Road Trips

Twisty highways in southern Indiana

Most of Indiana is flat. Flaaaaaaaaat. Ice-age glaciers covered the northern three-quarters of the state. Where the glaciers stopped, the terrain starts to get interesting. The closer to the Ohio River you get, the hillier Indiana gets.

A college friend introduced me to the pleasure of driving country roads, especially late at night. He and I used to go out after midnight and explore until we ran low on gas. He took me home with him one weekend, to his parents’ home in Crawford County. It’s one of Indiana’s southernmost counties, and it’s largely taken up by the Harrison-Crawford State Forest and the Hoosier National Forest. He took me out to see “the forestry,” as he called it, and we drove some delightful roads cut into the rock as the land sloped toward the Ohio River, dense forest surrounding us. The roads were full of curves and hills, including blind curves at the tops of hills and the bottoms of hollows. He navigated them all confidently, expertly, and at high speed, which regularly took my breath away. He told me he didn’t drive as aggressively as he normally did, because he didn’t want to frighten me! I vowed to return one day and drive them myself.

It took me nearly 20 years to keep that vow. Over Labor Day weekend in 2006, I drove south from Indianapolis on a loop that included Crawford County and the state highways my friend showed me there.

I brought my camera, an Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (review here), and one roll of Fujicolor 200. I should have brought five rolls! Recently I found the photos in my archive, freshened them all up in Photoshop, and am resharing this great solitary road trip with you here.

As I researched roads to include on this trip, I found a Web site for bikers that said that State Road 45 would “make a man out of you.” That was all I needed to hear; it was on my list. I drove its length. It is at its best in Brown and Monroe Counties — a wonderful curvy, hilly road for the 20 miles to Bloomington. Narrow and shoulderless, this road demands your full attention and is a handful in spots. These pictures are taken in Brown County west of Trevlac. This photo points eastbound.

IN SR 45 in Yellowwood State Forest

In Brown County, SR 45 passes between the Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood State Forests, which makes the road seem secluded. Except for some bicyclists and a pickup truck, I had the road to myself. It was warm, and my windows were down. The sunshine broke through the trees and left its patterns on the asphalt. The breeze rustled through the trees and the birds sang. It was just me and my car, a little red Toyota Matrix, which you can see in the distance. It was a so-so handler; if I didn’t slow down for the curves the body leaned hard and the tires squealed. Its 5-speed transmission added a little fun, at least.

IN SR 45 in Yellowwood State Forest

In Monroe County, the woods disappear and civilization slowly returns as country homesteads line the road. The twists and hills remain, however, and are every bit as much fun. But as SR 45 meets Bloomington, the road loses all its charm. On the other side of Bloomington the road widens and thin shoulders appear. It meanders with the rolling terrain for about 25 miles. It’s a pleasant drive, but it won’t quicken your pulse. All pleasure disappears when SR 45 multiplexes with SR 58. The road is straight and flat the last nine miles or so to US 231. I took US 231 south to Loogootee, where it meets US 150.

US 150 near Shoals IN

From Loogootee to about Shoals, US 150 is multiplexed with US 50. It twists nicely in places, and is moderately hilly. Trees alternate with farms for a classic Indiana pastoral scene. The drive is pleasant, especially on a sunny day as my day was. It would make the perfect Sunday drive for two, chatting happily with each other as you glide along the curves.

US 150 near Shoals IN

After US 50 breaks away northeasterly from US 150 near Shoals, the Sunday drive is over. Wrap up your conversation with your companion, keep your hands on the wheel, and watch the road, because US 150 becomes gloriously twisty and hilly through a lovely wooded area. There aren’t many places to pull over on this segment, and so I got only one photo. Unfortunately, I bungled the shot and it’s too blurry to share.

US 150 leads straight to Paoli, which I’ve written about here. Its square is a big roundabout. I picked up SR 37 there, and followed it to SR 62, where I headed east toward Corydon, where I’d made arrangements to spend the night.

