Clark State Forest, approximately 100 miles south of Indianapolis, is Indiana’s oldest state forest, first established as a 2,208-acre forest research facility and nursery in 1903. It has since grown to encompass nearly 24,000 acres of land. Due to the influence of the first state forester, a botanist by the name of Charles. C Deam, Clark State Forest has a larger variety of trees than most state forests. This diverse forest also serves as a home for many species of animals, including white-tailed deer, raccoons, foxes, and squirrels. There are several small fishing ponds that dot the forest as well, most of which have convenient boat launches.
People who enjoy exploring will appreciate the 100 miles of trails that meander through the conical hills of the forest. There are many different routes which are suitable for all skill levels and can be traveled by mountain bike, horseback, or on foot. While there is a rustic campground with space for horses in Clark State Forest itself, the sites are not considered suitable for RVs. The nearby Charleston State Park, however, has comfortable accommodations with full hookups for rigs up to 45 feet in length.
The closest town to Clark State Forest, Henryville, IN, is just three miles or so from the main campground at Clark State Forest. The roads inside the park are paved, but they are also fairly narrow and tend to have quite a few twists and turns.
If you are staying at the nearby Charleston State Park Campground, there are several roads which will lead you to Clark State Forest. The most direct two routes are State Highway 160 and Charleston-Memphis Road. Both are fairly narrow highways with very little shoulder. Charleston-Memphis is the longer route, winding through picturesque cornfields and forested areas. State Highway 160 is a much straighter path which travels through several small communities and agricultural areas.
While Clark State Forest does have a campground that accepts horse trailers, the campsites are primitive sites and more suitable for tents or small vehicles. Drinking water, pit toilets, and a dump station are available. Each site features a fire pit and picnic table. You can check-in and pay at the self check-in station at the entrance to the campground. Equestrian sites are available.
Charleston State Park, approximately 15 miles to the southeast, is a great place to set up camp in an RV when visiting Clark State Forest. There are 194 sites available at Charleston on a first-come, first-served basis; 58 with full hookups and 129 with just electrical hookup. The roads within this campgrounds are paved and easy to navigate. The paved areas claim to be able to accommodate vehicles up to 45 feet long, but some of them have trees growing near them that shorten the length of the driveway. The sites themselves are fairly roomy, and each one boasts a fire ring, grill, and picnic table, with several of them also having paved patios to enjoy. Vaccinated pets are welcome in all Indiana state parks and campgrounds, but must be restrained by a six-foot or shorter leash.
Those who are planning to visit Clark State Forest will want to be sure to bring their hiking gear in their campervans. Hikers are welcome anywhere on the property, including horse trails and fire trails, and there are several trails designed mainly for foot traffic. The trails range from easy walks, like the one-mile White Oak Nature trail Loop, to more challenging back-country expeditions like the 59-mile Knobstone Trail. It is important to remember that Clark State Forest is also a popular hunting destination. If you are hiking during hunting season, which can run from early fall to late spring, it is advisable to wear highly visible orange safety clothing.
Clark State Forest contains two wildlife preserves and is home to many varieties of wildlife for you to capture on film. Pack your camera in your trailer and you may find opportunities to snap photos of deer, red or gray foxes, grouse, and wild turkeys, as well as an abundance of gray and fox squirrels. Charles C. Deam, a botanist, was the state forester from 1909 to 1913 and again from 1917 to 1928. His influence led to the planting of over 150 types of trees in the forest. Many of these beautiful trees, including black walnut trees, sugar maples, shagbark hickories, and tulip trees, still grow in the forest today.
There are several lakes and ponds in the Clark State Forest for anglers to try and land supper for the night. Boat launch ramps are available at Schlamm, Franke, Bowen, Oak, and Wilcox lakes, but boat motors are limited to electronic trolling motors only on Clark State Forest lakes. While Schlamm and Franke Lake are larger lakes, anglers who choose to fish the seven-acre Bowen Lake, which has large populations of carp, crappie, perch, catfish, and sunfish, are likely to be more successful, particularly in the morning hours.
For RVers that bring their horses along when camping, Clark State Forest is the perfect destination. The forest includes over 100 miles of horse trails for riders of all skill levels. Novice riders will enjoy the wide, easy to navigate Beginner and Wildlife loops, each around three miles in length. Advanced riders may prefer the challenge of the rugged but scenic Dry Fork loop, a 12-mile ride with large trees, steep valleys, and creek crossings. There are several additional trails for moderately difficult and slightly rugged rides as well.
If you are packing your bike in your rig you'll have plenty opportunities to hit the trail. Cyclists are not allowed to ride on the main hiking and horseback riding trails, but they will appreciate the five-mile Clark State Forest/Deam Lake Trail that has been designated as a mountain biking trail. The eastern side of the trail is a flat, gravel road that travels along three and a half miles of fire lanes, while the western side of the trail leads through wooded areas and hills.
Clark State Forest is a popular spot for hunters to gather in the early fall through late spring. Big game hunters can hunt white-tailed deer either using firearms or archery equipment, depending on the season. Those who prefer smaller game are likely to find an abundance of squirrels, rabbits, and game turtles. Both red and gray foxes can be harvested in this forest, and those who prefer to go hunting with their coonhounds in tow will delight in the number of raccoons in the area.