Spring Mill State Park is quite possibly the best park in Indiana. The park boasts great hiking trails, rich history, and fascinating caves. Both camping grounds and the Spring Mill Inn allow visitors to lodge while enjoying this amazing park.
I will admit it takes a lot to surprise me and my husband. We have visited a lot of Indiana state parks in the last several years. However, Spring Mill State Park blew us away!
Love history? Spring Mill State Park is the place for you! This park has a monument, cemetery, restored pioneer village, and a museum that highlights the career of pilot and astronaut, “Gus” Grissom!
But that’s not all! This park also has 5+ caves on the property!
Spring Mill State Park is truly a must-see!
List of All Indiana State Parks
- Brown County State Park– Best for Scenic Views
- Chain O’ Lakes State Park
- Charlestown State Park– Hosts Rose Island, the Abandoned Amusement Park
- Clifty Falls State Park
- Falls of the Ohio State Park
- Fort Harrison State Park
- Harmonie State Park
- Indiana Dunes State Park– Beautiful Beach, Camping, and Trails
- Lincoln State Park
- McCormick’s Creek State Park
- Mounds (Anderson) State Park– Great for Easy Hikes
- O’Bannon Woods State Park– Good for Scenic Views and History
- Ouabache State Park– Unique State Park with Bison
- Pokagon State Park
- Potato Creek State Park
- Prophetstown State Park
- Salamonie Lake Great for Boating(not a state park, but managed by the DNR)
- Shades State Park
- Shakamak State Park
- Spring Mill State Park– Great for History and Caves
- Summit Lake State Park
- Tippecanoe River State Park
- Turkey Run State Park– Best for Hiking
- Versailles State Park
- Whitewater Memorial State Park
What is the History at Spring Mill State Park?
Undeniably, Pioneer Village is a large part of what sets Spring Mill State Park apart from other parks. With the $7/carload admission to the park (for Indiana residents. $9 for out-of-state residents), guests can spend the day exploring this restored pioneer village, complete with a gristmill, leather shop, print shop, weaver, apothecary, mercantile, distillery, tavern, blacksmith, houses and more.
At various times throughout the year, the homes and shops are open for visitors to peruse. Please check their schedule for the open times. This would be a great opportunity to learn about life in the 1800s. Many of the shops are manned by knowledgeable volunteers eager to share.
Note: If you are looking for an interactive history experience and Spring Mill’s Pioneer Village is closed, check out Conner Prairie, a living history museum northeast of Indianapolis.
When open, visitors can get an inside look at the gristmill, which was once powered by water. Or they can view the displays available on the second floor of the museum. Upstairs, there are displays of cultural memorabilia from the 1800’s such as weaponry, shoes, glassware, quilting, metalwork, politics, and more.
The restored Pioneer Village alone is worth the visit to Spring Mill State Park!
Please Note: Dogs are allowed in all areas of Spring Mill except for the Pioneer Village. If you are hiking trail #4, a path wraps around the village. It starts/ends at the Butternut Shelter. Take that path if you need to get a dog around the back of Pioneer Village.
Grissom Memorial at Spring Mill State Park
Virgil Grissom (aka “Gus” Grissom) was born in 1926 in Mitchell, Indiana, the same town where Spring Mill State Park is located. His success as a fighter pilot for the US Air Force made him a prime candidate for space exploration. NASA chose Gus to be one of its first astronauts. Consequently, he was the second man in space.
Grissom Memorial at the entrance to Spring Mill State Park showcases Gus Grissom’s legacy. The museum is free with admission to the park. This is a must-see while at Spring Mill!
Hugh Hamer was the first Pioneer in the area and built the first gristmill, which was later reconstructed. He was laid to rest in the cemetery up on the hill that he created for those who passed away. Today, the cemetery is named after him.
George Donaldson, after which Donaldson Cave was named, settled in the area at Spring Mill west of pioneer village in the 1800s. He came from Scotland and always thought fondly of his fellow Scotsman, Alexander Wilson. Wilson came to America not a century before Donaldson and published popular research on ornithology. Donaldson revered Wilson so highly that he created a monument for him.
Caves at Spring Mill State Park
While visitors are restricted from exploring the caves without a permit or a registered guide accompanying them, visitors can still see most of these caves from a distance and get a guided tour if their trip is planned correctly.
Twin Cave Boat Tour
Visitors to the park can take a boat tour through the twin caves for only $3 per person! Tours are offered every half hour all summer long. The tour guides will point out rock formations and any animals they see.
