Revised June 4, 2001
Leota Trailhead to Hollow
mile 28, doubled back, March 26, 2000
Leota Trailhead to Mile Marker 21, doubled back, June 4, 2000
Trailhead is located about five miles from Scottsburg. Begin by
west on Indiana State Route 56 towards Salem from exit 29 of Interstate
65. Don't be fooled by an advertising sign for the Leota General
Store at a crossroad after about three miles, but go one mile more,
a campground on the left, to another crossroad where you should turn
(The Stucker Fork water tower is to the right.) Go 1.1 miles south on
road, past a church on the right, before coming to a side road where
should turn right. (NOTE: The official KT guide says to turn
the road straight ahead becomes gravel -- that is NO LONGER TRUE as it
has been paved.)
Continue 1.2 miles on this road to a T intersection with paved Leota Road, then turn right, and proceed 1.3 miles ending at the top of a hill. Turn right on a gravel road and right almost immediately again onto the trailhead parking access road.
If you are coming from the south, a shorter route is to take Interstate 65 to exit 19 east, turn left on US 31 north, and proceed about seven miles to a point where Indiana SR 356 turns right. You should turn LEFT at that point, putting you on Leota Road which will take you directly to the trailhead.
For our first and only early spring hike of 2000, Dad had planned to continue from Leota back to mile 21, as far as we had gotten northward in the North Branch Valley. We drove down Saturday morning, but wasted about an hour driving in circles around the Leota area, making all the driving mistakes against which we caution above. By the time we found the trailhead, it was well after 2:00 in the afternoon, not a good time to start what might be a close to four hour hike in late March. After all, they call them day hikes, not night hikes.
So we returned to hike the following morning, and in a second concession, chose the shorter and seemingly easier leg from Leota, 3.2 miles each way to mile marker 28. The trail started with a moderate downhill, passing mile marker 25 quickly. In addition to the obligatory mile marker photo, Dad also took a photo of an unusual wildflower that had already begun to bloom in late March.
Doesn't it always irk you when a major drop barely flattens out before starting to rise again? Right about Mile 25 this happens, but it's not much of a rise, so most of the remaining distance to mile 26 is flat. Then it's time to climb Vic Swain Hill, with the top near mile 26.2. We dropped again into a hollow, then climbed again around mile 27, dropped and climbed once more, then descended yet another time.
Even though Dad had intended to go to mile 28, we were all getting tired, starting to worry that mile marker 28 might be missing, and even he wasn't all that passionate about climbing uphill again out of the hollow for what he insisted was the last few hundredths of a mile. (He even scanned the trail as it ascended the hillside looking for the "imminent" marker, but didn't see it.) So we stopped for lunch at the stream, since it formed a great natural landmark to identify this place when we would hike back to it in the future from Elk Creek.
After lunch, Maria took off on her own two feet, doing well on the first climb and drop but then she started balking when we started to climb the next one. We know she made it as far as mile 27 because we have a photo, but that must have been about it. Dad carried her for the remaining 2.2 miles including climbing Vic Swain Hill and also climbing up to the trailhead level. Doesn't it irk you when the trailhead is on a ridgetop, so that no matter which direction you hike, your trip ends going uphill to the car?
Our next KT hike took place in late spring or early summer, on June 4, 2000. In addition to connecting the "missing link" from Leota down to the North Branch Valley, it also served as our final hiking tuneup before our late June vacation in northern Michigan. Like the previous trip, we had some driving confusion en route which delayed us just enough to push the trip from Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning.
Beginning at the Leota trailhead, this time we hiked in the direction that crossed Leota Road and began to steeply descend toward mile 24. And yes, right after getting to the bottom we starting climbing back uphill to get to the mile 24 marker. Fortunately, the hike leveled out after this -- first staying mostly along the ridge well past mile 23. Then it dropped somewhat into a stream bottom around mile 22.5, rose over the final portion of the ridge, and dropped past mile marker 22 to reach the North Branch Valley.
The official KT guide describes this section as possibly the most scenic along the trail. It was pleasant to have flat hiking, and the variety of plants and other scenery along the stream was a change from most sections of the trail we'd hiked to that point. Incidentally, the name refers to the North Branch of Big Ox Creek. The hollow we had crossed near mile 22.5 is one of the side branches of Little Ox Creek, while the stream crossing near mile 16.9 -- complete with log bridge -- traverses the South Branch of Big Ox Creek.
Two detriments to this segment -- it's one of the muddier segments along the KT, and as we determined after stopping for lunch on a log near the mile 21 turnaround point, it's quite tick infested at least when we hiked it in early June. Dad started picking ticks off Mom's clothes as soon as she stood up from lunch.
Maria hiked back on her own feet at least one mile, since we have a photo of her at mile marker 22. After that, Dad carried her up and down and up again. We were still picking off ticks when we returned to the car.
Hungry after the 7.6 mile roundtrip, we stopped in Bloomington and had dinner at Tortilla Flat Mexican restaurant. Normally, having a tick fall off you onto your menu is not a good conversation starter with your server. When this happened to Mom, we ended up finding out that our server Becca not only knew what the KT was, but had actually through hiked it the previous year in preparation for a lengthy through hike of part of the Appalachian Trail.
MARIA'S HIKING ON HER
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