People have always been fascinated by scenes of rugged geologic splendor, places which give witness to awesome powers at work in nature. Clifty Falls State Park, with its deeply cut gorges, sheet rock walls and plunging waterfalls, is such a place. Like the proverbial cowboy who first viewed the Grand Canyon one cannot help think, "Something has happened here!"
Clifty Falls and the nearby Ohio River are products of the Ice Age. The Ohio River is a trench cut by sand and gravel laden melt waters of the glacial ice mass and basically marks the southern most advance of the glaciers which came from the north. Clifty Falls and its canyon are a subsequent erosion feature. From the lip of Clifty Falls at an elevation near the general level of the county, Clifty Creek plunges down more than 70 feet. In nearly three miles of canyon, the creek descends another 250 feet to the Ohio River below. There are four major waterfalls and numerous minor ones in the park.
The 425 million-year-old hales and limestones of the park are among the oldest bedrock exposures in Indiana. They are some 100 million years older than the sandstones and shales of the south central 'Knobs' region and nearly 150 million years older than the coal-bearing deposits of southwestern Indiana. An abundance of fossil remains of ancient marine life are interred in the formation of the rock.
In 1853, the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad Company began work on a railway which was to have run west from Madison then up Clifty Creek Canyon and Dean's Branch to connect with the mail line about one mile north of Madison. Two tunnels were planned for the 4 3/4 mile line. The lower tunnel was barely started and excavation of the upper tunnel which traverses the cliff just south of the Tunnel Falls was in progress when financial problems made it necessary to suspend operations. Portions of the park's hiking trails follow the original grade and several piers and trestle abutments may still be seen.
For many years, the park consisted of 617 acres which included the falls, the canyon and the immediate upland rim. In 1965, the park was more than doubled in size by the acquisition of adjoining upland fields from the Madison State Hospital. This 'old field' area has provided the space needed for modern recreational demands. The city of Madison and the Ohio River Valley make up the panorama seen from Clifty Inn.
Take I-71 south to the Carrolton exit. Follow Highway 36 to Milton, KY and take US 421 North. Cross the bridge into Indiana, and follow US 421N to State Road 56W. US 421 and State Road 56 will join together, follow SR 56 West through town. The park entrance is on the right.
Alternate: Take I-275 to Lawrenceburg, IN. Follow US 50 West to Versailles. Turn left (south) on State Road 421 to Madison. Turn right (west) on State Road 56. Go through town, and the park entrance is on the right approx. 1 mile west of town.
Take I-65 South to Exit 34 (Austin). Take State Road 256 East to Madison (approx. 20 miles) to the intersection of SR 256 and State Road 56. Turn left on SR 56, go approx. 1 mile and the park entrance is on the left.
Take I-65 North to Exit 29 (Scottsburg). Turn Right on State Road 56. Continue on SR 56 for approximately 20 miles through Hanover to Madison. The park entrance is on the left.
P.O. Box 387
Madison, Indiana, 47250