Walk with Rachel in the Indian Creek Gorge

The Indian Creek Valley Gorge is somewhat of a hidden gem in the Laurel Highlands. The 4.5 mile gorge section of the ICV Trail was completed in August of 2019 and is excellent for bike riding, taking a stroll, or accessing fishing along Indian Creek. It features some beautiful vistas along the Indian Creek Reservoir and at the confluence of Indian Creek and the Youghiogheny River. There is trail parking off of Killarney Road and a newly installed portalet.

The Indian Creek Gorge is an area of excellent natural diversity and is home to a great variety of native plants, insects, and animals. Let’s take a walk and see what we can find!

The edge habitat provided between the shady forest and open trail provides a nice sunny spot for flowers to pop up– how convenient for us! The early spring ephemeral wildflowers (discussed in this previous blog post) have died down and been replaced by the late spring bloomers shown below.

Wild geranium
Tall white violet
Golden ragwort

Now that we’ve gotten our flower fix, let’s keep walking before this turns into “Wildflowers of the ICV Gorge Part 2!”

Wow, it’s hard to miss this striking insect crossing the trail. 

Millipedes come in a variety of colors and sizes, and this species is definitely one I’ve never seen before. In nature, bright red or yellow coloration typically serves as a warning to predators to stay away. This millipede’s vibrant colors are no exception to this– it secretes cyanide compounds as a defense!

Here’s something fun to think about… Are millipedes born as mini versions of their adult selves with all of their legs, or do they get more legs as they grow longer?

Can you imagine growing new legs throughout your life??

It turns out that the young have just six legs (3 pairs) and add more each time they molt!

While on the topic of insects… I’m seeing a bunch of these foamy eruptions on plants.

These are spittlebug homes! Spittlebugs are the larval form of what grows up to be froghoppers (those little bugs that jump really high). They suck the watery sap of plants and build these homes to protect themselves. Don’t worry, it doesn’t really hurt the plant.

If you look closely, you can see a few brown things poking out of the ‘spittle.’ It turns out that spittlebugs have to stick their back half out to breathe!

At this point in our walk, we’ve reached the first of several footpaths that spur off of the bike trail and head down the slope to Indian Creek. Let’s head down towards the water now. 

We’ve only descended down the gorge a few feet, but we already see some new plant species as the habitat changes.

Jack-in-the-pulpit
Foamflower

As we enter this area densely packed with ferns, I can tell we are getting closer to the water.

We’ve reached our destination for today! It doesn’t get any more peaceful than this– the sound of a flowing stream, butterflies fluttering between the water and sunny rocks, and a view of uninterrupted nature.

If you were to float downstream from here, you would travel through about 3 miles of beautiful cascading water before being emptied into the Youghiogheny River.

The ICV Trail follows Indian Creek all the way down to its confluence with the Yough. If you make the journey to the end, you’ll be rewarded with a great view of the Youghiogheny River and the old railroad viaduct across Indian Creek. It’s also rumored that there’s an old railroad car you can see if the water is low. Happy exploring!