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Staff Picks: Summer Swimming

Posted in: Family Fun Comments

July in Indiana means scorching hot days with humidity high enough to be visible by the naked eye.  I'm sweating just thinking about it.  So what does one do to keep cool during these unbearably hot days?  Go swimming, of course!  We're lucky, around here there are plenty of places to go swimming, each with their own unique assets.  So our staff has provided their favorite places to cool off during the summer months.

  • Mike- The spillway on Monroe Lake is my favorite place to go swimming.  It's free, easy to access, not a lot of people are around, and you can take your dog with you. 
  • Jordan- Lake Monroe of course!  The side west of the causeway is great for wakeboarding and tubing, and the east side is good if you want to relax a bit, since it's the idle zone and a little more quiet.  (Jordan's answer hinges on having access to a boat-but if you don't own one, there are several boat rental places at the lake! Also, the official name is Monroe Lake, but most people reverse it, like Jordan.)
  • Splash PadJulie- The splash pad at Karst Farm Park is fantastic for families.  It's not so much a swimming hole (there's no pool, or even pooling of water) but the sprayers are great for cooling off and young kids can take part, which is awesome.  They have a playground right next to it as well, so kids can get wet then dry off zooming down the slides.  And maybe best of all, it's free!
  • Laura- Hardin Ridge Recreation Area at Monroe Lake is my favorite.  It's a little bit further away, but there is a good mix of sunny and shady areas, and places for kids to play.  There are also trails nearby for hiking, and camping sites too.
  • Teal- I LOVE the IU Outdoor Pool!  I have great memories of the one summer of college I worked as a lifeguard and taught swim lessons. They have lap swimming in the mornings and then open it up for recreational swimming in the afternoon, and have a separate shallow pool for the little ones.  My favorite part is the diving well.  They usually open up the 1, 3 and 5 meter platforms for jumping...it's the only pool in town where you can jump off a board that high!
  • Ryan- I like to go to Grubb Ridge trail head in Deam Wilderness and hike off-trail (north) to Monroe lake.  There are countless "private beaches" along the shoreline.
  • Erin- The IU Outdoor Pool is my favorite.  It's got a great pool deck with lots of chairs to layout out and good music over the PA system!
Fairfax Beach

So many options!  There are several other public swimming pools and beaches worth checking out, including Bryan Park pool (an excellent family option with water slides and zero-depth kiddie pool), Jellystone Park (they have a cool new splash zone) and Riddle Point Park at Lake Lemon (an excellent beach with less traffic than the Monroe Lake options.)  So the question is, where do you like to splash around?

Birding in Bloomington? May is the Month!

Posted in: Outdoors Comments
rose-breasted grosbeak

The beauty of spring is all around us right now... flowering dogwoods, lovely gardens, and - my favorite - singing birds. Have you listened to the musical songs outside our doors each morning? The birds that flew south for the winter have returned, and the males are busy attracting mates and establishing territories, much to our listening pleasure.

The reports of rose-breasted grosbeaks visiting feeders are on the rise. This handsome bird is a favorite of many folks, but they only pass through Bloomington from late-April to mid-May on their way to their breeding grounds further north. If you aren't lucky enough to have a grosbeak visiting your feeder, listen for a sharp "chink" sound that resembles a sneaker squeaking on a gym floor, then look up high to the tree tops where they often perch, singing a quick, warbling, flute-like song.

Prothonotary Warbler

American goldfinches have regained their bright yellow plumage, bluebirds may have already laid some eggs, and indigo buntings are arriving back on their territories. But the crown jewels of May birds in Bloomington are the wood-warblers: little flashes of color and song, filling our forests with joy and life, some 36 species in all!  While half of these species are just migrating through (and some can be extremely difficult to find), the other half nest in Monroe County's forests and fields and can be observed with a little knowledge and effort.

Habitat is key to finding birds. While some species are generalists (like a cardinal), many can only be found in a certain type of place. 

