Cagles Mill Lake Trails
There’s an interesting feature around every bend of the three trails at Cagles Mill Lake. From scenic lake views to towering trees to sheer rock walls, you’ll discover a fascinating woodland pocket at this US Army Corps of Engineers property near Cloverdale, Indiana. See below for information about the Welch Woods Trail, the Two Falls Trail, the Tall Pines Trail, and general information about the property.
Welch Woods Trail
The Welch Woods Trail at Cagles Mill Lake is named for the state designated natural area dedicated to Winona Welch, a former botany professor at DePauw University. Her area of expertise was moss, and you’ll be able to examine plenty of mossy rocks on this somewhat rugged 1.7 mile loop trail. The HHC started building the trail in 2019 and finished in 2021 as the Covid-19 pandemic was coming to an end. The trail features views of limestone cliffs, intermittent streams, and towering beech, oak, hickory, and other trees.
You can start your hike from the picnic shelter near the US Army Corps of Engineers office or from the parking area outside of the north gate. Hiking clockwise from the trailhead at the picnic shelter, you’ll descend alongside a rocky ravine to the creek below the dam. From there, it’s back up another ridge to hike next to a cliff wall. The limestone rock that makes up the cliff was formed approximately 300 million years ago during the Pennsylvanian geologic time period. Continuing from the base of the rock wall, you will switch back to arrive above the cliff you just walked along.
Now the trail curves around to the western edge of the Army Corps property where you’ll notice a large area of down trees that were victims of a strong storm years ago and of Phil Wilcoxson’s chainsaw in 2020. Continuing from there, you’ll pass by more rocky overhangs that produce springtime waterfalls and winter ice formations. As you continue south, you’ll come to the gravel road that leads to the Army Corps office. The trail follows this road for a short distance to the small parking lot outside the north gate. A spur trail, marked with blue blazes, leads from the parking lot to the Two Falls Trail. If you’re feeling energetic, you can hike that short loop trail and return to finish the Welch Woods Trail. From the parking lot it’s an easy walk along a ridgetop back to the shelter.
Two Falls Trail
The Two Falls Trail gets its name from the two ephemeral waterfalls that flow over steep rock overhangs near the trail. One waterfall is near the south end of the loop while the other is at the north end. The 1.4 mile loop trail was built by the Hoosier Hikers Council in 2019, and it has a mostly gentle grade that would be enjoyable for hikers of all ages.
The trail starts just north of the Army Corps office located near the Cagles Mill Lake dam. You’ll walk about 100 feet from the parking lot to an opening in the woods and an access trail which leads to the loop. Consider turning right at the end of the access trail and walking the loop counter-clockwise so you’ll see the large bowl that’s been carved out of the hillside near the end of your journey.
Winding down the ridge behind the office, you may catch a glimpse of a bald eagle as you get closer to the lake. During the spring, as you go back up from the lake, listen for the first waterfall. You’ll see it across the ravine, and you’ll find another view of it from above on the other side of the ravine. Spring also brings migrating birds and colorful wildflowers such as Trout Lilies and Dolls Eye.
As you continue along the trail you’ll climb slowly back up the ridge through large oak and hickory trees until you finally round the top of the loop and come to the giant bowl into which the second waterfall flows. Words and photos can’t convey the size of this rock formation, so you’ll have to see it for yourself!
Tall Pines Trail
Built by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Tall Pines Trail at Cagles Mill Lake is a short, easy walk through a mix of pine and deciduous trees. This trail features several benches set in a shady woods. To make the most of your visit to Cagles Mill Lake, you can include this trail with the other two trails by walking from the Tall Pines Trail parking lot across the dam to the picnic shelter where you can access the Welch Woods Trail. By combining all of the trails plus the walk across the dam, you can make a total hike of about four and a half miles.
Cagles Mill Lake General Information
Cagles Mill trails are accessible even when the gates to the office area are closed. You may park outside the office area and walk around the gate to get to the trail heads. When you visit, you’ll need to approach the dam from the south to reach the office; the road north of the dam is gated. See the Google Map below for the location of the dam. If you zoom in, you’ll see the office.
The Cagles Mill office hours are variable based on the season and days of the week. From Memorial Day through Labor Day the south (main) gate will be open from 7 am until 10 pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. All other times the gate will be open from 7 am until 5 pm. Occasionally the gates will be closed early due to staffing shortages. The north (service road) gate MAY be open during office hours.
Cagles Mill Lake is also home to Lieber State Recreation Area and Cataract Falls State Recreation Area. If you’ve never been to Cataract Falls, it’s worth your time to go see what Wikipedia calls “the largest waterfall by volume in the state”. The falls is about a 25-minute drive southeast from the Two Falls Trail. Lieber State Recreation Area offers camping and limited hiking, and many people enjoy boating on Cagles Mill Lake.