The Knobstone Trail, part one. The trail, the plan, the prep

Part one
The trail, the plan and the prep


I can pretend it’s a thru hike. It’s just a wee little one, relatively speaking. The Knobstone Trail is 58 miles in total, but if hiked straight from one end to the other it’s 45.5 miles. The other 12.5 miles are part of two loops at the north end of the trail, making a figure-8 shape. The amazing thing about this trail is the elevation change. It’s a series of ups and downs – steep ups and downs – that add up to a whopping 11,000 feet in elevation gain. That is not a typo. Yeah, it’s southern Indiana, but don’t be deceived. There are some serious hills and bluffs. And they aren’t easy.

The Knobstone Trail has been called “The Little AT (Appalachian Trail)” due to its similarities with the long trail. The terrain, in particular. I imagine the forested scenery might have something to do with that, too, but I have yet to hike the AT, so my personal comparison will have to come later. I’ve read this trail is actually a great trainer for the AT, so when the time comes – and it will – I’ll give the Knobstone Trail another visit. Maybe I’ll yo-yo it! Man, that sounds awesome!


That's one crazy elevation profile!

I started planning this trip months ago, and from the start, I wanted to accomplish a few specific things. First, I wanted to go alone. I enjoy social hiking with friends – a lot. But I really wanted to gain some more experience hiking solo so that I can really push myself. Or hold back. Or whatever I feel like doing at that moment. But mostly push. I really miss my long, crazy overnighters on the Ice Age Trail back home. I really enjoyed this solo experience, and I will most definitely be doing more of it.


Water drop. Duct tape is to know it hasn't been tampered with by people or critters. And ETA written in marker so others know to leave it be. Oh, and yes - I carried the empties out. Please never leave empties or partially full jugs behind. Ugh. So many people did. It was sad to see.

Second, as you already know, I wanted to challenge myself. I was hoping for a tough trail, and the Knobstone delivered. It’s been said that it’s the toughest trail in the midwest. From the trails I’ve hiked around the midwest so far, I agree. The hills really are insanely steep up and down. Going up burns your quads and lungs, and going down stresses the feet, ankles and shins. Over and over and over again. I got so sweaty at times that my long-sleeved hiking shirt was soaked through entirely. These are the sort of things I love about backpacking, though. I came into camp each night exhausted with the biggest smile on my face!

And last, I wanted to hike the trail from one end to the other. Like a thru-hike. It’s short, but it’s all that I have time for these days. So it’s my own little mini thru-hike. I’ll take what I can get! I hiked the 45.5 miles starting on the south end at the Deam Lake Recreation area, ending at the Delaney Lake campground. The first day I hiked 11 trail miles, but 14 in total due to a funny misfire at the start, which I’ll mention in part two, about the hike. Day two I hiked 14 miles, day three totaled 15 miles, and the last day was a short, but gorgeous 5.5 miles to finish up the trip. I felt pretty happy with those miles, considering I hadn’t done a lot of hiking this summer, at all. Thank you, dear legs, feet and lungs. You rock.

To prep for this trip, I first bought the guide book and maps, and read. I made the decision to hike north, and where to drop two water caches. The Knobstone Trail crosses stream beds a billion times, but all are bone dry – at least this late in the season. There are four lakes. At the south end is Deam Lake, then 32 miles north is Elk Creek Lake, about 10 more miles north is Spurgeon Hollow Lake, and finally, Delaney Lake at the north end. There were a few mucky ponds along the route, but I wouldn’t drink from them unless I were desperate. And if I really wanted some muddy feet getting it. They looked pretty gnarly.

I have also been acquiring some updated gear over the past few months, and I was excited to try it all out. I had a new backpack (40-liter Gossamer Gear Gorilla), trail shoes (Altra Lone Peak 2.5), poo trowel (Deuce of Spades), skirt (Purple Rain  Skirt), sleeping bag (Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20° bag), and a new hydration bladder (Platypus Hoser 2L) that convinced me I’m probably done using bladders. Maybe on day hikes, but they are such a pain! In fact, I’ve already returned my new one – it had a small leak out of the box. Everything besides the bladder worked great! I hope to do a gear review entry going into more detail about these items soon.

The purpose of the new gear was to make an effort to lower my base weight, and I did. By about 5 pounds. With all my gear, 4 liters of water, and 3-1/2 days’ worth of food, my total weight was 31 pounds. I was pretty happy with that!

And I was so ready to hit the trail!


Gear pile!


Total weight with water and food! Not bad!

Tonight I love creative solutions. Our Jeep broke down when we got to the Deam Lake campground, so we had to bring it a shop the next morning and find a rental car. There were seriously no rental cars anywhere in the area (Louisville included!), so we ended up renting a U-haul van. Do what works!


Our rental car!


Eek! This guy was by the shower room at the campground. It was just a sign of things to come... Read part two!


Our perfect little tent site at the Deam Lake campground.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)


5 thoughts on “The Knobstone Trail, part one. The trail, the plan, the prep

  1. Two years later, here’s another comment! Loved your post. My son and I are going out Thursday afternoon through Sunday (how ever long it takes) and we’re both out of shape. But I have 100 AT miles under my belt and several Knobstone section hikes and one thru-hike under my belt. I know my limits. We’ll conquer this thing if we have to nap in the afternoons and night hike into Monday to complete it! Ha ha! Love me some Knobstone hiking action. Be well!

  2. Hi Toots,
    If you’re looking for a lot of elevation gain, we have a couple of routes here in SoCal that are often done as day hikes.
    Badwater Basin to Telescope Peak gives you about 11,200+ feet of gain. It’s mostly a cross-country route, and is best done with a car shuttle.
    Cactus to Clouds, the easier of the two in many ways, gives you about 10,400 feet of gain. It’s on good use-trail and maintained trail. And if you’re lazy like me, you can take the Palm Springs Tram down after a good meal in the restaurant!
    You might want to consider those the next time you’re in the area.
    Happy hiking!

  3. Any particular reason you went with the Altras instead of your tried and true Cascadias? I’m curious about your new gear in general – how did it work out?

    • I loved the Cascadia 7s I wore on the PCT in 2013, so I bought the newest version (10s), I believe in the early spring this year. I figured it would be nice to have them so I could just jump out and go for a hike when I was ready.

      So two things happened. The first were several people hiking the PCT this year that were saying they were falling apart way too early. Then mine started to break down and I hadn’t even hiked in them yet. I was bummed.

      I heard that the Altras were becoming the new popular PCT shoe, and several big-mile hikers that I respect had switched over to them. So, I thought I’d give them a shot.

      At the same time, I was looking for a shoe that I could run in while wearing socks instead of my five fingers (which I love but they stink so bad!). I wanted something minimal, and the Altras have a zero drop and super wide toe, so it allows your ties to splay naturally. I figured it wouldn’t be too rough of a transition from the five fingers.

      And they are super-duper light, comfy, and I can not only run in them, but hike too. They are great so far. I like running and hiking in them, so it’s an all around good shoe for me. I’m a fan. :)

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