Indiana Trails: An Outlook to Remember in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness
For this serene ramble, the payoff comes 110 feet above ground.
The Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower soared into the sky as I reached the Sycamore Trail parking lot. The tower, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the ’30s, would wait, though—my reward for taking on the Sycamore Trail, the sole hiking-only path in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness, 13,000 acres of steep ridges, curving creeks, and thick woods within the Hoosier National Forest.
The loop begins on a small stretch of the Terrill Ridge Trail and then turns east and forks in two directions—stay to the right. Hardly anything broke the path’s peace, especially after I lost cell service when the elevation sank alongside a bare creek bend. I encountered only a handful of other backpackers—and two fluttering, black-and-orange monarch butterflies—during my three-and-a-half–hour adventure.
Along the way, I spotted other lovely bits of nature: moss-coated rocks bordering the stream crisscrossing the trail; mushrooms breathing off rotting bark; sunlight sneaking through the towering pine trees. Below, rust-colored needles dusted the ground, making the hike softer on my feet. The difficulty returned in the hills that follow the curves of a narrow cliff.
After rejoining Terrill and making my way back to the parking lot, it was finally time for Hickory Ridge. The 110-foot gray steel tower’s narrow staircase shook slightly as I climbed to the cramped overlook, once used for spotting fires. When I saw “Turn Back!!” scribbled on the railing four flights up, my heart pounded, and I briefly considered doing just that. Two flights from the top, an encouraging “Almost there” kept me going. The 360-degree sightline revealed a brilliant sea of sycamores, beeches, and pines. I scanned with pride the woods I had just hiked beneath. On the way down, I noticed another message—“You are awesome!” Indeed.
» Lookout! By the 1950s, 33 lookout towers—used to patrol the surrounding farms and forests for fire in the pre–aerial surveillance and pre–cell phone days—dotted Indiana. Today, there are only 16 towers left, and all but one remain open to the public.
» Getting There Take S.R. 37 S to the S.R. 45 N/46 E exit. Turn left onto E. 3rd St. Turn right onto S.R. 446. Turn left onto Tower Ridge Rd. and park at Hickory Ridge Fire Tower. fs.usda.gov/recarea