Upper Cataract Falls

Indianapolis / Cloverdale, Indiana, USA

About Upper Cataract Falls


Hiking Distance: 1/2-mile round trip (to base)
Suggested Time: 40 minutes; scramble (to base)

Date first visited: 2015-10-05
Date last visited: 2015-10-05

Waterfall Latitude: 39.43466
Waterfall Longitude: -86.81322

Upper Cataract Falls was one of two waterfalls on Mill Creek in the Cataract Falls State Recreation Area (apparently it used to be part of the Lieber State Recreation Area) west of Indianapolis. This seemed to be the only significant year-round waterfall in the state of Indiana, and it was also said to be the largest waterfall by volume in the state. There was another waterfall further downstream though it wasn’t as easily accessible by foot from the Upper Falls. It seemed like the Upper Falls was the bigger of the two waterfalls at a reported total drop of 20ft though if you include the rapids and man-modified tiers further upstream, then we’ve seen claims of 45ft in total.

In a state that seemed to be dominated by flat cornfields, the fact that there was this waterfall at all seemed like a miracle in itself. A sign here chronicled the geologic process behind the formation of the waterfalls. It started with a layer of calcium-rich minerals (from sea life) settling on the ocean floor as this area was once covered by ocean. The calcium sediments would become limestone from the pressure of more layers accumulating atop the calcium sediments. Then, during the most recent Ice Age, vast glaciers (most likely the same ones responsible for the Great Lakes) blocked the flow of the drainage of what would eventually become Mill Creek, which resulted in sediments accumulating above the harder limestone layer. Then, as the glaciers retreated, the Mill Creek drainage resumed its flow ultimately cutting into the softer sediments, revealing the harder underlying limestone layers below, which the water would flow over to become the Upper and Lower Cataract Falls.

From the large car park practically next to the side rails adjacent to the Upper Cataract Falls (see directions below), we were able to enjoy profile views of the wide waterfall as well as its smaller upper tiers from a pair of overlooks. Upstream from the brink of the falls was an attractive covered bridge with picnic tables inside it. And on the north side of the car park was a picnic area as well as a playground, which our daughter very much enjoyed. While Julie and Tahia were busy chilling out around the car park of the Upper Falls, I found an informal trail of use that went into the bush alongside Mill Creek further downstream of the falls. After a fairly obvious trail descending steeply to the banks of Mill Creek at the bottom of the gorge, I was then able to scramble back upstream to get a more satisfyingly direct view of the Upper Cataract Falls as shown at the top of this page. Given the steepness of the gorge walls, it was not wise to try to take shortcuts to get to the bottom of the falls from the car park.

Even though we technically didn’t have to do the scramble to see the waterfall (which would’ve yielded a difficulty rating of 1), I thought that the experience would be more fulfilling getting that frontal view of the falls. So my overall excursion, which included the scramble to the base of the falls and back took me about 40 minutes (more fitting of a difficulty of 2). Julie and Tahia didn’t do it as that scramble was a bit on the rougher side though given the low flow of Mill Creek during our visit, I’m sure they could’ve done it with care if they wanted to.

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From downtown Indianapolis, we drove the I-70 west for about 38 miles to the exit 41 for the US Hwy 231 at Cloverdale. Turning left to go south on the US 231, we then drove for just under 7 miles to N Cataract Rd on our right (there was a sign indicating Cataract Falls SRA pointing in this direction). Then, we drove on North Cataract Rd for a little over 3 miles to the well-signed turnoff leading to the Cataract Falls State Recreation Area just past the bridge over Mill Creek.

There was an entrance kiosk where there was a $9 non-resident fee during our visit. Beyond the kiosk, there was a fork, where the sign pointed left for the Lower Cataract Falls and right for the Upper Cataract Falls. The large car park was pretty much adjacent to this signposted fork. Overall, this drive took us about an hour.

For geographical context, Indianapolis, Indiana, was 112 miles (2 hours drive) northwest of Cincinnati, Ohio, 176 miles (over 2.5 hours drive) west of Columbus, Ohio, 185 miles (under 3 hours drive) southeast of Chicago, Illinois, 113 miles (2 hours drive) north of Louisville, Kentucky, and 260 miles (under 4 hours drive) east of St Louis, Missouri.

Movie showing the upper falls and additional tiers from a couple of different lookouts while also showing the covered bridge way upstream


Short right to left sweep starting with a left-to-right sweep of the upper falls from its front then sweeping all the way downstream to show the context of the gorge and river

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Tagged with: indianapolis, cloverdale, indiana, waterfall, owen county, lieber, mill creek, state recreation area

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