Just near the spillway at Lake Monroe, the Cutouts is a perfect place to fish, barbecue or relax with friends. With two fire pits and picnic tables, this scenic destination is a great place for group bonding outdoors. Play games in the open field between the two rocky limestone cliffs, climb the cliff trails for a bird’s-eye view of the lake or sit shoreside and let the water wash over your toes. As one of Lake Monroe’s best-kept secrets, the Cutouts is never too busy and provides a relaxing escape away from some of the lake’s more commonly visited areas.
Hickory Ridge Fire Tower
Nestled deep in the northern-most section of the Hoosier National Forest, the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower is a local favorite. A ten-minute drive from the park’s entrance, the fire tower was built in 1936 as a lookout tower for wildfires in the surrounding forests. The only remaining of eight towers built in the area, the fire tower was used until the 1970s. Today the 110-foot-tall tower is open for anyone to climb, providing an incredible view to catch the sunset above the treetops.
With two loop trails ranging in difficulty from easy to rugged, a hike around Griffy Lake is a great way to escape day-to-day stresses. Just a ten-minute drive from downtown Bloomington, it’s easy to lose yourself in Griffy’s shady forests and forget your proximity to the nearby college town. Kayak and canoe rentals are available seasonally at the Griffy Lake Boathouse. While camping and swimming are not permitted in the Griffy Lake Nature Preserve Area, backpacking, picnicking and fishing with a license are all allowed and make this a perfect spot for a day trip outdoors.
A southern Indiana tradition, going to the quarries is on just about every Hoosier’s bucket list. The quarries, left open across the state’s southern region following years of prosperous limestone manufacture, have become a defining characteristic of the area. While the famous Rooftop Quarry featured in the 1979 Oscar-winning Breaking Away is closed to the public, there are a couple of legal locations to replicate the movie’s iconic cliff-diving scene. White Rock Park, an hour and a half’s drive east of Bloomington in St. Paul, Indiana, allows for cliff diving off of four platforms of various heights and offers zip-lining, rope-swinging, camping, fishing and scuba diving for additional fun.
An ideal place to cool off on a hot day, Lake Lemon provides designated swimming throughout much of the summer season. Well looked after by a dedicated Lake Lemon Conservancy District, the organization strives to employ sustainable practices to preserve not only the lake but also its many surrounding wildlife species. Hikes on the district’s Tulip Tree Nature Trail allows visitors to explore this wildlife first hand and includes scenic views of the lake.
For a sweet treat, check out Musgrave Orchard. Operating through a ‘community supported agriculture’ program, Musgrave Orchard supports local food production and sells seasonal produce from their Bloomington-area store. With a friendly, family atmosphere, the Musgrave Orchard store has everything from fall favorites like apples, pumpkins and cider to various veggies and homemade crafts. Customers can also adventure outside and take a walk through the Musgrave Orchard, just behind the store.
Clifty Falls State Park
Just north of the Indiana-Kentucky state border, Clifty Falls State Park is known for its impressive waterfalls. With a variety of both rushing and light waterfalls, the park’s range of ‘easy’ to ‘very rugged’ hiking trails provides for spectacular views overlooking the falls and canyon. With electric and non-electric camping, an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts and an amphitheater, Clifty Falls is a park everyone from the casual nature enthusiast to the experienced camper can enjoy.