Yellow-Throated Warbler

The Prothonotary warbler and the Northern waterthrush, a migrant, prefer the wooded swamps of a place like Beanblossom Bottoms, a Sycamore Land Trust property north of Ellettsville. The forested slopes of Morgan-Monroe State Forest provide nesting opportunities for the cerulean warbler and the worm-eating warbler. Pine warblers are understandably linked to stands of pine trees, which occur scattered in places throughout Hoosier National Forest

Two Bloomington parks-Griffy Lake Nature Preserve and Leonard Springs Nature Park-provide easy access to beautiful hiking trails and beautiful birds. Yellow-throated warblers and northern parulas are boisterous singers that can usually be found high in trees around Griffy Lake. Walking the trails of these parks can be especially exciting during migration, as the diversity of habitats draw in many species.

Birding Tour Group

Often it is easier to find some of these birds with a birding group or guide. There are a couple of opportunities in the month of May in Monroe County. Sycamore Land Trust offers a birding trip to The Cedars Preserve on Thursday, May 15 at 9:30 a.m.; pre-registration is required.  And, as a part of Visit Bloomington's Tourism Week, IndiGo Birding Nature Tours will host a birding walk ($5/person) at Griffy Lake on Wednesday, May 21 at 10:00 a.m.

As the owner of IndiGo Birding Nature Tours, I pride myself in providing an affordable, customized tour for my guests that exceeds their expectations. All physical abilities and knowledge levels of nature enthusiasts are welcome to contact me about a tour. The IndiGo Birding Facebook page is a great way to stay abreast of current happenings in Bloomington's more natural landscapes... like the arrival of the spring songsters!

This guest blog post was written by David Rupp. David is the owner of IndiGo Birding Nature Tours and also currently serves as President of the Sassafras Audubon Society and Outreach Event Coordinator for the Sycamore Land Trust. All bird photography in this post is by Scott Evans. WonderLab is currently hosting an exhibit of Scott's bird photography through the month of May.

Morel Hunting in Bloomington

Posted in: Outdoors Comments

It's that time of the year again in Bloomington. No, I'm not talking about the warm weather, blooming flowers or chirping birds. I'm talking about mushrooms - more specifically, morels. If you've never hunted, found or eaten a morel mushroom, then you're truly missing out on one of spring's most eventful and delicious fleeting mysteries. 

Where to Begin
I'd recommend going morel hunting with someone who has experience in finding and identifying these fungi. If they're really nice the'll show you their secret patch (we've all got one or two). The Hoosier National Forest south of Bloomington is ideal morel territory but they can be found almost anywhere. Regardless of where you go, do make sure you have permission and bring plenty of bags just in case you stumble into a goldmine (morels in some stores can go for as much as $200 per lb.). Though they are fairly easy to recognize, there are a few lookalike mushrooms that will leave you with a bad stomach ache at best (some can be fatal), so if you're not absolutely sure it's a morel, better to leave that one in the woods.

Here's what you're looking for:

Morel Mushroom 


The Hunt is On
There are many theories about where to look for these elusive mushrooms. Some say to search near elm trees, others say oak trees, still others say may apples. The truth is they can be found almost anywhere; forests, fields, backyards and gardens. There is no exact science to where they grow (yet) but there are a few general rules that will get you headed in the right direction.

1. They like to pop up on warm days after spring rains (mid April - early May)

2. They like well drained, soft soil rather than marshy areas or hardened mud.

3. They like to grow near standing dead trees with decaying underground roots.

4. Early morels will grow near the edges of fields and on south-facing slopes where the sunshine is plentiful. As the season progresses they'll be found deeper in the woods.

5. Morels usually grow in groups, so cover plenty of ground and when you find one slow down and search the area thoroughly.

6. Remember the spot - it is very likely that they will come back next year (especially if you pinch off the stem of the mushroom and leave the roots undisturbed).

Bring a bottle of water and a snack, pick a sunny day and plan on doing more walking than picking. Even if you return empty-handed, it's still not a bad way to spend a warm spring afternoon. Happy Hunting!

A Morning with IndiGo Birding Nature Tours

Posted in: Outdoors Comments

If you love birds, you're going to love this new addition to Bloomington's visitor options - IndiGo Birding Nature Tours is a brand-new business created by local naturalist David Rupp so he could share his love of birds and nature with visitors (and residents) in Bloomington. 

