Monday, January 9, 2012

Trail Running In and Around Bloomington Indiana


Bloomington is one of the best places to live in the Midwest in terms of proximity to trails. However, few runners take advantage of this great network of trails so close to us! Most trail runners find themselves running at Pate Hallow or Lake Griffy over and over again because they don’t know of anywhere else.

Here is a list of some of the best trail running Bloomington has to offer (other than these two, of course). I hope you take advantage of them!


Driving Time from Bloomington: 0 minutes
Best for runs under 10 miles

Wapehani is a great local area that is rarely used—in fact, most people don’t even know about it. It is easily accessed from the north end of the Clear Creek Trail (on Tapp Road). It is designated as a mountain bike park, but runners and hikers are encouraged as well! Don’t let the fact that mountain bikes are allowed discourage you; I’ve actually never even seen a mountain biker out there and I have been running there for 6 years now. The trail system there is quite unique in the fact that it is hard to go to the same place twice. The trails are set up on a “web” where one trail splits into two, then those two spit again, and so on. With that being said, there is no “main” trail and each time I run there I find myself doing different routes. Currently the City of Bloomington is building even more trails there as you read this. It can be easy to get lost there, but if you can remember to head back to the lake (situated in the middle of the park) you should be able to easily find your way back to your car. There are a total of about 6-7 miles of trail there (although online resources suggest anywhere from 5-9) so anything much longer than 10 miles (or 90 minutes), I find myself getting bored. Wapehani is great for shorter weekday runs but I suggest other options for anyone wanting to run longer than 90 minutes.

Races in the park: None. DINO series used to have a 15K in the park but that was several years ago.

How to get there: (1) Park at Clear Creek Trail Tapp Road parking lot. Run across Tapp Road and turn right on Weimer Road, then turn left on Wapehani Road and the trails are at the end of the road (~1.5 miles from the CCT parking lot). (2) There is also a parking lot at the end of Wapehani Road so you could alternatively park there. Directions to that lot can be found HERE.

Morgan-Monroe State Forest

Driving Time from Bloomington: 15 minutes
Best for runs of 3 miles, 6 miles, 10 miles, or 10+ miles

click to enlarge

There are two 10 mile loops which are the park’s main attraction but there are also two 3 mile loops, which can be combined for a 6 mile loop, and the start of the Tecumseh Trail is here. One could combine the two 10 mile loops for a 20 mile run, or one could do an out and back on the Tecumseh Trail—the possibilities are really endless. Here is a brief description of the trails; for more info do not hesitate to ask.

  • Three Lakes Trail: Don’t let the name fool you, there are actually only 2 lakes on this loop. For those of you who have run Run with the Foxes, most of that course takes place on the Three Lakes loop. Starting from the parking lot, head south across the dam—the trail starts on the other side of the dam. Follow the white blazes (painted marks) on the trees for ~10.4 miles until you return to your car. The trail is well-marked except for one part that is confusing—when you reach the second lake, run along the grass (after making a left off the road to get on the grass) for ~100m before making a left turn to go back into the woods. It is easy to miss this left turn as it is not marked very well. About halfway through the loop, and just after the 2nd lake, you will come to bathrooms and a water fountain where you can get more water if needed. This is trail #4 on the map above (which can be clicked to enlarge).
  • Low Gap Loop/Rock Shelter Loop: Low Gap Trail is the other 10ish mile loop that Morgan-Monroe has to offer. Park at the Low Gap trailhead (see directions below) and look for signs indicating the start of the trail. There are 2 trailheads from the parking lots, as the trail is a loop. You can take the trail either direction, but I’ll describe it as if going down the trailhead that does NOT have stairs at the beginning. Once again, look for white blazes on the trail. This is trail #7 on the map. The trail splits twice. The first time you have the option of returning to the parking lot which would make the run a total of 3 miles long (this is the Rock Shelter Loop or trail #6 on the map), or you can continue on and do the whole 10+ miles. To do the full 10 mile loop bear right slightly at the split (there will be a sign that says "back country area") or to do the 3 mile loop bear a slight left (the sign will say "to parking lot", or something to that extent). There are no bathrooms or places to get water on this loop, so plan accordingly.
  • Mason Ridge Loop: Also starting from the Low Gap parking lot, there is another 3 mile loop. Cross the paved road and you will see a trailhead. Take this and it will go ~1.5 miles until it dumps you out on the same paved road. Cross the road and go ~100 meters on a gravel road (you will have to pass through a gate) before making a right turn back on the trail. You are on the trail for ~1.5 miles before you return to the Low Gap parking lot. This is trail #5 on the map below. This can be combined with the Rock Shelter loop for a nice 6 mile run (trails 5 + 6 on the map).
  • Tecumseh Trail: The 42 mile long Tecumseh Trail begins at Morgan-Monroe State Forest. Out and backs can be done on it or you can do a point to point run and have someone pick you up at the other end. To get to the trailhead, continue past the Low Gap trailhead for ~2 miles. There will be a parking lot on your right that says Tecumseh Trail.

