In Bloomington: Enjoy the outdoors in this Indiana college town

CR Rae
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Monroe Lake is the largest inland lake in the state.

This college town has a lot to offer visitors year-round with plenty of outdoor activities and natural beauty.

Sitting in the heart of Bloomington, Indiana, is Indiana University, consistently rated one of the most beautiful college campuses in the nation. When the 48,000 students are in class there is plenty of activity in this warm and welcoming city.

The area is known for its limestone, from which many of the buildings on campus and in the city are made. A perfect socially distant tour is Follow the Limestone at IU: The self-guided walking tour takes visitors to some of the most beautiful and creative architecture on campus. Go to visitbloomington.com/museums/guides for a map and information on each building on the tour.

While on campus take in the Eskenazi Museum, with more than 45,000 works that include representation of almost every culture producing art.

This area of Indiana offers an array of unique hiking at Leonard Springs Nature Park, Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve and Charles C. Deam Wilderness. That is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring the outdoors of Bloomington, with 200 miles of trails throughout its rolling hills.

The unique B-Line Trail offers 3.1 miles of running, walking and biking through the downtown area. It connects with the Bloomington Rail Trail to total 5.1 miles. It is lighted, paved and completely accessible. Along the trail there are picnic tables, drinking fountains with pet bowls, fitness centers, public art sculptures, and mural and limestone accents.

The creative people of Bloomington turned the McDoel Switchyard, once a hub for railroad activity in the city, to Switchyard Park, now a hub for outdoor fun and activity. The trains quit running and the people began to run: The second phase of the B-Line Trail extends into 18 acres of the park. In all Switchyard Park is 65.29 acres. The park offers a spray pad that shoots water through more than 90 nozzles and misters; a great place to cool off on a hot southern Indiana summer day. The spray pad is free and is open Memorial Day through the end of September from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m.

With a name like Beanblossom Bottoms, most of us would want to find out what this place is about. It is managed by the Sycamore Land Trust and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This wetland, surrounded by hardwoods, is home to about 15 varieties of endangered plant and animal species throughout its 515 acres. Bird watching is popular. At Beanblossom there is a two-mile interpretive boardwalk trail for easy viewing of the wetlands. It is just north of Bloomington.

Charles C. Deam Wilderness is made up of 36 miles of trails for those seeking a scenic hardwood forest. The wilderness is perfect for backpacking, hiking and horseback riding. There is plenty of room to roam as the wilderness is on 12,953 acres of the Hoosier National Forest. To protect the delicate wilderness, some restrictions are in place. Stop at the welcome center at Brooks Cabin for a map and the special regulations for visiting this area, or go to fs.usda.gov/recarea/hoosier/recarea/?recid=41554.

Get a little more adventuresome by visiting Leonard Springs Nature Park, more than 95 acres of walking trails that include steep forested slopes, caves and wetlands. It is a wonderful place to observe what nature has to offer: flora, fauna and animals. It has a 1.1 mile nature loop, waterfalls and a river. Good for families and close to the city.

Monroe Lake is just outside of the city and is the largest inland lake in the state. It has been a water recreation mecca for Hoosiers and visitors since 1965. The area has thousands of acres of state forest lands surrounding the water. It is the perfect place for nature seekers, campers, boaters, skiers and more. There is plenty of room to find a favorite fishing spot. Travelers will find picnic areas and an Interpretive Nature Center. Visit in.gov/dnr/parklake/2954.htm for updates on COVID regulations, events and more.

Go to visitbloomington.com for info on places to stay and eat.

Switchyard Park was once the site of a former railroad terminal.