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 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. A dramatic fundraising effort succeeded with a day to spare.
The path drops sharply from the parking area but soon tapers to a gradual descent. After about a mile, the trail passes by an enormous wall inscribed “Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest”. You can turn around here and retrace your steps or continue to a little-used parking area, and thence along a narrow paved (pedestrian traffic only) road to US 150, where there is an alternate entrance.
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.
Directions: 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.
GPS: N 38 32.060 W 86 27.469 (Trailhead)