story and photography by Mitchell Steckler[Indiana Motorcycle Touring: Hoosier National Forest was originally published as a Favorite Ride in the November 2008 issue of Rider magazine]
I awoke to a beautiful summer morning, a motorcyclist’s dream: blue sky, 82 degrees and a weekend of freedom. Many other riders must have had the same idea, as I’ve been riding the roads of southern Indiana for 15 years and have seldom seen such a great number of motorcycles. It seemed that every registered bike in the state was out on the road this weekend, taking advantage of the weather.
Indiana is often overlooked as a scenic riding area, but the southern part of the state in particular, with its lush forests and rolling hills, provides scenic views and twisting roads for the motorcycle enthusiast. I grew up in Knox County, and as a lifelong Hoosier can proudly say that Indiana boasts some of the best riding in the Midwest. A point worth mentioning is the legendary “Hoosier Hospitality” that one experiences along the way. Almost without exception the people of Indiana are friendly, helpful and treat motorcyclists with respect.
This journey began on the south side of Indianapolis with my road of choice, State Road 135, well traveled by motorcyclists. On this particular day it was fairly busy with riders enjoying their day off. SR 135 is a popular route south because it traverses the Hoosier National Forest. After about 35 miles I came to the tiny hamlet of Beanblossom, which for years has been the site of an enormous bike rally called the Beanblossom Biketoberfest in July. I have attended this rally a couple of times, and can attest to its free-spirited, anything-goes atmosphere. Let’s just say it’s not a place you’d take your mother, but it’s a great way to spend a few days with motorcycling friends.
SR 135 also provides a direct shot to Nashville, Indiana, a little town that takes on hundreds of tourists on a slow day, or thousands on a busy day. There are many restaurants, shops, museums and social events here. Brown County State Park (just south of Nashville) also attracts visitors, especially during the fall when the colors are so prominent. On this particular day the streets and sidewalks were very busy, and parking was at a premium. Not wanting to waste a great day’s ride being a tourist, I had a fine lunch at a pub called “Speakeasy” and pointed my Harley Softail south.
You don’t have to travel far from Nashville before you reach the tiny town of Story. It was founded in 1851 with a grant of land patent from President Millard Fillmore to Dr. George Story. It was a thriving settlement until the Great Depression forced an evacuation of nearly all residents. One of the few remaining structures is the Story Inn, which offers fine dining, catering and lodging. Legend has it that a ghost called “The Blue Lady” still inhabits the Inn, and occasionally pays a visit to employees and guests.
The next 20 miles took me through the northern part of the Hoosier National Forest, where dense woods and sweeping curves made this part of the trip rewarding. Next I rode through the heart of southern Indiana farm country and stopped for the night in Corydon, just south of Interstate 64. Indiana became a state in 1816, and Corydon was chosen as its first capital. Just two years later the capital was moved to Indianapolis; the old state capital still sits proudly in Corydon’s downtown area.
Corydon was also the site of Indiana’s only Civil War battle when on July 9, 1863, a group of 2,400 Confederate soldiers led by General John Hunt Morgan raided the town. The raid was in defiance of General Braxton Bragg’s orders that his troops were not to cross the Ohio River. The rebels succeeded in taking the town, but were later captured near New Lisbon, Ohio.
After securing lodging at one of the four hotels near I-64, I had dinner and took an evening ride to the river. SR 135 continues south out of Corydon and leads into Kentucky, but not before crossing the bridge at the Ohio River. It was a beautiful evening on which I witnessed a setting sun west of the bridge at Mauckport, then after a close call with a deer in my headlight I returned to my room. Indiana has an exploding deer population, and some nights it seems they are all conspiring to sacrifice themselves in front of my bike.
The following morning, after a complimentary breakfast of biscuits and gravy (which would have made an excellent wallpaper paste), I took SR 62 west. This road is one of the most scenic in the state, and it seems to have been designed with motorcyclists in mind. It provides great views and gently sweeping turns for nearly all of its 30 miles that I rode that morning.
This part of the state is renowned for its many caverns, including Wyandotte Caves. There you can take guided walking tours where you’ll remain upright and clean, or travel through unlit parts of the cavern using helmet-mounted petzl lights as you walk or crawl through winding dark passages.
Leavenworth is one of the towns on this route, and is located on a bend in the Ohio River. Several areas in the town offer a spectacular view of the river.
I turned north on SR 145 and for the next 25 miles enjoyed a great road with almost no traffic. This road crosses the sprawling Patoka Lake, which this day was full of fishermen and recreational boats. SR 145 terminates in the town of French Lick, which most Hoosiers know as the hometown of basketball legend Larry Bird, and of the French Lick Springs Hotel. The hotel has had a myriad of owners in the last 40 years, and the newest owner has added a grand casino adjacent the hotel. The locals hope that the casino and the dollars it will bring in will spur growth for the community. I talked with a local man named Max who had spent his entire life in French Lick. He was a wealth of information about the history and the changes taking place there.
I zigzagged my way north, taking advantage of the roads less traveled. SR 37 would be the most direct route north, but for most of its way it’s a busy four-lane highway. I picked up U.S. 150 a few miles north of French Lick and made my way toward Shoals. This road is a motorcyclist’s paradise with very little traffic. It winds through the forest in a very inviting way, and fast or slow this stretch, in and of itself, made the trip worthwhile.
From Shoals I took U.S. 50 through Bedford to SR 446, a very pleasant ride that takes you across Lake Monroe. I then picked up SR 46 in Bloomington and headed east back to SR 135. About this time Mother Nature was telling me enough was enough as the clouds were rolling in and I was treated to an unexpected shower. Everywhere I looked, motorcycle riders were heading for shelter. Although rain had not been in the forecast, I felt I’d been treated with excellent riding weather for a day and a half. I headed home before the heavy stuff really started to fall. Nice ride! Indiana—you never fail to impress.