Rose Island may be the Machu Picchu of Indiana. The “island,” which is technically not an island, was a popular family recreation spot with a history dating back to the 1880s. That all ended abruptly after a major flood in 1937. Today, you can visit the site and see the long abandoned ruins, much like visiting Machu Picchu…or at least as close as we can get to it in Indiana. It is a fascinating place to visit.
Rose Island is located in Charlestown State Park on the north banks of the Ohio River, just outside Charlestown, Indiana. Rose Island was originally established as a public park called Fern Grove in the late 1800s. In the 1920s it was converted into an amusement park with a roller coaster, dance hall, hotel and a zoo that hosted 135,000 people a year. It was destroyed by a flood in 1937 and abandoned. In 2016, the State of Indiana dedicated an interpretive trail on the Rose Island site with historical markers and audio clips along the route to transport you back in time when the park was in its heyday.
The trailhead for trails 3 and 4 is at the parking lot. You’ll start on Trail 3, which begins with a sharp paved descent to Fourteenmile Creek. At 0.6 mile you’ll cross the Portersville Bridge, which has its own interesting story. The bridge spanned the White River for nearly 100 years almost 100 miles away from Rose Island. It was moved piece by piece to its current location, enabling public walking access to Rose Island starting in 2011 for the first time in over 70 years.
The interpretive trail (Trail 7) begins when you cross the bridge and are greeted by the “Rose Island” welcome sign. The trail is an easy, flat, well-groomed 0.9-mile loop that has markers and audio boxes along the way that describe the sights and sounds of Rose Island when it was in its prime. You’ll see the ruins of a fountain, the Olympic-sized pool, columns for the original Rose Island welcome sign and the restored main walkway through the park. Don’t miss the oldest structure in the park on your left as the loop ends, an intact picnic table from the 1880s.
After you return across the bridge, take an immediate right onto the unpaved portion of Trail 3 to return to the parking lot via the scenic route. This portion of the trail follows Fourteenmile Creek for over a half mile before heading uphill back to the trailhead. The entire figure-eight loop is roughly 3 miles.
If you are up for a few more miles on foot, and would like see some more ruins, Trail 6 is a great option. Return to the main park road, turn left and follow it to the end of the park to reach the Trail 6 Trailhead. This 2.3-mile loop provides views overlooking the Ohio from a bluff, and is on the site where the Indiana Munitions Plant was located during World War II.