The Muscatatuck River drains over 1000 square miles of southeastern Indiana and is a major tributary of the East Fork of White River. The river follows a very winding course although the drainage is generally described as a typical dendritic pattern as it flows southwesterly. The river flows through a rather sparsely populated agricultural region and the stream is characteristically a muddy color with mud banks and a silt bottom.
The Muscatatuck is "bifurcate" (divided into two main segments) with both forks flowing roughly parallel toward the southwest. The Vernon Fork is the more westerly of the two while the other branch is known as the East Fork of the Muscatatuck.
The town of Vernon was founded about 1812 on "The Stream of Many Turns" as the river was then known. There was a hope at the time that the river could be used for navigation and that Vernon would become a flat boat port. Grist mills and saw mills also were located on the stream. Another historical point of interest is the fact that on July 11, 1863 Morgan's Raiders were turned away by union defenders at Vernon. This raid marks one of only two Civil War confrontations fought on northern soil. The other was at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Fishing is generally good for largemouth and smallmouth bass, sunfish, bluegills, rock bass and channel catfish. Wildlife which may be seen includes herons, water snakes, wood ducks, owls, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, turkey vultures, kingfishers and many of the typical game species. Trees along the banks are primarily sycamore, willow and box elder with silver maple predominating in the lower reaches.
Camping is available at the Muscatatuck County Park located between Vernon and North Vernon. Hunting and fishing opportunities are of course available at Crosley Fish and Wildlife Area and along the river itself with permission from the owners. Medical assistance and hospitals are located in North Vernon and Seymour.
A float of about 4 hours duration can be arranged beginning at the town park in Vernon. Put in at the town park located at the end of Factory Rd., just north and east of the S. R. 3 and 7 bridge across the Muscatatuck River. The park is still being developed and may not be well marked. Ask a local resident if you have difficulty finding the park. For the first three or four miles you will float by some outstanding scenic limestone bluffs which border the river and have been mentioned in Natural Areas in Indiana by Lindsey, Schmelz, and Nichols. The bottom through this area is rock and rubble gradually becoming a soft silt downstream. The take out is at the County Road 400W bridge. To reach this take-out by car take State Road 7 north to U. S. 50, turn left (west) and proceed about 3 1/2 miles to County Road 450W where you will turn south to road 150S. Turn left (east) and go to 400W where you will turn south to road 150S. Turn left (east) and go to 400W, take 400W south to the river. The south side of the bridge is easiest to take out.
The second stretch of the Vernon Fork would be from the 400W bridge to the U. S. 31 bridge, a distance of about 13 1/2 miles. The lower end of this stretch has a number of shallow spots which will require getting out and pulling the canoe through some of the riffles. This float should take 4 1/2 or 5 hours. Access at the 400W bridge is poor with little if any room to park a car and a fairly steep bank to the river. The take out at the U. S. 31 bridge is better. Park along the shoulder on the southeast side of the bridge and utilize the concrete drainage trough to get up or down the bank. To reach the take-out by car, return to U. S. 50 and take it west to U. S. 31 and drive 4 miles to the third bridge. Note the sign indicating "Vernon Fork of Muscatatuck".
A point of interest within this stretch is that it passes along the southern boundary of the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge.
It is possible to canoe to the mouth of the Muscatatuck, but Rider Ditch is straight to the point of being boring and often blocked with log jams.
This section covers the Muscatatuck itself which is formed after the confluence of the Vernon and East Forks. The river gradually widens as you float down until it reaches about 150 feet in width. The banks are tree-lined and there is little evidence of man even though the river is flowing through an agricultural area.
A float of approximately 19 miles and about 6 1/2 or 7 hours is available on this stretch. The trip begins on the Muscatatuck southwest of Tampico in Jackson County and finishes with about 6 miles of the East Fork of the White River to Sparksville. The use of part of the White River is necessary due to the lack of an access point at the confluence of the two rivers.
The put-in site is most easily reached from State Road 39 in Tampico, Indiana. Take Tampico Road southwest from town to 700S, turn right and proceed to 200E. Turn left (south) on 200E and continue to 740S then left until you come to the bridge over the river. The south side of the bridge provides the best entry point.
To reach the take out at Sparksville, take State Road 235 south from U. S. 50 to Medora. At the south end of town take Sparksville Road until you come to the bridge on the north side of Sparksville. Parking is limited to the southeast side of the bridge. Take out on the northwest side of the bridge to avoid the crop fields. For the car shuttle take Sparksville Road north to Medora. From there take State Road 235 east to State Road 135. Turn right (south) on 135 then left on 600S. Turn right (south) on 200E, left on 740S, and proceed to the bridge.
Two Public Access Sites are located along the river; one at Millport where State Road 135 crosses the river, and the other 3 miles west of Millport, also on the south side of the river. The Millport site is a good take out, offering a ramp and parking spaces.