Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge
Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge dates from 1966, and was for many years Indiana’s only National Wildlife Refuge. Duck stamps paid for the 7,700 acre property, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service manages much of the land as waterfowl habitat, with a special emphasis on wood ducks.
In the process, many other plants and animals benefit, including the 280+ species of birds spotted here over the years. In particular, the refuge is important habitat for the rare copperbelly water snake, and it served as a site for the reintroduction of river otters to Indiana.
Be sure to stop at the Visitor's Center for the latest animal sightings and property/trail maps. There’s also a fine natural history bookstore, staffed by volunteers.
The accessible Chestnut Ridge Trail begins at the Visitor Center parking area; it’s just under a half mile and features boardwalks and numbered posts that correspond to descriptions in a trail brochure.
There are another seven hiking trails in the refuge. The two longest are at the southern end of the property, and both are subject to flooding when the Muscatatuck River is high.
The West River Trail runs about four miles, mostly along old lanes, passing forested wetlands on either side. On reaching the banks of the Muscatatuck River, it turns west, avoiding the river at first before venturing closer again and shadowing the river for over a mile.
Short side trails afford views of the steep earthen banks before the trail turns sharply north and then east, again passing large wetlands on either side of the tread.
The adjacent East River Trail is about three miles long; I find it less appealing and regard it as a secondary choice.
Wood Duck Trail
For a different experience, try the Wood Duck Trail, a level half mile loop through relatively mature upland woods dominated by beech, maple, and oak; the dry footing is a contrast to most of the trails on the refuge.
Jennings County. From I-65 Exit 50, go east 2.7 miles on US 50 to the marked entrance on the right (south).
North 38 58.008 West 85 47.756
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Nature center, bathrooms, water, bookstore.
Nearby Natural Areas
Bloom: Hiking Indiana; Page 112
Habeck: Wild Indiana; Page 129
McPherson: Indiana Best Hikes; Page 300
McPherson: Nature Walks in Southern Indiana; Page 96