick up your supplies along the way. Most of these services don’t cost too much, and they’re a great way to take the stress out of packing. You can even rent equipment like tents and backpacks as well for a full-package deal.
The Knobstone Trail is far out of the way, but there are some events that take place there. These are good to know about if you want to participate in them, but you may also want to plan your trip around them to avoid the crowds, especially if you’re looking to get back to nature.
One such event is the Knobstone Knockout, a yearly out-and-back race that promises to challenge even the most seasoned trail runners. Participants have the option of running a 10k, 20k, or 50k to claim bragging rights and prizes. There are also other intermittent races held throughout the year, so be sure to check and see if an event will coincide with your trip.
When To Hike The Knobstone Trail
The season you should choose to hike Knobstone depends on what you want to see and experience on the trail. For many, fall is the best choice. It’s comfortable, safe, and generally pleasant. From late September through November, you’ll be able to see the gorgeous fall colors as the season shifts toward winter.
You also won’t have so much of a problem with ticks, though you may still get a few on you. Of course, autumn coincides with hunting season. If you’re heading into a forest full of hunters, be sure to bring bright colors and other precautionary gear along with you.
Many hikers prefer the summer months from June to September, as warm weather makes for comfortable evenings and a lighter pack. However, water can be difficult to find during summertime and the insects are out in full force.
Winter may bring ice and snow, but it could still be a good option for seasoned trekkers who know how to handle themselves in cold weather. Springtime is when life starts returning to the area, but hikers should be aware that snowmelt makes for supreme mudslides on the Knobstone.
Rules And Regulations On The Knobstone Trail
Be aware of trail rules and regulations before heading out. This is a very remote area, and rules are in place to protect you and other hikers on the trail. It can be extremely difficult for emergency services to find you if something goes wrong and you can’t get out on your own.
Campfires are only allowed during certain times of the year, so check with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) before you go to see if you need to bring a camp stove. If making a fire, keep it under one foot in diameter. Put it out completely and cover it with soil before you leave.
Always wear bright colors during hunting season. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but they must be leashed at all times. It’s ill-advised to bring a dog during hunting season, and ill-advised to bring your dog at all if he or she isn’t into fitness like you are. It can be hard to care for fatigued or injured pets on this path.
If you’re camping here, operate under a “leave no trace” policy. Carry out everything you brought in, including toilet paper and trash. Dig latrine holes at least eight inches deep and 200 feet from any water sources, and don’t forget to fill them in when you’re done.
To hike the Knobstone Trail, it can take anywhere from 3 to 4 days, depending on your fitness level and hiking experience. The Knobstone Trail is a breathtaking hike that’s well worth the challenge. It’s 58 miles in length and is the longest trail in Indiana.