We loved our boat tour through the upper twin cave! There were about 8 people on the boat. The tour guide shared facts with us for the entire 30 minutes. My husband sat in the very last seat, so he was in charge of one of the large flashlights. The tour guide had one at the front of the boat as well. Right before turning the boat around, they encouraged us to turn all lights off and experience complete darkness. It was so peaceful! And even the children seemed to enjoy themselves!
Pro Tip: At this time, twin cave tours cannot be reserved online. Instead, visitors must reserve their tour upon arrival. On busy weekends (especially when reenactments are going on), those wishing to tour the cave will need to arrive at 9:15am or soon after. We arrived at 10:15am one time and they turned us away. Fortunately, once they realized we were a group of only two people, they retracted their comment and said they had one boat that wasn’t completely full yet. Arrive early or you will not get a tour time!
Donaldson Cave is a river cave. The river has carved its way through the rock to form the cave. Water flows out of the mouth of the cave on the north side. Take Trail #4 to view the mouth of the cave and river.
Today, there is a wonderful bridge that actually goes into the mouth of the cave, allowing visitors a chance to truly experience the cave! I highly suggest hikers take trail #4 and check out Donaldson Cave!
Just south of Pioneer Village along Mill Creek between Trail 4 and the stagecoach trail is Hamer Cave. There is a short trail that will get you close to the cave, but we still couldn’t see the entrance of the cave. However, we were able to view the engineering used to dam and direct the water down the pipes that carried it to the mill. Later on, we did see the entrance to Hamer Cave on Trail 4 at the very top of the steep hill headed away from Pioneer Village.
Other Activities at Spring Mill State Park
Spring Mill State Park also offers canoe rentals and a nature center near Spring Mill Lake. The lake is small but relaxing.
Cave enthusiasts may enjoy Cave River Valley managed by the state park. It’s located 15 miles from the park and requires permits or a guided tour to explore the caves. Plan accordingly.
Lodging at Spring Mill State Park
Those wishing to stay at the park can enjoy the campground located on the east side of the park or the Inn, located in the middle of the park. The Spring Mill Inn provides a restaurant and pool for guests to enjoy. Hiking Trails 1 and 3 can be accessed from the Inn as well.
Note: At the moment, Spring Mill Inn is closed for construction. You will not be able to make reservations or park at the Inn during this time.
Another state park with a great inn is Brown County State Park.
How Do You Suggest Exploring the Park?
I suggest parking at the Inn or the parking lot by Sycamore Shelter and taking trail #4. (Note: as mentioned above, the Spring Mill Inn is currently under construction, so you will not be able to park there.)
When we visited, we started at the Inn, hiked a bit of trail #3, and then hopped on Trail 4 and headed east. At the time, we didn’t realize that hiking in that direction meant we got to go down the steep staircase instead of up! While we had to climb a steep hill later on, I would much prefer a hill to a staircase straight up!
We saw Donaldson Cave first, then the Wilson Memorial. Then, we hiked along the water (which our dog loved!) before reaching the Sycamore Shelter. Because it was Memorial Day Weekend, we got the added benefit of a Civil War reenactment on the lawns by the shelter! Next, we came upon the Pioneer Village and, later, Hamer Cemetery.
By following trail #4, you’ll see most of the interesting parts of Spring Mill State Park. The attractions not on trail #4 include… The Grissom Memorial (which is easily accessible from the entrance of the park) and the twin caves (which will require a very short drive or walk south).
Anything to Note for Those (Like Me!) with Food Restrictions (Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free)?
Unfortunately, this park and surrounding areas do not seem to have any options for those with food restrictions. We found only three restaurants in the area, all fast food.
In Bedford further north, the restaurant options increase, but the list of those that serve dairy-free and gluten-free options does not.
Prepare to bring your own food if you plan to stay in the area for a while.
• Water Shoes- there are several places you may want to wade in the water or go creek stomping
• Jacket- The cave tours will be chilly!
• Notebook- There is so much to learn at Spring Mill! If you are homeschooling your children, you may want to bring something for them to take notes on, especially at the Pioneer Village!
Spring Mill State Park Is Worth the Drive!
I cannot say enough good things about this park. Spring Mill State Park is worth the drive from Indianapolis and even more so worth the drive from Louisville. And, if you’re driving through the state on a cross-country trip, Spring Mill is a great place to stop! This park offers history that is unparalleled to any other state park in Indiana. And for any geology buff, the caves just make it all the better!