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Thursday, January 26, 2017

5 Spots to Get Your Hiking Fix in the Winter

Categories: Outdoors

From seeing miles of rolling hills stretched out beneath you to exploring deep gorges in the forest, Bloomington’s seemingly countless hiking trails, and nature preserves gives everyone, regardless of skill level, the opportunity to experience the wonders that southern Indiana’s natural landscape provides us. Though Midwest winters can be harsh, the outdoors is no less beautiful. The trails are less crowded, the air is still and quiet, and the snow-covered trees sparkle as you walk beneath them. While all of the trails, preserves, and forests are still open during the winter, we’ve selected our favorite spots to get your hiking fix when it’s cold outside. These were chosen for their easy accessibility (no 4-wheel-drive required), relative proximity to the downtown, and less challenging/safer trail options.

Lower Cascades Park

Lower Cascades Waterfall

Driving time from the downtown square: 6 minutes

While Lower Cascades Park does have a paved trail for walking and running, we enjoy the short hike into the woods that leads to the waterfall. Walk past the limestone shelter house towards the trees to find the trail. Hike along the babbling creek running through the small valley until you come upon the falls, gently cascading over the rocky cliff. Despite being so close to town, the rock walls of this naturally-carved grotto create a quiet setting for meditation and reflection. This is a great place to spot some seriously impressive icicles as well.

Related content: Discover Bloomington's Family Friendly Parks & Trails

Griffy Lake Nature Preserve

Griffy Lake Winter

Driving time from the downtown square: 10 minutes

There are several trails to choose from at Griffy Lake, with most of the trailheads beginning from of the parking lot on North Headley Road. The Hiking Trail (1.6 miles) and Griffy Creek Trail (1.5 miles) are primarily flat, with the occasional steeper slope. These trails offer views of forested hills and valleys with occasional glimpses of the lake and creek. The Nature Trail (.4 miles) is a short, easy loop with moderate slopes. The North Shore Trail (1.5 miles) is the most rugged at Griffy, with steep slopes and narrow pathways that will appeal to hikers looking for a challenge. This trail offers nearly continuous views of the lake, which is just as just as dreamy when frozen. Take care on this trail if conditions are icy.

Wapehani Mountain Bike Park

Waphehani in Winter

Driving time from the downtown square: 10 minutes

Though Wapehani is set up for biking, hikers on foot are welcome to traverse the crisscrossing trails too. Each trail is rated by difficulty, so choosing an easy trail (labeled in green) will give you the smoothest walk, with minimal rocks and roots. Many of the trails pass by the small lake, where you can stop to rest or let your dogs splash around. Wapehani is perfect for winter hiking, as you’re never too far from the parking lot in case you get cold, but you can also extend your hike for as long as you want by continuing on all of the different trail loops. Bikers do have the right of way, so make sure to stay alert and move to the side of the trail as bikes approach.

The park will be temporarily closed for 3-6 months for the removal of Weimer Dam. Call for updates. 3401 W. Wapehani Rd.; 812-349-3700; bloomington.in.gov/parks

Related Content: Bicycling in Bloomington

Bloomington Rail Trail

Rail Trail Winter

Driving time from the downtown square: 7 minutes

The Rail Trail isn’t technically a hiking trail, but it gives you the sense of being far out in nature without the drive. The 2-mile flat path is gravel and packed earth, with a dense canopy of trees on all sides that blocks the cold wind. It is a perfect trail for a quiet walk or run, with convenient trailheads and parking lots at both ends. The Rail Trail also connects to both the Clear Creek Trail (south) and the B-Line trail (north). As an extra bonus, if you continue your travels north onto the B-Line towards the downtown, you can stop at Hopscotch Coffee or Cardinal Spirits to warm yourself up from the inside out.

Amy Weingartner Branigin Peninsula Preserve

Amy Weingartner Branigin Peninsula winter

Driving time from the downtown square: 23 minutes

The Peninsula is a nature preserve managed by Sycamore Land Trust, and was just recently opened in 2016. The trail is 1.1 miles each way and utilizes an old road so the ground is relatively smooth, though there are a few steep inclines. The trail is high above Monroe Lake, bordered by tall forests and occasional rocky outcroppings, with no sounds but the wind and the waves crashing against the shore below. The lack of leaves on the trees doesn’t take away from the view, but rather showcases the breathtaking, panoramic views of the lake as you hike. The trail ends at lake-level, where you can stand in the sand and look out over the great expanse of water. This preserve is the furthest from downtown on our list, but the extra bit of driving is worth it (and is still very accessible as it’s off of main roads). The parking lot is small, so carpooling is encouraged.

Related content: Nature Preserves in Bloomington

Danielle Lucas

Danielle Lucas

Danielle is the Graphic Designer for Visit Bloomington, and has been living here since 2007. When she’s not designing or taking photos, Danielle is probably walking her dogs, watching IU Basketball, or enjoying the local wine and vegetarian cuisine.