Races in the park: Run with the Foxes, Knobstone Trail Mini Marathon, Tecumseh Trail Marathon. Also a portion of the Red Eye Relay runs through the park.

How to get there: (1) Head north on Old State Rd. 37. When you pass Musgrave Orchard, you are getting close. You will see a lake on your right, with a gravel parking lot on the right, next to the lake. This is the easiest place to park for the Three Lakes Trail. (2) Head north on Old State Rd. 37, when you past Musgrave Orchard you are getting close. You will see a lake on your right, continue and you will make a left turn into the park, this will be well marked. Continue on the main forest road for ~3.3 miles until you see signs for the Low Gap parking lot on your right.

Driving Time from Bloomington: 20 minutes
Best for runs of 6+ miles

Located just east of Bloomington and on the way to Nashville/Columbus. Yellowwood hardly gets any use at all, much less than even Morgan-Monroe so you’re likely to have the trails to yourself. The terrain here is very similar to Morgan-Monroe. There are a variety of different trail lengths and almost all of the trails pass right by one another so they can be combined for even longer runs. The Tecumseh Trail runs through this park as well so out and backs on it are also an option. There are bathrooms and water located at the campgrounds throughout the park as well as at the park office. Here is a brief description of the trails. For more information doesn’t hesitate to ask again. Trail maps are available at the park office, if they have not run out of them, which can definitely happen. (Specific trail info below from HERE - click on "trails")

  • High King Trail: .5 miles, Steep trail cut through a heavily forested hillside. The trail leads up to a scenic view, you can do an out and back to return to the starting point or the trail connects with the Scarce of Fat Trail. To get to the trail head follow directions to the dam.
  • Lake Trail: 4.5 miles, This trail loops completely around Yellowwood Lake. The trail uses several segment of other marked trails so caution to follow the right trail is needed. Always follow “wave” markings on the trees. There are multiple access points to this trail but if you park by the dam you can access it and several other trails.
  • Scarce O' Fat Trail: 4 miles, Some parts follow fire trails, so watch for trail markers. Begins at the ending of the High King Trail. To get to this trail follow directions to the dam. Take the High King Trail for .5 mile till it terminates. At the end the Scarce O’ Fat trail begins. This trail is a loop, but you come out approximately 200m from your car. To get back to your car turn right on the gravel rd. the trail dead ends on. 

There are also several horse trails available at Yellowwood. Like most trails "specific" to others ways of trafficking, hikers/runners are welcome however, if horses scare you, you might want to try the trails listed above which do not allow them. Horse trails can get muddy at times, so be prepared for this and wear old shoes. Rain can easily turn the trails into a mess. All of these horse trails can be accessed from the horseman’s campground, which has a parking lot. Follow signs for the horseman’s campground when you enter the park.