Did you know that Bloomington is a birding hot spot in the Midwest? We're very lucky to have a number of fantastic birding locations right here in our area - places like Beanblossom Bottoms Nature PreserveMonroe LakeYellowwood State ForestLeonard Springs Nature Park, the Hoosier National Forest, Goose Pond in nearby Green County and more. This allows IndiGo Birding to showcase a wide variety of birds to his clients, and he'll customize your experience based on the time you have available and what your group's specific interests and experience levels are. 

A few of us on staff here at Visit Bloomington (and a couple of lucky visitors we encountered) were able to join David for a tour on the morning of April 16, 2014 and we had a fun and educational experience at Beanblossom Bottoms! We were able to see a bald eagle (and its nest) and several other varieties of birds, including more than one species of woodpecker and a beautiful, bright yellow Prothonotary Warbler!  

Here are a few photos from our adventure: 

Setting off with David at Beanblossom Bottoms... Birding - Setting Off
As you enter the preserve, you can often see turtles sunning at the pond. 
Birding - Turtle Pond
To the left, there's a viewing platform that overlooks a bald eagle nest!Birding - Eagle Nest
David came prepared with a fancy spotting scope to give us close-up views of the eagle and its nest. Birding - Eagle Viewing
The main trail at Beanblossom Bottoms is a wooden boardwalk, since it is a wetlands forest.Birding - boardwalk
This is the Beanblossom creek crossing where we spotted several woodpeckers - and a muskrat!Birding - Beanblossom Creek
David pointed out several species to us and helped us locate them with binoculars (and cameras).Birding - Pointing out a woodpecker
A happy birding guide is one who just pointed out two red-headed woodpeckers to his group!Birding - Happy birding guide
The boardwalk trail is two miles long, with periodic viewing platforms, like this one.Birding - overlook
This is a great place to see not only woodpeckers and warblers, but also water birds!Birding - overlook view

What's on Your B-town Bucket List?

Posted in: Arts & Culture Comments

We're about one month away from Indiana University's graduation weekend...
and that means there are thousands of Hoosiers getting ready to graduate and leave Bloomington to begin exciting new adventures. We wish them well and hope to see them back to visit at some point, but in the meantime we've put together a list of classic only-in-Bloomington, off-campus experiences every student should be sure to have before graduation day.
Here are thirty things to add to your B-town Bucket List: 

  1. See a local play by Cardinal Stage Co. or the BPP
  2. Enjoy some live music at The BluebirdB-town Bucket List
  3. Eat a steak at Janko's Little Zagreb
  4. Spend an afternoon looking for eagles at Lake Monroe
  5. Climb the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower (bring a camera)
  6. Visit the Butler Winery Vineyard location
  7. Walk the entire B-Line Trail
  8. Watch the sunset with friends from the Upland Patio
  9. Visit WonderLab
  10. Hike back to the waterfall at Cascades Park
  11. Go rock climbing at Hoosier Heights
  12. Eat a picnic in a local park
  13. Ice cream at the Chocolate Moose
  14. Take in a show at the Comedy Attic
  15. Participate in Downtown Gallery Walk at least once
  16. Eat at Hinkle's Hamburgers
  17. Take a selfie with Herman (and one with Hoagy, too)
  18. Walk the trail at Leonard Springs Nature Park
  19. Go to a drive-in movie
  20. Go to at least one restaurant on 4th Street
  21. Play pool or darts at the Vid
  22. Hike out to Steppe Cemetery in Morgan-Monroe State Forest
  23. Spin the prayer wheels at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center
  24. Dessert with drinks at Oliver Winery Downtown
  25. Actually go inside the Monroe County Courthouse - look up
  26. Attend Farmers' Market at least once
  27. Visit the Monroe County History Center
  28. Go hiking or canoeing at Lake Griffy
  29. Discover the Little Africa Wildlife Area a Lake Lemon...
  30. ...and have lunch at the Porthole Inn
  31. Spend the afternoon on Lake Monroe (ON, not at) 

For extra credit, venture beyond Bloomington proper to explore a few our neighboring communities. Here are five day trips we highly recommend:

  1. Visit the Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum in nearby Solsberry
  2. Explore Bluespring Caverns, Spring Mill's Pioneer Village and learn about Gus Grissom in Lawrence County
  3. Drive over to Nashville and visit Brown County State Park (and do some shopping!)
  4. Go to the Art Sanctuary (and Candy Kitchen) in nearby Martinsville 
  5. Venture as far as Columbus to visit Zaharako's and relax in Mill Race Park

Before you leave town, give us a follow on your social media platform of choice and sign up to receive our monthly emails so you can stay in the know about all the great things happening here in Bloomington. That way, you'll know exactly when to get started on planning your first Alumni visit back to B-town - and you can do that right here at www.visitbloomington.com! 

