Beautiful Free Camping in Indiana
Deep in the Hoosier National Forest, less than one mile in from highway 446 and just a short drive from downtown Bloomington, Indiana is the Charles C. Deam Wilderness area that’s full of free camping. The Blackwell Horsecamp is where we ended up parking our RV for a week of quiet wild camping (or at least that’s what we thought). It’s a beautiful wilderness area that was dedicated in 1982 and encompasses almost 13,000 acres of National Forest Land.
We pulled into camp on Wednesday May 21st (just before Memorial Day) and there was only one lone tent setup way off in the corner. The torrential downpour that happened later that evening left us all alone for the night and most of Thursday.
A few people trickled in on Thursday night, several more on Friday, and by Saturday morning the Memorial Day weekend had kicked off in full force. There were RVs everywhere, kids running wildly chasing dogs, and hundreds of horses…it is technically a horse camp after all so it caters to equestrian users.
What’s interesting is this National Forest campground is completely free, yet the area is mowed regularly, there are multiple pit toilets, 37 miles of hiking and horse trails and a giant dumpster (which is extremely rare for free camping)! Just a short walk (or a horse ride) from the campground is a small pond and an 1890’s log cabin that’s pretty cool to check out too.
At the campground there are literally hundreds of spots to park, several horse corrals, hitching posts and a mounting ramp for those who can’t get on top of their horse without a little boost. A Permit is required to ride horses on the trails, it’s not expensive, but some chose not to pay and we did see rangers giving out tickets to those who thought the rules didn’t apply to them.
By Monday afternoon most people had left and on Tuesday we were all alone again.
Hunting is allowed in the National Forest so make sure you check the local hunting dates, rules and regulations. We’ve been told to wear “Blaze Orange” and “Do NOT under any circumstances wear White!”. I think we’ll keep out of this area when the hunters come.
For a little thrill, take short drive or hike to the Fire Tower. We’ve hiked up several towers over the years but most are made of strong, sold wood, so this slightly shaky climb was pretty exciting in the strong winds of Indiana. We had the entire view to ourselves; surprising considering it was such a busy weekend.
Unfortunately all the lakeside beaches were closed due to high water in Lake Monroe. The high water also shut down the hiking trails along the water. And with all the horses from Memorial Day we surely didn’t want to walk the land mine (poop) laden hiking/horse trails. We did manage to find some other non horse hikes just a short drive down the road and decided to take the four mile round trip Terill Ridge trail. We were hoping for some cool ridgeline lakeview…but the trail ends in a cemetery without any sight of a “ridge” as the name suggests. Cool in its own right with the ancient headstones, but not the payoff we were hoping for. Oh well, at least we got some exercise.
Our solar fared well but we were happy to have the auto gen start that kept our batteries topped up at night after the few cloudy days (This is actually the location we filmed our Solar Flex video).
Fair Warning: We did pick up a few “hitchhikers” on the trails so be careful and do your daily tick check. The late may weather was absolutely beautiful for three of the days, it rained like hell on one day, and our last days were brutally hot and humid.
Overall the campground was nice, the horse people were friendly and the town of Bloomington was worth a visit. Will we make it back? Who knows! One things for sure: we won’t be visiting in Summer cause it’s HOT AS HADES up there.
Have you stayed at a horse camp before? Do you have any crazy Memorial Day campground stories? Share in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you.