During my college years at Purdue, I came to know the abundance of outdoor opportunities creeks provide. Like many in this state, Sugar Creek was the first to draw my attention, with top-notch camping opportunities abound in the area. Turkey Run and Shades are both beautiful State Parks that provide access to the creek for campers, paddlers and hikers. Sugar Creek is well known.
Not on the radar of nearly as many folks, but close in beauty is Big Raccoon Creek. To those of you who have never explored this gem of a creek, you’re in for a treat. I first discovered Big Raccoon Creek many years ago during a trip to the annual Covered Bridge Festival. Agreeing to accompany my mother and aunt for a day I initially figured to be uneventful, turned into the discovery of the area’s beauty and outdoor abundance. The scenery along this gorgeous water passing through the heart of Covered Bridge Country is hard to beat.
Having canoed the same section of Sugar Creek over and over, I had been looking for a new adventure. Raccoon Creek was the answer. Originating in Hendricks County, Big Raccoon Creek follows through Montgomery, Putnam and Parke counties before dumping into the Wabash River north of Clinton. The creek is most commonly known for feeding the Cecil M. Harden Reservoir, otherwise known as Raccoon Lake.
Below the dam of Cecil M. Harden, Raccoon Creek takes on a beautiful form. This section is where you want to spend your time. The creek is far from what would be considered large, but contains plenty of water for enjoyable paddling. The scenery and especially the solitude make this trip a great experience. Most importantly, crowds do not exist on Raccoon Creek.
My favorite section of the creek begins at the dam and flows to the town of Bridgeton. This section is home to three covered bridges: Mansfield Bridge, Conley’s Ford Bridge and Bridgeton Bridge. An eager paddler can easily complete this entire 13-mile stretch in one day. I suggest dividing the trip into two sections and covering the creek in two days. Then you can relax a little more, and fully appreciate the scenery and serenity of the experience. And don’t forget your fishing rods, as the creek produces all year long.
The first day takes you to Mansfield Village, a quaint little dot on the map home to numerous shops and the Mansfield Roller Mill, which is an Indiana Historic Landmark. On day two, continue your trip from Mansfield down to Bridgeton. This is an equally enjoyable experience. The wooded banks and clear water, matched with the solitude and privacy of this creek, leave you feeling refreshed and satisfied. Passing under Conley’s Covered Bridge is a bonus on this section. The Old Bridgeton Roller Mill is a quaint village shop that serves hand-dipped ice cream perfect for the recovering paddler.
Parke County is blessed with multiple creeks that provide a multitude of different paddling experiences. If you are looking for a creek with more amenities and an abundance of fellow paddlers, then stick to Sugar Creek. While extremely scenic in its own right, the atmosphere of Sugar Creek resonates fun in the sun. If you are looking for an escape into the wilderness, where the chances of seeing a deer or a turkey are greater than seeing another canoe, then give Big Raccoon Creek a try.
See you down the trail…