On the way I stopped in Leavenworth where, at the recommendation of a friend, I stopped for an excellent chicken dinner at The Overlook. They call it that because it overlooks the Ohio River. This photo is from a few steps east of the parking lot. I just love this photo.

Ohio River, from IN SR 62, Leavenworth, IN

From there I also took a photograph of SR 62 eastbound as it curves and descends into Leavenworth.

IN SR 62, Leavenworth, IN

My belly comfortably full, I drove on to Corydon. The first-rate curves and hills require full attention, which was tough to give because my system was wigging out over the massive sugar rush brought on by peach pie and ice cream after dinner.

Next morning, I drove back westward on SR 62, which is very curvy, hilly, and desolate all the way to just past Mariah Hill, some 50 miles away. I normally like to gape at the scenery as I drive and sing along with the radio, but to do either along this glorious road would inevitably have meant braking too late for a curve and finding my car mangled in the rock.

I stopped near the entrance to the Harrison-Crawford State Forest, 6 miles west of Corydon, to take a couple photos. The road through here was lovely, thickly wooded and cut deeply into the rock. The morning was chilly, the sky was mostly overcast, and a light mist filled the crisp air. The muted light that spilled through the trees and mist onto the roadway seemed to float ephemerally just above the asphalt.

IN SR 62 by Harrison-Crawford State Forest

SR 62 offers few places to pull over. I was glad that I could turn around and park in the pulloff area in front of somebody’s mailbox here. There were two houses by this pulloff. One was a pretty shaky looking frame house that was either unpainted or painted in that shade of gray that looks like weathered wood. But right next to it was quite a sight: a house that had caved in on itself.

Chateau Collapso

From Dale to Boonville, SR 62’s curves broaden and come less often, and the tight, enclosed feel of forest, rock, and guardrails departs for open farmland on either side. After Boonville, SR 62 straightens out entirely. Additional lanes were being laid all the way to Evansville.

I made my way down to SR 66 and headed back east. As SR 66 hugs the Ohio west of 231 and draws near to the Hoosier National Forest, the terrain becomes more rugged and the road rises and twists to meet it. This stretch of road is just as exciting as SR 62 from Corydon to Dale, with the extra excitement of hugging the Ohio River without guardrail much of the way. It’s, uh, refreshing to round a curve and see only water out the window. This photo of SR 66 near Cannelton gives a sense of just how close the water is.

IN SR 66 near Cannelton IN

This photo is from the same spot, pointed westbound.

IN SR 66 near Cannelton IN

Here’s another view of SR 66 near Cannelton.

IN SR 66 near Cannelton IN

At Rocky Point, the Ohio River turns south as SR 66 goes more or less straight. About five miles later, the river swings back to the north and SR 66 hugs the river again. Up the road a bit, just past Derby, there’s nothing between you and a long drink, as this photo shows.

IN SR 66 near Cannelton IN

When SR 66 intersected with SR 62, I turned back toward Corydon. My memory says that this photo is of SR 62 westbound, where it meets and then multiplexes SR 37. Anyway, this photo shows how heavily wooded this part of the state is, and how deeply some of these roads are cut into the rock.

IN SR 62 near Sulfur

East of Corydon, SR 62 has a few moments of brilliance but otherwise becomes a fairly standard two-lane state road. At a friend’s urging, I stopped for lunch at Polly’s Freeze, a last-of-its-breed ice cream stand near Edwardsville, where I had a cheeseburger, fries, and a terrific chocolate malt.

At this point, I’d run out of film. My trip continued, though: SR 145 to French Lick, where I picked up SR 56, which merged with US 150 and brought me back to Paoli. This stretch was just as much fun this time as it was when I drove it the day before.

At Paoli, I drove the southern portion of the town-square roundabout and kept heading east on SR 56. The road is pleasant with broad curves and some long rises through Hoosier farmland. The road is wide, but has no shoulder in many places. After about five miles, the curves end and the hills begin to roll. It’s a pleasant drive. Some of the road had been freshly oiled.

