201 W. Riverside Dr., Clarksville, Indiana
Today no one visits Indiana for its ocean, yet 220 acres of fossilized coral provide living (or once living) proof that an ocean, indeed, flourished in the state—some 200 million years before dinosaurs existed. At this scenic site on the banks of the Ohio River, visitors can marvel over the prehistoric evidence.
Scientists and curious explorers have flocked here since the 1790s. Experts date its active ocean life back to the Devonian Period, between 400 and 360 million years ago. More than 600 species of plants and animals once lived on its coral reefs—two-thirds of them “type” specimens, recorded here for the first time anywhere in the world. And five distinct fossil layers lie exposed at the park. In total the site has the world’s largest known exposure of Devonian fossils.
From Aug.– Oct., when the river is at its lowest level, visitors can find the best accessibility to the fossil beds. While fossil collecting is strictly prohibited, the park staff encourages visitors to discover fossils galore from the primeval sea bottom.
Any time of year, visitors can learn all about the ancient history and wonders of the park at its state-of-the-art 16,000-square-foot interpretive center.
In the lobby a re-creation of the prehistoric Indiana island dazzles with a huge mammoth and a giant 18-foot-long Devonian fish floating overhead. Beyond the entrance 78 exhibits take visitors back through time. The center’s spacious, enclosed observation room, graced with 18-foot-tall windows, beckons with breathtaking views of the fossils and water. A wildlife viewing area lets kids of all ages not only see songbirds feeding or raccoons bathing but also listen in on their tunes and chatter.
Beyond its fossils the park offers hiking trails, grassy spots for picnicking, a boat launch ramp, and excellent opportunities for bird-watching and fishing. Biologists have recorded 280 species of birds flying through the park, including the occasional bald eagle.
As its name suggests, the park also features the falls—the Ohio River’s famous cascading rapids, which cause the river to drop 26 feet in elevation over a 21/2-mile stretch.
Open daily year-round. Admission charged.