Are there things you'd add to our B-town Bucket List? Leave us a comment! 

Eagle Watch Weekend 2014

Posted in: Family Fun Comments

Have you ever wondered why they hold the annual Eagle Watch Weekend at Lake Monroe in January, instead of say... June? While it might be more enjoyable to search for the elusive eagles in the sky during warmer weather, it would actually be a lot harder to spot them! 

Eagle Watch Weekend is arguably Indiana's premiere annual eagle-watching and birding event. Rest assured, the scheduling of such an important event takes into account the best time of year for successful eagle-spotting on Monroe Lake. Today, after a successful reintroduction program in the 1980's, Monroe Lake is the birding and eagle-watching capital of Indiana, with more than 300 documented species of birds as well as year-round resident pairs of bald eagles that call the lake home.

There are a few reasons for the wintery timing of Eagle Watch Weekend, and eagle viewing in general in this area of the Midwest. One of the primary reasons is that the bald eagles are actually more visible against the typically gray winter skies than against the pretty cloud-filled blue skies of other seasons. In addition, the lack leaves on the trees means it's easier to spot nests and eagles among the branches. Equally important are the many bald eagles from points north that overwinter around Monroe Lake. More eagles in the area means you're more likely to catch a glimpse of one!

Eagle Watch Weekend isn't just about eagle viewing, though - there are more than a dozen programs and outings planned for this year's event, including a live raptor show, nature presentations, special children's activities and more!

This year's Eagle Watch Weekend is January 24-26, 2014. It's not too late to get registered and book your room at beautiful Fourwinds Resort to learn more about the majestic bald eagles, and other birds and animals, that can be seen at Monroe Lake. Be sure to mention Eagle Watch Weekend for a special discounted hotel rate!   

Eagle Watch Weekend 

13 Things to Know About Halloween in B-town

Posted in: Family Fun Comments

Are you ready to celebrate the arrival of autumn and all those hauntingly fun events that come along with Halloween? Bloomington's ready, and we don't want you to miss one spooky thing! Here's your checklist of the 13 things you need to know about celebrating the season - B-town style! 


Take a Haunted Museum Tour on Oct. 11 and 25, at the Monroe County History Museum. Local celebrities of the past will be on hand to answer all your spooky questions!


See enchantingly beautiful handmade, blown glass creations at the 4th Annual Great Glass Pumpkin Patch event on the Monroe County Courthouse Lawn on Oct. 12. Choose from over 300 beautiful examples!


Take the Road Less Traveled Fall Color Eco-tours from Natural Bloomington. On Oct. 12 and 19, enjoy beautiful fall colors on routes only locals know! (Nothing scary about these tours; just beautiful scenery, so bring your camera.)


Discover the world of real blood sucking creatures at WonderLab with Nature's Vampires on Oct. 19. Some of them aren't as scary as you might think!


Walk the Trick or Treat Trail - if you dare! Cartoon friends and villains will be on hand in the forest at RCA Park on Oct. 19. There will be plenty of treats - and some stories, too!


What should you do on an ink-black night with learing jack-o'-lanterns and crisp apple cider? Enjoy the Festival of Ghost Stories beneath the stars at Bryan Park, of course! The night comes alive on Oct. 25.


Come along for a Ghostly Gathering on Oct. 25 and 26 at Paynetown State Recreation Area. Participants will enjoy a variety of festivities, including pumpkin painting and a costume contest!


Check out the fangs, scales, claws and more at Nature's Monsters Live Show at WonderLab on Oct. 26. Have some close encounters and discover the some of the critters we think of as monsters aren't so scary after all!


