The Redbird State Recreation Area is located about one hour Southwest of Indianapolis and is an Indiana State Recreational Area (SRA.) There are a number of activities you can choose to do in this is SRA but one of its claims to fame is having four Jeep Badge of Honor trails with several different degrees of difficulty. The SRA’s Facebook page had many posts about trails being reopened after storm damage occurred to the trails. We also had Facebook chats with other drivers about the dangers of the mud. We were in the area our Rubi (2017 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon) was itching to get out on a trail to show us what she could do.
KOA at Terre Haute, Indiana
First, we needed to find a home base for a few days while we traveled to the recreation area and the Terre Haute KOA served as that being about 45 minutes from the park.
Sometimes it takes a while to figure out how to pronounce where you are living. What we determined from the KOA staff is that we pronounce this Terre Haute as “Terrie Ho-oht” Indiana. This KOA is a Journey (meaning they expect you to stop a night or two while you are traveling along on your journey.)
Their sites are oddly arranged where not everyone pulls in the same way but you alternate. This means your utility side and your living side are facing each other. You will be sharing a small space between two rigs having their living sides facing each other. Other than this the park was pretty decent for location and amenities. There was also a pool on site but it was winterized. Cable television is available at each site and it worked pretty decently.
The campground has a cafe that is very reasonable for late morning breakfast (opens at 8AM) and early evening dinner (5PM to 7:30PM) daily with a pretty wide menu of options. We had pizza, some burgers and breakfast there which were all pretty good.
Earning our Badges of Honor
The park opened at 9AM and advertised a closure at 5PM, but all of the signage on site says it is actually dusk to dawn. We gathered that the hours were when they staff the park and when fees were being collected between those hours. We were there on a Friday and saw only a couple of dirt bikes out there the entire day we spent out on the trails. As we were leaving the recreation area at 5PM there were people unloading bikes for an evening ride.
There are four Jeep Badge of Honor trails at the Redbird State Recreation Area and there are three different degrees of difficulty according to the trail maps. What we really found on the trails is that there is a mix of difficulties on every trail and all of the trails are single lane without any by-passes of obstacles you may want to avoid. We started on the simpler trails and worked our way around the park to check out the various options. The maps are not really very accurate to where you pick up the trails and their routes leaving you to do some guessing on whether you are really on the trail for your skill. We had loaded into the Gaia Maps GPS application some trail tracks that others had uploaded but those were outdated to what is there now.
We made our way out through the park and completed two trails earning those badges of honor from Jeep. This got us thinking that those were not too bad. So far the mud that everyone was talking about was pretty dried out given the lack of rain over the past two weeks. So we decided to tackle the “intermediate trail” 3X given what we were able to see of it.
Winching #1 – Over the Top
It got instantly harder, a medium grade trail according to the map that had some cliffs and spotty areas that had us wondering if we were even on a trail. We came to the first major obstacle that we had to ascend over and then got hung up on it since there was no way to attack it other than head-on straight. The trail was narrow and there was no way to take it at any angle and all we could do was hit it head-on and go over the top. This left us teeter-tottering at the top with all four wheels spinning in the air.
This was the first time we actually had to use the winch on Rubi and that went pretty well, we wrangled a tree and were able to pull ourselves off of the high pivot point and we were easily over the top. Fortunately, from our first experience of getting stuck in Alabama, and some fun-wheeling in Wisconsin that required certain recovery tools, we had what was necessary to address this ourselves.
Winching #2 – Out of the Quagmire
After a number of ascents and descents from the valley to valley and peak to peak, we came across a mud-filled valley that had no space to get around the quagmire. We were really close to the end of this trail and it turned here to follow the last valley out and we could see that the light of day was just a few hundred feet in front of us. We made our way most of the way through the mud but something was buried in the water and mud that kept us from proceeding through it smoothly and we came to a halt.
So this was our second opportunity to have to winch our way through. Once on the other side, we were able to proceed further on dry ground, but we found that we came to a much longer and messier mud pool that we decided not to tackle. So we successfully headed back across that mud we just winched ourselves across and decided to go the other way on the trail.
Winching #3 (& #4 & #5 & #6 & #7 & #8 & #9) – The Little Puddle
Length by width we came to what seemed like a small puddle, however, on investigation it seemed deeper than that. So we proactively setup to winch across to the high side.
Well, that did not go as planned and we got hung up on something buried in the silt and mud. We were not able to go forward or backward and found ourselves stuck on what seemed like only one wheel in the muck. The back wheels were not even in the mud yet and were on somewhat dry ground! We tried winching with three different angles and were not able to find what it was needed to dislodge ourselves. The front drivers-side tire was buried in mud and the Jeep was resting on the frame on that side.
Now what? We are out in the woods without a partner to pull us backward. The advice of the local Facebook group was “awh, oh you don’t need to worry there will be tons of people out there to help if you get in trouble” was false!
We made a call to the front gate and they recommended a local volunteer that helps with the rescue. With the aid of “Redbird Rescue,” he was able to back us out. We felt somewhat validated when this local, that grew up in these woods, was impressed that we got that far and was even more impressed with how much effort it actually took to get us out of there.
Ultimately, what we had gotten hung up on was a huge tree stump in the silt. It got wedged up under the Jeep and bent a cross brace and we were just not able to get over the stump then. We have damage to a cross-brace and some damage to the exhaust system. Ultimately, we earned that 3X badge of honor on what seemed like an easy trail at first and ended up being a 3-hour ordeal to go 3,588 feet. We should get to select different size badges based on the effort exerted, right?
To get out of here we had to winch ourselves through 3 more times to get out of the trail because of the peaks leaving us teeter-tottering. Rubi’s winch is well tested and the metal winch line needs to be replaced with a synthetic one. We are very pleased with this experience, we even figured out now what our winch actually is because Tim had the same Badland 12,000 pound winch on his Jeep. Rubi’s previous owner removed all of the stickers from the winch and we had no idea the brand or model.
Rubi really showed us what she was (and was not) capable of doing. This was a great opportunity for us to learn and test some limitations. We also have generated a few more things to add to the recovery “toolbag” that may have made all the difference. Unfortunately, we were out there without a team to help when something goes wrong. What may also need to do some more effort using Facebook groups for each park to try to solicit some other interested in a day on the trails. These were some difficult conditions but the consequences were only “cliffs” of 20 feet and not of 2,000 feet like out west.
Ultimately, the trails here at the Redbird SRA need some work and this is not likely to be what we are looking for on a weekly basis. We are really beginning to hate mud!