The Ohio River Scenic Route
in Southern Indiana
Graced with exceptional natural beauty, the 981-mile Ohio river winds its way through six states and has had an enormous impact on our nation's history
Prehistoric peoples built towns along its shores and transported exotic materials and ceremonial items up and down the River. The Ohio was the primary way west for early settlers of the frontier. Later, with the coming of the steamboat, it became the center of the transportation and industrial revolution. Prior to the Civil War, the River had great significance as the boundary between slaves and free states, and a great deal of activity took place along the Ohio to help African-Americans find safe passage to the North. In this century, the Ohio River is used to transport the region's coal to a series of coal-fired generating plants located throughout the Ohio Valley, and is also widely used for outdoor recreational activities.
Became a National Scenic Byway in 1997, the Ohio River Scenic Route is the link that ties together this story in southern Indiana. At times hugging the river itself, the Route twists and turns its way past cypress swamps and scenic overlooks, archaeological sites and stately mansions, power plants and caves. You can visit a fascinating steamboat museum, then drive a few miles downriver to a buffalo farm, where the entire family will learn how the buffalo cut a path across southern Indiana which later served as a roadway for early settlers.
While enjoying a leisurely and scenic drive along the Route, you will discover how we, as Americans, have shaped our country. Natural sites such as state parks, caves and lakes provide outdoor recreation opportunities while telling the story of the challenges faced by early settlers as they tried to tame the land. Historic buildings and museums trace the settlement and development of the Ohio Valley from prehistoric times to the present. Experience the unique character of southern Indiana at special events and festivals such as Native American Days, the Swiss Wine Festival, Steamboat Days, and the Buffalo Festival.
The Ohio River Scenic Route reflects the attachment to traditional rural and small-town life that southern Indiana residents value. The landscape along the Route provides a pleasant escape from the sameness of today's suburban growth, while the historic architecture lends a charm and grace missing from modern strip development. As a traveler of the Route, you will enjoy agricultural countryside with well-kept barns, vineyards and orchards; vistas of rural villages dominated by church spires and historic courthouses; and thriving cities with imposing architecture.
Tucked away in the very toe of southwestern Indiana is something you would expect to find only in our southern states: cypress swamps, complete with water lilies and rare birds. You can fish or just drift along lazily in a boat at Hovey Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area, a 4,300-acre wetland. Adjoining the lake is Twin Swamps Nature Preserve, the highest quality cypress swamp in Indiana.
Along the Ohio River Scenic Route, remnants from distinct periods of history and prehistory can often be found right next to each other. Located on a spot favored by prehistoric Indians as well as American settlers, Evansville contains Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve, a 200-acre stand of virgin timber right in the middle of a city; Angel Mounds State Historic Site, site of a prehistoric Indian town; the late 19th century Reitz Home mansion; the Evansville Museum of Arts & Science with its exhibits on River transportation; and the Evansville Brewing Company, founded in 1894 and still in operation. The largest city in southern Indiana, Evansville remains the cultural center of the area, offering outstanding theatrical and musical performances on a regular basis.
Just minutes from the city of Evansville is the quaint town of Newburgh. Once a large commercial port between Cincinnati and New Orleans, Newburgh now offers a variety of unique shopping and dining opportunities in its downtown historic district overlooking the Ohio River.
The case which best typifies the frontier experience in Indiana, and even in America, is that of Abraham Lincoln's family. Motivated to cross the Ohio from Kentucky by the absence of slavery and the system of orderly distribution of land in Indiana, the Lincoln family built a farmstead along Little Pigeon Creek, not far from the Ohio River. At Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, you can see and even help with the daily chores that Abe and his family performed on the Indiana frontier. Log farm buildings are staffed during the summer months by costumed interpreters who will let you try your hand at breaking flax, splitting wood, or making butter. Across the road at Lincoln State Park, the musical drama "Young Abe Lincoln" recreates Lincoln's youth in a wooded natural setting much like what existed here in his day.
If you've always wanted to experience the dense forest that early settlers found here, spend some time in the Hoosier National Forest. The 80,000 acres of forest along the route featured four lakes, scenic drives, river overlooks, and Ohio River access sites. There are plenty of opportunities for camping, fishing, hiking, swimming, horseback riding, or just enjoying the shade and scenery.
The most ruggedly scenic part of the Ohio River Scenic Route features rock outcroppings, forested hills, caves and scenic waterways. Harrison-Crawford State Forest includes Wyandotte Woods, with its breathtaking natural escarpments overlooking the Ohio River, and Wyandotte Caves, where visitors can tour the caverns used by prehistoric people for chert mining. Passing through the Harrison-Crawford State Forest on its way to the Ohio, the Scenic Blue River is noted for its clear color, limestone bluffs dotted with cave entrances, and abundant wildlife.
One of the most progressive of its day, the Indiana State Constitution was drafted at Corydon in 1816. Corydon Capitol State Historic Site preserves the state's first capitol building, constructed of Indiana limestone, as well as other buildings associated with early government in the territory and state of Indiana.
The Falls of the Ohio, caused by the river flowing over an exposed fossil reef, was the only persistent impediment to travel and commerce along its entire length. Portaging around the Falls and the cutting of the Portland Canal in the 1830's, gave rise to the cities of New Albany, Clarksville and Jeffersonville in Indiana and Louisville in Kentucky. The Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site in New Albany preserves a 22 room French Second Empire home built in 1869 by one merchant whose wealth derived from the location. The Howard Steamboat Museum in Jeffersonville is housed in the mansion of the founder of the largest inland shipyard in the United States. It depicts the fascinating history of riverboats and their construction. The volume of boatbuilding and shipping here, led to the stabilization of the rest of the river by the locks and dams of this century.
The Falls of the Ohio State Park was recently created, though it was long recognized by scientists as a unique geological area -- a former obstacle to travel is now a place for educating the public about the natural and cultural history of the falls.
The town of Madison prospered in the early 19th century as the major riverport, railway center, and supply town outfitting pioneers moving into the old northwest. Today visitors can enjoy Madison's scenic riverfront, antiques shops and rich architectural heritage. Lanier Mansion State Historic Site is a Greek Revival home designed by architect Francis Costigan, who also designed other historic homes in Madison. At the Early American Trades Museum, visitors can view demonstrations of wheelwrighting, carpentry, blacksmithing and other trades common in a 19th century community. Just down the road, Clifty Falls State Park is known for its rugged gorges and rocky waterfalls.
Vevay (pronounced "Veevy") was settled in 1802 by French-speaking Swiss, who transformed Indiana Territory wilderness into the first commercial vineyards and winery in the United States. Swiss heritage is evident in local architecture -- from pioneer era to the modern Ogle Haus Inn.
A trolley tour of Rising Sun is the perfect way to discover history, shop for antiques and enjoy the scenery. Rising Sun's 1846 courthouse is the oldest in continuous operation in Indiana.
The most unusual of the area's river mansions is Hillforest Mansion in Aurora, built by industrialist and financier Thomas Gaff in the 1850's. Because shipping and riverboats were significant elements of the Gaff business they are reflected in the architecture of the house. Other attractions in the Lawrenceburg area include Chateau Pomije Winery, offering tours and fine dining; Perfect North Slopes with its 25 acres for ski fun during the winter; and Seagram Distillers, providing tours by appointment.
Ohio River Scenic Route in Southern Indiana (MAP)
The Ohio River Scenic Route at Scenic Byways