Monroe County offers an incredible assortment of nature hikes for every experience level. Certain hikes have a peak season when it comes to the beauty of the surrounding nature, and the following trails are known to be a special treat during fall. Lace up your walking shoes and give these five hikes a try next time you visit Bloomington in the golden-toned fall months.

Easy Hikes

Scarlet Oak Woods

Within the Scarlet Oak Woods, a nature preserve owned by Sycamore Land Trust, there's a 1.6-mile out-and-back trail that's stunning during the fall months due to its namesake scarlet oak trees that turn bright red during autumn.

Scarlet Oak Woods during fall

The relatively easy trek is great for hikers of all ages and abilities, as well as leashed dogs. You'll find several hills, a creek that features a small waterfall & many geodes, and a large pond along the way. 

Scarlet Oak Woods is open from dawn to dusk, seven days per week.

Moderate Hikes

Pate Hollow Trail

Managed by the Hoosier National Forest but located adjacent to the Paynetown State Recreation Area, the Pate Hollow Trail is a 7.7-mile hike comprised of three connected loops. Hikers can expect to find views of Monroe Lake through the gorgeous fall foliage, as well as a tree with a tiny door for forest fairies and elves — the latter of the two is quite a fun discovery for kids.

Pate Hollow Trail during fall
Photo by Kim Evans

The longer length and many hills are what distinguish this hike as that of moderate difficulty. Weave your way through the entire trail system, or just do one of the loops for a shorter, easier trek. Dogs are welcome, so long as they're on a leash.

The Pate Hollow trail system is open from dawn to dusk, seven days per week.

Peninsula Trail

The Peninsula Trail is a 2.6-mile jaunt located within the Hoosier National Forest's Charles C. Deam Wilderness. The out-and-back hike leads to a stunning view of Monroe Lake and is nearly completely downhill on the way out — which means it's almost entirely uphill on the way back.

Like all of these hikes, what makes the Peninsula Trail so special during fall is the fiery foliage on all sides of the path. The lake view at the end of the trail is also a very special sight that many hikers note as the best part of the trek during any season.

A hiker setting out on the Hoosier National Forest Peninsula Trail
Photo by Adrienne Baxter

While the Peninsula Trail itself is 2.6 miles, the hike is only accessible by the Grubb Ridge Loop. Hikers can park at the Grubb Ridge Loop trailhead off of Tower Ridge Road and hike 2.4 miles of the loop to get to the Peninsula Trail trailhead. Do note that horseback riding is permitted on this trail, so watch your step along the way. Dogs are welcome, so long as they're on a leash.

The Charles C. Deam Wilderness is open from dawn to dusk, seven days per week.

Sycamore Trail

Another Deam Wilderness trail, the Sycamore Trail is a 6.4-mile loop whose trailhead is just past the famous Hickory Ridge Fire Tower. Climb the tower before or after your hike (you'll probably want to do it beforehand, as you may be less enthusiastic to climb the 133-step staircase after hiking several miles) for a truly breathtaking view of the Hoosier National Forest's fall-toned treetops.

View of the Charles C. Deam Wilderness from the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower during fall

Along the way, hikers will find several creeks embedded with geodes, as well as many scenic ridges and the trailhead for the Terrill Ridge Trail. Dogs are welcome, so long as they're on a leash.

The Charles C. Deam Wilderness is open from dawn to dusk, seven days per week.

Difficult Hikes

Three Lakes Trail

The Three Lakes Trail is a challenging 10.4-mile loop located within the Morgan-Monroe State Forest. It's considered a difficult trek due to its length, about 1.5 miles of which is steadily uphill.

Morgan-Monroe State Forest Three Lakes Trail during fall
Photo by Jammy Dodger

The trail winds by two of the state forest's lakes, offering beautiful views of the surrounding fall foliage reflecting in the water. Hikers will also find several creek crossings and ridges. Dogs are welcome, so long as they're on a leash.

Morgan-Monroe State Forest is open from dawn to dusk, seven days per week.

Looking for more to do in Bloomington this fall? Check out these blogs: