Drift through Sugar Creek

  • Parke County
  • See four covered bridges
  • Rental kayaks and canoes available
  • One hour or overnight

Through canyons of striated sandstone carved hundreds of centuries ago and past copses of towering woods, I drift along the wide and slow moving Sugar Creek as it winds through Turkey Run and Shades state parks.

As pretty as the woodlands and rock formations are, what makes this kayak journey so spectacular is the chance to see four of the covered bridges of Parke County—Jackson, Cox Ford, Narrows and Deem Mill– from a differing perspective. For years I have traveled the scenic roads of Parke County, known as the Covered Bridge Capitol of the Midwest, savoring the views of its 31 bridges (and two grist mills as well) during all the seasons. But though I’ve driven across some and walked to the middle of others to gaze at the creeks flowing beneath, traveling Sugar Creek is a unique way to appreciate these historic structures built between 1856 and 1922.

With the clear waters rippling softly over slabs of rock settled on the sandy bottom and eddying into undercuts of stone, I approach each bridge silently, the only sounds are my paddle dipping into the water, the songs of birds and the rustle of animals as they forage on the shore.

With a turn, a bridge appears, its reflection appearing in the water and as I pass underneath, I look up at a structure which has stood sentinel for more than a century. It’s a view only afforded to those on the water and provided by (if you don’t have your own) rental companies such as Sugar Valley and Turkey Run canoe trips which offer tubes, canoes and kayaks for a gentle float down what was called “Pun-go-se-co-ne,” the Piankeshaw Indian term for the romantic sounding “Water of Many Sugar Trees.” The Plankeshaw were members of Miami who lived separately from the Miami Nation in Western Indiana and it’s easy to think of how this land, in so many ways, remains similar to what they once knew. Indeed, so ancient is this territory that even wooden bridges built more 150 years ago seem somewhat new. Paddlers can choose the length of their trips from an hour to overnight and there are camping spots along the way. But no matter how short or long the trip, it is a way to travel through the history of Parke County.

Story by Jane Ammeson