About Upper Cataract Falls
Upper Cataract Falls was one of two waterfalls on Mill Creek in the Cataract Falls State Recreation Area west of Indianapolis (apparently, it used to be part of the Lieber State Recreation Area).
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 Upper Cataract Falls existed at all seemed like a miracle in itself.
Formation of the Upper Cataract Falls
A sign here chronicled the geologic process behind the formation of the Cataract Falls.
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.
This 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.
This process revealed the harder underlying limestone layers, which the water would flow over to become the Upper and Lower Cataract Falls.
Experiencing the Upper Cataract Falls
The large parking lot was 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 from there as well as its smaller upper tiers as there were a pair of overlooks.
Upstream from the brink of the falls was an attractive covered bridge with picnic tables inside it.
On the north side of the parking lot was a picnic area as well as a playground, which our daughter very much enjoyed.
Meanwhile, I pursued other ways to check out this waterfall by following an informal trail of use that went into the bush alongside Mill Creek further downstream.
After a fairly obvious trail that descended steeply to the banks of Mill Creek, I then scrambled my way upstream to return to the Upper Cataract Falls.
Once I got in front of it, that was when I got more satisfying direct views as shown at the top of this page.
Given the steepness of the gorge walls, it wasn’t wise to try to take a shortcut to get back up to the parking lot directly.
Instead, I just played it safe and went back the way I came.
Finally, even though we technically didn’t need to do the scramble to see the waterfall from its base (resulting in a difficulty of 1 without it), I thought that the experience would be more fulfilling to get that frontal view of the falls.
So my overall excursion took about 40 minutes, which included the scramble to the base of the falls and back (more fitting of a difficulty of 2).
Upper Cataract Falls resides in Lieber and Cataract Falls State Recreation Area near Cloverdale in Owen County, Indiana. It is administered by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
To drive to Upper Cataract Falls 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 parking lot 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.
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