A Hiker's Path: Time travel and cave exploration at Spring Mill State Park

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This past week, I made a trip down to Mitchell, Indiana, to visit Spring Mill State Park. It was a beautiful early spring day with unseasonably warm temperatures. The sky was bright blue and sunny, a welcome sight after all of the rain we have had lately in our state.

Beautiful wildflowers can be seen along trail 4 at Spring Mill State Park. This flower is called Jacob’s Ladder.
Beautiful wildflowers can be seen along trail 4 at Spring Mill State Park. This flower is called Jacob’s Ladder.

I decided to go on an mini adventure. Spring Mill State Park, established in 1927, is sometimes called a window into Indiana's pioneer past. A restored, original pioneer village still stands with a working grist mill that was constructed back in 1817. The park itself consists of 1,358 acres.

There are other features of this park worth mentioning including a memorial to Virgil Gus Grissom, who was the second astronaut in space. Some of the special things that interest me about the park are the natural areas found here. There are several caves and sinkholes and three nature preserves : Donaldson Cave, Donaldson Woods, and the Mitchell Karst Plain.

George Donaldson came from Scotland and purchased a tract of forest in 1865. He would not allow cutting of timber or hunting. Thanks to his efforts, there are now native trees more than 300 years old in the Donaldson Woods.

Accessible to all: Indiana state parks offer free, all-terrain wheelchairs to visitors

I drove down to Mitchell and then to the gatehouse of the park. I retrieved a map of the trails and took off on trail 4, my path for the day. Trail 4 is a loop trail and is 2.5 miles in length. The trail takes the hiker by Donaldson cave, the Wilson monument, the pioneer village, and Hamer cemetery. It’s considered rugged in ease of hiking.

I parked in the lot near the trailhead, and then found myself descending a whole lot of stairs.

I followed the trail to the right. There I found a recently built raised walkway that follows the creek up to the entrance of the cave.

Donaldson Cave, also known as the Shawnee cave, is the last cave in the Shawnee drainage system. The water, which begins at the southeast part of the park, travels through the cave system. When it enters Bronson Cave, the stream flows through 8,000 feet of underground passage before discharging out of the entrance of Donaldson Cave.

A ramp leads up to the entrance of Donaldson Cave at Spring Mill State Park.
A ramp leads up to the entrance of Donaldson Cave at Spring Mill State Park.

After a short exploration of the cave entrance, I made my way downstream along trail 4.

I followed the creek for a ways, and crossed over a newly erected wooden bridge. The trail led me through some wonderful rock formations. Wildflowers grew all along the trail which made me know that spring had officially arrived.

I soon came to the pioneer village, a restored 1863 village featuring an old gristmill and an old stone arch leading through the old gardens. It was a busy place on this sunny day with many visitors about. I enjoyed taking a walk through history as I explored the shops.

I was soon back on the trail, and I found myself ascending a pretty steep hill, one of the rugged parts of the trail. After a short walk along the ridge top, I came to Hamer Cemetery. This cemetery dates back to the early 1800s. Many of the original occupants of the old village are buried there. With an old, stone arched entrance and a heavy wrought iron fence surrounding it, the cemetery has some unusual headstones within its gates.

After a quick stop there, I soon finished my hike and found myself back at the parking lot.

I had a great day and a good hike. So much to do and see at this wonderful park.  There’s a seasonal fee at the entrance of the park. An annual state park pass will get you in. Maps of the park are available at the gatehouse.

To get to this place: The park is located about an hour south of Bloomington, three miles east of Mitchell off Ind. 60.

A quote for your week: “It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” — Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish novelist, 1850-1894

Until next trail, Susan

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Hiker explores Donaldson Cave, Pioneer Village at Spring Mill