Join the IU Auditorium for a silent film with creepy organ accompaniment, as Dennis James Hosts Halloween on Oct. 26. James is joined this year by experimental percussionist Mark Goldstein to perform their original accompaniment to the Sci-Fi silent film and cult classic Aelita: Queen of Mars.


Venture into rural Bloomington, near the legendary Stepp Cemetery, where dozens of creatures, monsters and maniacs await at the Barn of Terror. Open every Friday and Saturday in October. 


Enjoy a trip on the Haunted Hayride, every Friday and Saturday in October. Not-so-scary earlier times are available for family fun, or venture out in the dark and into the haunted stable, if you dare!


Learn about Victorian mourning practices and see odd creatures from the Monroe County History Center's collection at the Attic of Oddities Exhibit, on display throughout October.


Pick out the perfect pumpkin from one of the locations below and take a little bit of Bloomington home for your own Halloween celebrations. You'll find the perfect blank canvas for the best jack o' lantern ever, and maybe even some beautiful decorative varieties as well.

Fowler Pumpkin Patch 
4865 South Leonard Springs Road, 812-322-0050 - Open Friday through Sunday.

Musgrave Orchard & Cider Mill
8820 North Old State Road 37, 812-339-5006 - Open Wednesday through Sunday. Pick up your pumpkin, apples, Indiana's best apple cider and all the other trappings of fall!

Oliver Winery
8024 Indiana Highway 37, 812-876-5800 - Several varieties of pumpkins and other gourds, locally grown at the Creekbend Vineyard, are available throughout October at the Oliver Winery tasting room.

Why You Should Ride in the 46th Annual Hilly Hundred

Posted in: Outdoors Comments

The Hilly Hundred Bicycle Tour is set to roll into Bloomington and the surrounding area for the 46th year on October 18-20, 2013. This three-day event features two days full of road cycling on some of the toughest hills in the state, but that's not all! It also offers lots of great camaraderie with other cyclists, live entertainment each evening and spectacular scenic vistas along the way. You can register online up until October 14. 

If you're a first year participant and not sure what to expect, or you've considered participating, but haven't registered yet, we'd like to share with you this excellent testimonial that Visit Bloomington received about a past Hilly Hundred event:  

"I've been riding in the Hilly Hundred for more than 20 years now and I highly recommend it to riders of all levels. It's a lot of fun. I travel from North Carolina to Indiana for the event every year because the unique terrain and route are fantastic and the ride support and organization are the best I've ever experienced. Plus, the weather in South Central Indiana in the fall is always spectacular.

I've both camped at the Hilly campsite and stayed at hotels in Bloomington in previous years and I enjoy doing both of those things. My very favorite thing about the Hilly Hundred is that every year I get to ride in it with 4,000 of my best friends. We get up early, ride all day and have a good time going out to dinner in Bloomington in the evening. They have so many great options but I enjoy brewpubs and I think Bloomington has two of the best in Bloomington Brewing Company and Upland Brewing Company. Plus don't forget the delicious Italian Beef sandwich at Nick's Pub. That alone is worth the trip."

John from Charlotte, North Carolina

We hope you can join John, and 4,000 of his closest friends, this year for the Hilly Hundred Bicycle Tour. It really is one of the premiere bicycling events in the Midwest, and we are very proud to have it each year in Monroe County. If you've participated before, we'd love to hear about your favorite things about the Hilly Hundred in the comments section below! We'll leave you with just a few of the many photos this great annual ride. 

Hilly Hundred

Hilly Hundred

Hilly Hundred

Hilly Hundred 

SCI Kiwanis Indiana Balloon Festival

Posted in: Family Fun Comments

Every year there's a new event that I get really psyched about. Sometimes it's a concert, sometimes it's an arts show; this year, it's a balloon festival. I mean I am super pumped, like counting the days excited. I'm not sure if it's the allure of big, bright hot air balloons, the awesome music lineup, the yummy food vendors or the fact that it will be such a great family-friendly event. Doesn't even matter, that point is, I'm excited and it's going to be fun!

