Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

A sign at the entrance to this National Natural Landmark describes it as “the last virgin forest of its size known in Indiana”, and states that the forest has been undisturbed for at least 200 years.

Wesselman Woods makes a similar claim, but I see no reason to worry about who is correct. Instead, I propose to enjoy both places whenever I can and suggest that you consider doing the same.


Joseph Cox, an original settler in the area, bought these woods from the U.S. Government in the early 1800s. When his grandson died in 1941, a lumber company bought the tract from the estate, but agreed to sell it back to concerned citizens if they could raise the purchase price in time. A dramatic fundraising effort secured the necessary money with a day to spare.


A well-defined path starts at a small information sign next to the parking area and makes a short but sharp descent into the woods. From there the trail maintains an overall gradual descent.


About a mile later, the path passes by an enormous wall inscribed “Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest”. You can turn around here and retrace your steps, or continue on to a little-used parking area, and thence along a narrow paved (pedestrian traffic only) road to US 150.

It won’t take you long to realize that you are among very large trees, though some of the largest are well off the trail to either side, nestled in coves along the main ridge. The effect is impressive no matter the season.

In leafless months, you’ll be able to see clear to the tops of the trees, many well over a hundred feet tall. In the summer, it’s like walking in a cathedral with bark-sheathed pillars that support a lush green roof.

The remnants of fallen leviathans lie scattered about, and new candidates fill those spaces, striving skyward. Spring wildflower displays are very good, and include dwarf larkspur along with most of the usual suspects.


Orange County. From the intersection of US 150 and IN 37 just west of the courthouse in Paoli, go south 2.0 miles on IN 37 to a parking area on the left.

North 38 32.060 West 86 27.469
DeLorme 57:D10

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Nearby Natural Areas

Newton-Stewart State Recreation Area
Spring Mill State Park


Bloom: Hiking Indiana; Page 201
Habeck: Wild Indiana; Page 115
Indiana Department of Natural Resources
McPherson: Indiana Best Hikes; Page 401
McPherson: Nature Walks in Southern Indiana; Page 358