Whitewater Gorge/Cardinal Greenway Hike

The Cardinal Greenway is a pleasant hike through the Whitewater Gorge area and cityscape of Richmond, Indiana. A side trail that leads through Springwood Lake Park takes you to Thistlethwaite Falls, well known for Ordovician fossils.

Sep 30, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Key At-A-Glance Information

Length: 6.1 miles
Configuration: Point-to-point
Difficulty: Moderate
Scenery: Cityscape, forest, waterfall, Ordovician fossils, and West Fork of the East Fork Whitewater River
Exposure: Mostly shaded
Traffic: Moderate-heavy
Trail Surface: Paved, mowed, and soil
Hiking Time: 5 hours
Driving Distance: 1.5 hours northwest of Cincinnati
Season: Year-round
Access: Sunrise-sunset
Maps: USGS Richmond; Cardinal Greenway Trail
Wheelchair Accessible: The Cardinal Greenway Trail. Sections that lead off trail are not accessible.
Facilities: Water and restrooms at Springwood Lake Park
For More Information: Wayne County Cardinal Greenway via [email protected]
Special Comments: Take the side trail through Springwood Lake Park to incredible Thistlethwaite Falls.


The Cardinal Greenway Rail Trail is a rails-to-trails recreational pathway that, when completed, will cover 60 miles from Richmond to Marion, Indiana. The trail is paved and wide enough for a vehicle to access, although only foot or bicycle traffic is permitted. The out-and-back to Thistlethwaite Falls is partially paved, but not down to the falls.

A variety of outdoor enthusiasts use Cardinal Greenway Rail Trail, including bicyclists, walkers, stroller-pushing parents, and senior citizens. This hike is written as a point-topoint hike, so either plan for an out-and-back of 12.2 miles or have someone drop you off at the trailhead so you can hike to your car.

From the parking lot off Industries Road, head south to the trailhead. The trail is bordered by a split-rail fence. Immediately after entering the trail is a wetland area. On both sides of the trail, horsetail—also called bottle-brush and scouring rush—is abundant. The horsetail plant has long been used for sanding or scrubbing because of its stems’ high silica content. Want to see for yourself? Take a tarnished penny and rub a folded piece of horsetail around the face. With just a few passes, the penny will be shining.

Several portions of this trail are sponsored by different organizations that help maintain it. Some areas have a lot of honeysuckle growing up on both sides of the trail, along with a few locust trees. During this section of the hike, you’re most likely to hear the sounds of industry, but don’t fret: farther along, you’ll hear only the sounds of nature.

At 0.86 miles, take the trail that leads to the left, downhill, over a small bridge, and into Springwood Park. To get there, follow the road to the right toward Springwood Lake, which is well known for the variety of waterfowl and shorebirds that frequent it. Expect to see Canada geese, mallards, grebes, trumpeter swans, and blue herons, as well as kingfishers.

The lake is surrounded by bald cypress trees, which have feathery-looking leaves and produce knees—knobby roots poking up along the water’s edge. Continue on the road to the park’s entrance. Cross Waterfall Road and walk toward the chain-link fence. Follow the trail to the left toward the waterway.

Continue on the path down to the West Fork of the East Fork Whitewater River. As you get closer to the waterway, the incredible Thistlethwaite Falls becomes visible at 1.5 miles. This falls is created from the water eroding the Ordovician fossil-rich limestone and shale.

The falls are named after the Thistlethwaites, who in the mid-1800s built a dam; several mills, including lumber, grist, flour, and paper mills; and a lock to regulate the flow of water over the falls. The land near the falls is extremely rich in Ordovician fossils. Expect to see some incredible samples of horn coral, but don’t take any home, as fossil collecting is not permitted.

Do not follow the path for the Whitewater Gorge Trail along this watercourse. It’s not maintained, and in some areas is hazardous for even experienced hikers. Retrace your steps through Springwood Park and back to the paved trail at 2.2 miles. Turn left and continue on the trail.

Pass through an area with several tree-of-heaven trees. Their blooms are unmistakable, since they smell like stinky, sweaty socks. The trail crosses Waterfall Road at 2.5 miles. Continue on the path, and at 3.1 miles cross over the river via a concrete-and-steel bridge.

Pass a large parking lot, and over the next 0.4 miles, crisscross the river and road below via several bridges. At 3.8 miles you’ll reach the trailhead for Cardinal Greenway Rail Trail. Pass through the parking lot and continue to the bright-green trail marker. The narrow trail leads downhill to a memorial to Vietnam veterans.

Continue heading south with the river to your right. Walk around the substation to Johnson Street. Follow Johnson Street south to an old sidewalk and around to the old brick building that was once the gas company. Continue walking to East Main Street and cross the road to South 1st Street. Pass under US 40 and continue to the old Gennett Records building.

Whitewater River Valley Gorge Park is where Starr Piano Company and Gennett Records once thrived. This area was once home to several buildings that specialized in manufacturing pianos and records.

Here was the “Cradle of recorded jazz” that contributed to the creation of country, blues, and jazz music. Continue along the sidewalk embedded with several medallions of famous recording artists, including Hoagie Carmichael, Jelly Roll Morton, Gene Autry, and Louis Armstrong, who recorded under the Gennett label.

Continue on the sidewalk to the trail and boardwalk. At 4.7 miles, the trail passes over the river before entering the woods of dogwood, ash, sugar maple, and boxelder trees.

Pass the steps leading up to SW G Street at 4.9 miles and remain on the paved trail. Pass the access road at 5.1 miles with several large cottonwood trees near it.

Through the branches of ash, sugar maple, hackberry, red and white oak, and sycamore trees, you’ll see the river valley to the left of the trail. The hillside to the right has plenty of unique rock outcroppings, small streams, and small waterfalls. The side of the trail shows the characteristic layers of Ordovician shale and limestone. Enjoy a moment on one of the benches scattered along the trail. Whitewater Gorge Thistlethwaite Falls is rich in fossils such as horn coral.

Continue following the trail to the open area with picnic tables. A large boulder designates the dedication of the Whitewater Gorge Trail to the founding members of the Society for the Preservation of Resources, which worked to preserve the Whitewater Gorge for public use. The trail borders the woodline and ends in the parking area off Test Road.

GPS Trailhead Coordinates

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UTM Zone (WGS84) 16S
Easting 0678597.5
Northing 4414545.5
Latitude: N 39 degrees 51' 43.80"
Longitude: W 84 degrees 54' 43.14"

Nearby Activities

Shrader-Weaver Nature Preserve, Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary, and the Brookville Lake area offer plenty of hiking and outdoor activities. Well known as Antique Alley, Richmond also has plenty of shopping and dining choices. When you are in the area, I highly recommend dining at Welliver’s in nearby Hagerstown and delighting your sweet tooth at Abbott’s Candies.

Elevation Map

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