Where SR 56 met SR 39, I turned onto SR 39. It’s narrow along its 14 miles with mild to moderate twists and a few really sharp curves, including several 90-degree turns where the road flowed in line with county roads. It’s clear that SR 39 was cut from farm roads. I would have loved to take photographs at many places along this excellent road, but there were no places to pull off. In hindsight, I probably could have just stopped in the road, because I never encountered another car. It was just me and the seat of my pants cruising this forgotten gem.

SR 39 flowed into SR 250, which flowed into SR 135. As SR 135 edged into Brown County and the northernmost portion of the Hoosier National Forest, motorcycles were everywhere as it’s a popular biker destination. And no wonder — the late-afternoon sunshine spilled richly through the trees’ branches as the road dipped and swung and climbed for about 13 miles to the tiny town of Story. It made me wish I had a motorcycle. Boxed in by motorcycles with few places to pull over, again I could not take photographs of this lovely and challenging stretch of road. I’ll have to plan differently next time.

Beyond Story, the curves and hills become less intense, but the drive no less lovely, until SR 135 intersects with SR 46 near Nashville. It multiplexes with SR 46 for a few miles and then heads north again as it goes through Nashville. North of Nashville to Bean Blossom, SR 135 curves a little bit here and there, but north of Bean Blossom it’s just a simple country two-lane highway all the way to Greenwood, and then a city-grade highway into Indianapolis; the same stretch of highway on which I began my trip.

After making this trip, I learned that the first people to settle Indiana did so just north of the Ohio River among the very hills I drove that weekend. These people included young Abraham Lincoln and his family. What difficult country to tame!

I originally wrote this trip report here, on my old HTML site. Someday I’ll deprecate that site, as I publish only on this blog now. I didn’t want to lose this post, so I copied it over here and edited it for length.

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14 thoughts on “Twisty highways in southern Indiana

  1. Wow, what a trip! I got to experience SR 45 east from Bloomington one beautiful Sunday afternoon as we experimented with ways to avoid road construction on our normal route. The Mrs hated it, but she is an anxious passenger. My only regret was that we were in the minivan and not in the Miata with the top down.

    Thanks for the tour!

    • Oh yes, the car you’re in directly impacts your joy on SR 45! I drove it last in my old Ford Focus, which was a terrific handler and made this road a hoot to drive.

  2. You should take a cross-country road trip some time. You want flat? Montana – up until you hit the rockies. *LOL* I’ve only ever been through Indiana once, and I was in a hurry to get through Cleveland as fast as possible.
    Here in BC we have the opposite of flat, and very little to see across the many miles of mountain roads. It’s also dangerous to stop and take pictures most places, which is why I don’t. Half the time the roads alone aren’t safe to drive on.

    • I’d love to do that. The hassle of being in my 50s is that I’m ready to have more fun but I’m still in my career and it limits my ability to be gone for weeks at a time.

      I did drive Route 66 with my sons from IL to TX in 2013, which was great.

  3. Mark says:

    Great trip. The photos make the story work.
    How did you remember all the details, Road, shoulder, hills? Take notes during or have a better memory than I ever had?
    Do you take notes of camera settings when doing film?
    Enjoyed the original post also

    • I wrote this trip up almost immediately after I took it, while the memories were fresh. I copy/pasted almost all of the original post here to keep all those fresh memories alive!

  4. Kevin says:

    I got the chance to travel some of these same roads back in 2001. Drove from my then-home in South Carolina to visit IU-Bloomington, where I had applied to the MBA program. Most of my time spent in the Hoosier State up to that point was along Interstate 65 many years ago, and I remember it being pretty flat and featureless. However, I was amazed at how hilly and picturesque southern Indiana is. There were even commercial ski slopes scattered here and there along some of the backroads near Bloomington, which I was definitely not expecting. I didn’t wind up attending IU, but I have very good memories of that part of the country and would love to come back for a visit someday.

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