Indiana Balloon Festival 

So here are a few more details. First up, the event takes place September 6-8 at the Monroe County Fairgrounds. It costs $12 per carload - so pack the kids in the minivan for the best deal! On Friday, the festival will start at 4 pm and end at 10 pm; Saturday it's from 6 am (no, seriously) to 10 pm; Sunday it's 6 am to  9am.

The reason for the early start time is the balloon race, which will feature 20 balloons. They have to race early due to atmospheric pressure or something scientific like that. If you aren't an early bird, come back at 5 pm for a second race on Saturday. The balloons will also light up at 7 pm on Friday and Saturday at 7 pm for a night glow, where they light up while synchronized to music. And rides on these tethered beauties will be available those evenings too. I can only imagine the delight on my kids' faces when they get to ride in a balloon!

As mentioned there is also some great music during the festival. On Friday night, Marc Broussard will be performing his soulful rock music. I am very excited to see this show, he is fantastic! On Saturday night, you can see local favorite, singer/songwriter Jenn Cristy. Both shows start at 8 pm. Other musical events are a fun Kiwanis Idol, where contestants will perform and be judged by local celebrities (including Jenn Cristy).

Food will be available (boy, will it) with local food vendors providing some goodies, plus a chili cook-off on Saturday. There's a cornhole tournament on Saturday too, but you have to pre-register so don't come with your bags ready to throw down unless you've signed up in advance. Enjoy some fun activities with the kids, and pick up some health tips, at the health & safety fun fair.

So are you excited too? Yes, you are, and I'll see you there!


Summer Fun: Paddleboarding!

Posted in: Family Fun Comments

There are few times that a new adventure sport shows up in the outdoor world. If you recall the mountain biking revolution of the 80's, you can begin to understand the waves being made by the twenty-first century equivalent - standup paddleboarding. With its short learning curve, versatility on flat and moving water, and peaceful workout, paddleboarding's popularity has exploded all across the country.


There are a few reasons why I've come to enjoy paddleboarding here in Monroe County. The first is our proximity to open water. Lake Lemon, Monroe Lake, and numerous smaller bodies of water lie within thirty minutes of Bloomington.


The second reason is the summer heat. As the temperature climbs, my motivation for outdoor aerobic exercise plummets. Being someone who has rarely been able to enjoy a workout with a roof over my head, summer often becomes my downtime. With paddleboarding, the low impact complete body movement of paddling while standing on an oversized surfboard is the perfect option on a hot day. Hopping on and off of a board is as easy as it gets. Paddle, dive off, swim, remount, and repeat.


Paddleboarding - Nelson

The third reason I enjoy paddleboarding is a two-year-old named Nelson. My wife and I's son, Nelson, simply loves sitting on the board, seemingly floating only inches from the water. With the board nearly 11' in length and 2.5' wide, there's plenty of buoyancy to bring along my favorite 30lb passenger.

There are a few things to know before you go:


  • On DNR and state park lakes and reservoirs, paddleboards are classified as non-motorized boats. Purchase and affix an annual non-motorized boat permit to your board.
  • You'll need a PFD at least attached to your board, if not simply worn.
  • Paddle outside of designated swimming zones.
  • Fun is mandatory. Standing up is optional. If you are more comfortable staying on your stomach or paddling from your knees, do it! In fact, paddling on your stomach is a good practice until you get into deeper water to avoid falling off into shallow water.
  • There are only a few locations that sell or rent paddleboards in southern and central Indiana. IU Outdoor Adventures, located in Eigenmann Hall on the Bloomington campus, rents a fleet of various size and shape paddleboards. This can be a safe option to understand your board preferences before taking the plunge and purchasing one. The nearest location to purchase a paddleboard is at the recently opened REI in Indianapolis.



Special thanks to our guest blogger, Dustin Smucker for enlightening us about paddleboarding opportunities in the area. Dustin is the Programs Coordinator with Indiana University Outdoor Adventures. When he's not working, you'll find this outdoor enthusiast in pursuit of local, kid-friendly adventures with his family.

Did you know...

Bloomington was voted one of the top 50 places to live by Men's Journal Magazine...more



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Bloomington, Indiana

Visit Bloomington

2855 N. Walnut Street
Bloomington, IN 47404

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