Last weekend our crew had an opportunity to take a road trip to Bloomington, Indiana, nicknamed “Btown” for a day. Since our family loves to spend time outside, we spent the majority of our day enjoying a few of Bloomington’s outdoor attractions. While the fall weather was on the crisp side, indeed, we were still able to spend the better part of the day walking the city’s rail-to-trail, appreciating outdoor public art displays, and hiking at local nature preserves before heading indoors for some additional fun at the city’s climbing gym. All the while, we fueled our outdoor adventures at a number of Bloomington’s independent restaurants and coffee shops.
In full disclosure, Bloomington holds a special place in our hearts. I, Ginny, was born and raised in this college town, home to Indiana University. While attending IU, I met, fell in love with, and married Luke. Shortly after college, the first of our five kids was born in Bloomington. We haven’t lived in Bloomington for over a decade and, regrettably, don’t have opportunities to visit often enough. The city has so much to offer! From sporting events, live music & theater, diverse cultural events, to numerous outdoor attractions, which are our family’s favorite.
We are so grateful for the opportunity to spend a fun-filled, fall day in Btown as a family. Here we tell which of Bloomington’s outdoor attractions we visited as well as all of the places we ate at along the way.
Start at the Square
If you are visiting Bloomington for the first time, we recommend you start at the square. Located directly west of the IU campus, the square and neighboring streets are the heart of the city, with numerous restaurants, shop and theaters. We began our day on Btown’s square with a light breakfast from The Inkwell Bakery & Café. The Inkwell serves made-from-scratch baked goods, healthy breakfast entrees, and premium coffee with a trendy & modern, but warm coffee-shop vibe. While the kids immediately chose scones, mini bundt cakes, and homemade pop-tarts, the crowd-favorite was my yogurt parfait.
Along with The Inkwell and other restaurants, a number of quaint shops line Bloomington’s square. Being outdoor enthusiasts, we stopped by JL Waters and Co, Indiana’s oldest outdoor adventure store.
Our eldest, Luke, spent some time eyeing the backpack duffles for upcoming Boy Scout campouts. That is until he noticed the photos lining the wall. In the photos, are customers outfitted by JL Waters for adventures throughout around the world. He was definitely impressed, to say the least! If you are planning to spend time outside while in Bloomington, JL Waters is your best bet for any outdoor gear you may happen to need.
Enjoy the Outdoor Art
Bloomington has a thriving arts scene, which includes IU’s Eskenazi Museum of Art, multiple downtown galleries, as well as a number of outdoor public art displays. The latter of which are entirely free! After breakfast, we spent some time strolling the city’s streets in search of outdoor art. First, we walked to one of Bloomington’s best outdoor attractions, the B-Line Trail. Just a block away from the square, this 3-mile multi-use trail runs along a former railroad corridor through downtown Btown. It passes by shops, restaurants, and the town farmer’s market. Additionally, the trail is lined with a number of murals and sculptures.
Next, we headed to People’s Park, a small park just a block west of campus. A brick building on the east side of the park displays a massive mural, painted by artist Eva Allen, that reads “Welcome to Bloomington, You Belong Here”. Each of the large block letters in the mural depicts a different aspect of the city; history, culture, attractions. The kids had fun spotting some of those that we had already come across, including the courthouse and B-Line bridge.
Last, we stopped at one more mural just south the Indiana University campus. The “Love This Town” mural, also painted by Eva Allen, was as colorful as the previous mural and more whimsical. Who can resist posing in front of angel wings? Clearly, I can’t!
Stroll the Boardwalks at Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve
Once the sun started to shine, we drove to Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve, one of Bloomington’s best outdoor attractions. Part of the Sycamore Land Trust, Beanblossom Bottoms preserves over 700 acres of land north of Bloomington, primarily wetland. The wetlands can be accessed by approximately 2.5 miles of boardwalk trail. Since the boardwalks are for the most part flat, the hike seemed more like a stroll.
The kids, of course, loved walking through the preserve on the plastic boardwalks and wooden planks. Any time a hike involves a feature beyond a basic trail, whether it be a bridge, ladder, or in this case boardwalks, our kids get excited. Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve was no exception!
In addition to the boardwalks, they were fascinated by the tornado damage. A 2019 tornado swept through the preserve, toppling trees and damaging the boardwalks. The majority of the trails have been repaired, but uprooted, snapped and bent trees still remain. The kids observed that the tree shown in the photo below looks like a rainbow, that you can walk under.
Even with plenty of sunshine, after spending a few hours outside on a near-freezing day we had built up quite an appetite. So, after our stroll, we headed to a Bloomington institution, Mother Bear’s Pizza. For nearly a half century, Mother Bear’s has not only been serving some of Btown’s best pizza, but the nation’s best pizza. The local restaurant has been awarded The Best Pizza in Indiana as well as one of the America’s Top Pizza’s by publications like People Magazine and USA Today. As you can see, their pizza does not disappoint!
Take a Leisurely Hike at Leonard Springs Nature Park
After filling up on pizza, we headed out for another hike. During our time in Bloomington, we often drove to nearby state parks for hiking. Somehow, we had never heard of Leonard Springs Nature Park, until it was recommended by the kind folks at Visit Bloomington. Just a short drive from downtown Bloomington, this hidden gem is a great option if you want to take a leisurely hike, but don’t have the time or desire to drive very far. The 95-acre park is packed full of fun features. A moderate 1.1-mile trails leads visitors past two caves, down a ravine, by Shirley Springs and cascading waterfalls to a beautiful wetland. If you have time for one outdoor activity when in Bloomington, we recommend Leonard Springs Nature Park!
Too Cold Outside? Head to Hoosier Heights
While we would have enjoyed spending more time outside exploring Bloomington, daylight was waning and the temperatures were beginning to drop. So, we headed to one of our favorite Btown attractions, Hoosier Heights! Back in the day, Luke and I used to go on climbing dates at Hoosier Heights. While we were eager to take the kids climbing, we were even more excited to check out Hoosier Heights’ new facility. Located just steps from Bloomington’s B-Line Trail, the climbing gym is located in a former church.
The process by which a local church became a climbing facility is fascinating, indeed. You can read more about it in Outside Online. But briefly, Hoosier Heights purchased the vacant church, turning the worship space into a bouldering gym and adding an additional building for top-rope climbing.
Our family absolutely loved this facility! There is so much space for the kids to move about freely without getting in the way of other climbers. The boys especially enjoyed the bouldering space, which was much larger than those in gyms we’ve visited previously. Luke and I liked the old pews, placed throughout the gym, that allowed us to sit back and watch the kids climb. If you are looking for a Bloomington activity that brings the outdoors inside this winter, look no further than Hoosier Heights!
Last But Not Least
After climbing, the kids were rather hungry, but not quite enough for a full meal. So, ice cream it was! We visited Hartzell’s, a local ice cream shop with a wide variety of flavors that change seasonally. I opted for the apple cider sorbet. It did not disappoint!
After a fun-filled day, Luke and I needed a little pick-me-up for the drive home. We stopped in Btown coffee shop, Hopscotch Coffee. Let’s just say that the coffee shop vibe, as well as their cappuccino, were spot on!
Thank you to Visit Bloomington for inviting us to experience their city as Btown Explorers. Honestly, so much has changed since we last lived in Bloomington that we were able to spend the majority of our day exploring places completely new to us. If you are a fellow outdoor enthusiast like us, we hope that you are inspired to spend a weekend experiencing some of Bloomington’s awesome outdoor attractions! As always, the recommendations and opinions in this post are entirely our own.
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