  • "Y" Horse Trail: 8.6 miles, Starts and ends near Horse Campground. Follow signs from the Horse Campground.
  • "SY" Horse Trail: 4 miles, This shortcut creates a 4-mile loop on the Y Trail. Starts and ends near Horse Campground. Follow signs from the Horse Campground for trail Y but watch for the turn off for trail SY.
  • "Z" Horse Trail: 4 miles, Starts at Horse Campground - traverses west side of lake on the Lake Trail and then follows portions of the Scarce of Fat Trail.
Races in the park: The Tecumseh Trail Marathon ends here. Also there is a 5 mile race around the lake that takes place on the same day, the Yellowwood Lake Fun Run/Walk. It is a part of the Tecumseh Trail Marathon event.
How to get there: Take 46 East then turn left on Yellowwood Road. There will be a sign telling you to turn left for Yellowwood State Forest. From Yellowwood Road, follow signs to the park. Once inside the park follow the signs to get to the trailhead of your choice.
Brown County
Driving time from Bloomington: 25 minutes
Best for runs of 0 - as much as you want
Cost: $5 at gate
Located a few miles past Yellowwood, Brown County State Park is a much more established park. The trails are excellently marked and it is next to impossible to get lost. There are bathrooms and places to get water all over the park. Afternoons in the summer and fall are peak visiting hours and the park can get quite crowded at these times. In general, there are 3 different types of trails in the park: hiking, biking, and horse trails. As mentioned before, runners are welcome to use all three but if watching out for bikers and horses doesn’t suit you, then stick to the hiking-only trails. You’ll get a park map at the front gate which clearly identifies which trails mountain bikes are allowed on. The map that they give you only shows some of the trails the park has to offer, but you can get a topographic map from J.L. Waters or a similar store if you want to see all the trails. Brown County is a unique park in that it is much hillier than either Morgan-Monroe or Yellowwood, and it is the furthest drive out of any of the parks I’ve listed. Some of the scenic overlooks (a.k.a. hesitation points) are some of the most beautiful views in all of Southern Indiana- enjoy them! By far, Brown County is my favorite place to run and I encourage everyone to get out there and see what it has to offer!
The real gem of the park is Trail #9 which starts at Ogle Lake. Trail 9 is a "lollipop" trail so you will have to traverse the “stick” of the lollipop twice to get back to your car, as well as going around the loop the "candy". In total, the trail is ~9 miles from the parking lot at Ogle Lake. The trail features difficult hills and is a perfect loop for those training for races with a lot of elevation change.
Races at the park: Dances with Dirt, Reindeer Romp 5K/8K (this one is on roads rather than trails), DINO Series 5K/15K, and the new Frosty Trails 5 Miler, this Saturday!
How to get there: Take 46 East past Yellowwood and just continue on straight (along the hilly, curvy road). You’ll go up a big hill and the west entrance is on your right; you can’t miss it as there are signs directing you to it. There are other entrances to the park but this is the closest one to Bloomington.
Driving Time from Bloomington: 20 minutes
Best for runs of 14, 15-30 miles
Hoosier National Forest Charles C. Deam section is another great area for running. All the trails here also allow horses so they can get a bit muddy at times. From the Hays Road parking lot you only have one choice and that is to take the Hays Trail for 1.9 miles. From there it dead ends into the Grub Ridge Trail which you can take either right or left for a 15 mile loop round trip. If you head left or right on the Grub Ridge Trail, you can pick up the 545 trail for a nice loop of ~7 mile run round trip. Another option is to head left at the split then run ~2.7 miles until you see the beginning of the Peninsula Trail on your left. Take this for ~2.6 miles until it deadends in the lake. Turn around and run back for a nice out and back of 14 miles round trip. These are the three easiest routes from the Hays Road trailhead. More routes exist if you want to run further and, of course, you can always do an out and back for any distance, short or long. See below for a nice map of the area.
click to enlarge
How to get there: The closest trailhead from Bloomington is the Hays Road trailhead. Head east on 446 and cross the causeway over Lake Monroe. Turn left on Hays Road. It is a gravel road and is VERY easy to miss. It is the next left after Burgoon Creek Road. If you see Alan’s Creek Road on your right, you have gone too far. Hays Road says no outlet/no parking but after you go ~100m down the road, there is a gravel parking lot big enough for 4 or 5 cars and it's never full. There are a bunch of different parking areas located along Tower Ridge Road (also off of 446) but it nearly doubles your driving time from Bloomington so I always park off of Hays.


More Information:

Hunting takes place during hunting season in Morgan-Monroe State Forest, Yellowwood State Forest, and the Hoosier National Forest. Runners and hikers are welcome to use the trails during these time periods but are advised to wear bright colors and/or vests. If being around hunters scares you, I suggest running at the other parks I listed (Wapehani and Brown County) which do NOT allow hunting.

Also, while some of my "best for runs of" distances may seem quite daunting, don't forget, you can always just do a there and back of any distance. Finally, more info on the trails that most runners are already familiar with (mentioned at the top of this blog) can be found HERE (Griffy) and HERE (Paynetown). Both of these places have trail maps onsite.

This is just an overview of some of the trails around the area. I hope you enjoy it and again, if you have any questions or are in need of a good route, don’t hesitate to ask me! Trail running holds a special place in my heart and I hope you’ll take advantage of the hundreds of miles in and around Bloomington that are offered. Bloomington and the surrounding areas have such a great network of trails. I am hard pressed to think of any other area in the Midwest that compares!

My name is Scott Breeden, I’m 22 years old, and I run to...well, because I have nothing else better to do.

SCOTT BREEDEN began running at the tender age of 14. One day he got lost in the woods in Brown County State Park for a couple hours. From then on he decided to do trail running and has done it ever since. He prefers to run long distances, basically anything over a marathon. Scott ran over 5,000 miles in 2011. Read more about him HERE.


Anonymous said...

This is a keeper! I have run the Clear Creek Trail and continued along Weimer to break the routine a little. Now hitting the "wipe my hienie" (what we called it as kids), will be great way to extend for a longer run.
The other trails sound great too. Tons of useful information, thanks for sharing your knowledge.

emlikestorun said...

Excellent writing, Scott!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Scott! I can't wait to try these out!

Anonymous said...

I need to bookmark this - thanks!

Greg Fisher said...

I am moving to Bloomington, IN in the summer and this blogpost has just made my day. Thanks so much for the fabulous information. Cant wait to try these out.

Mandy said...

No problem, Greg. You should check out the group runs at Indiana Running Company if you're looking to meet people too!