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Hoosier National Forest: How To Guides

From horseback riding to spelunking, our helpful tips and tricks to getting the most out of Hoosier National Forest.

How To: Ride A Horse

We all think we can just jump into a saddle and go horseback riding—we’ve seen it so many times in movies, or even imagined ourselves atop a galloping steed. But what bad habits have we picked up from watching the Hollywood method, and what’s the right way? Talk to the only outfitter licensed to operate in the HNF.

Christie Froehlich, owner of Froehlich’s Outfitter and Guide in Cannelton, a town on the Ohio River, leads trail rides across the 90,000 acres of the HNF that abut her own 40 acres. With trails both flat and hilly, and Froehlich’s stable of horses of different temperaments, there’s a riding experience here for every level and age.

Don’t: Broadcast your greenhorn status by not even sitting the right way.
Do: Lean forward when your horse is climbing uphill, then back as the horse descends.

Don’t: Crouch down like a jockey.
Do: Keep your legs and back straight, though not stiff.

Don’t: Saddle up in shorts and flip-flops.
Do: Wear long pants and closed-toe shoes. It’s going to be noticeably cooler in the forest, your legs will be brushing back and forth against wiry horsehair the entire time, and you don’t want to get your toes crushed by a wayward hoof.

Don’t: Arrive empty-handed.
Do: Bring a bottle of water, Gatorade, even a sandwich—anything that fits easily in a small nylon bag. Cameras are OK. And bug repellent is a great idea.


How To: Kayak

What to say when they ask which kind of kayak you want:

If your vessel ends up flipping—we’re just saying if—you’ll be glad you got the sit-on-top style, which is much easier to climb back aboard than a kayak with a deeper well that you sit in. “It can be hard to drain water out of a tipped-over kayak when you’re in the river,” says Sherri Nail, a manager at Cave Country Canoes in Milltown. That’s on the Blue River, near Marengo Cave, which has the ultra-showiest varieties in the state.

Of course, the No. 1 caveat when kayaking or canoeing is: Don’t take anything along you wouldn’t want to lose. But really, beginners should have no fear—the fastest rapids on the Blue are categorized as Class 1, the easiest of all.


How To: Hunt For Geodes

Early spring, after the floods and before algae skims the water’s surface, is the absolute best time for geode-hunting according to Don Crum, known as Mr. Geode because of his passion for these sedimentary rocks sprinkled across Southern Indiana.

“But really, any time is good,” says Crum, a science teacher in Columbus, Indiana. “There are literally trillions of geodes.”

To find a few of them in the streams and creeks meandering through the HNF, download a map and look for trails near waterways. Take along a sturdy backpack for transporting your haul back to the car. You can clean dirty geodes with mild laundry detergent and water, says Crum, or soak them for a short time in one part oxalic acid mixed with five parts water.

Crum likes to admire the fossil patterns decorating the rocks’ exteriors. Others think that with all their knobs, they look like the brain of an extraterrestrial, and crack them open to expose hollow interiors lined with crystals sparkling in a variety of colors—though purple is the most typical.

Either way, they make great garden art. “Some people also use them as memorials, placing them on gravestones,” says Crum. The Crystal Store
in downtown Nashville sells geode jewelry, and some artists represented there even use the crystals in their paintings.


How To: Spelunk

With more than 165 caves, the Hoosier National Forest is a spelunker’s dream. Just get out there before the end of October, or bide your time until May 1, 2020, when they’ll reopen to the public for the season. Some advice from Danyele Green, who started hardcore caving when she was a student at Indiana University and is now a member of the National Cave Rescue:

What’s the essential gear?

A helmet, three sources of light, extra batteries, candles for warmth, matches or a light, a trash bag to wrap around your body, and proper clothing. Wool is my go-to because it keeps the heat in. When I go into a cave with a large river, I wear a T-shirt and a long shirt made of polypropylene for insulation, plus thermal underwear and wool pants.

Do you do this even for just a few hours of caving?
Always be prepared for 24 hours, because you don’t know what might happen. There might be a rock blocking your way out. We recommend people tell someone above ground the name of the team leader and their contact information, where they’re caving, how long they’ll be gone, where the cars are parked, and who is going with them. If they don’t call in within that time period, their contact calls Cave Rescue.

What caves do you recommend for beginners?
It’s a hike to get there, but Patton Cave in the Charles Deam Wilderness is a good one—it’s short, and there are no extremely tight crawls.


How To: Hammock

With its canopies of crisp leaves drifting to the ground, the HNF is a great place to get in on the hammocking trend. “All you need are two sturdy trees with enough space between them to hang your hammock,” says Matt Lanker, who can frequently be found relaxing in one.

Fine—you’ll need a few other things, too. Lanker, who has worked in sporting-goods stores in addition to setting out on his own, suggests such overnight essentials as a waterproof tarp, Skeeter Beater or other mosquito netting, a quilt to keep you warm as you lie on top, tree straps, and a sleeping bag. An inflatable pillow wouldn’t hurt, either.

Once you’re geared up, finding a spot is easy. No reservations are necessary in the HNF—just look for a pre-marked wilderness campsite or a primitive site with fire rings, which signal it’s good to use.

You may see some next-level loungers stringing up their nets above each other on the same trees, or “hammock stacking,” but Lanker doesn’t recommend it for the long haul. “It’s fine if you’re just out for the afternoon,” he says, “but do you really want to step on someone’s head when you’re climbing out of your hammock in the middle of the night?”

 

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