12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Bloomington, Indiana

Written by Brad Lane
Jul 29, 2020
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With ample natural attractions and a community largely defined by the campus of Indiana University, Bloomington is a landscaped city with many fun things to do. Fifty miles south of Indianapolis, this city of more than 80,000 offers community activities and access to some of the wildest environments in Indiana.

For the quickest way to check out much of what Bloomington has to offer, head right to the B-Line Trail, which navigates through the heart of town. This converted railway corridor now connects walkers and cyclists to some of the top attractions in the city.

Along the B-Line Trail, places like the WonderLab Museum are worth a visit, and the downtown district, including Fountain Square Mall, is also nearby. Adjacent to Fountain Square Mall, Kirkwood Avenue provides more local establishments to discover and connects to the campus of Indiana University.

Home of the Hoosiers, Indiana University Bloomington provides a multitude of community-orientated attractions and events. Just a few of the things to do on campus include Hoosier athletic events and the tranquil surroundings of the IU Arboretum.

Nationally known outdoor spaces, like McCormick's Creek State Park and Hoosier National Forest, also surround the city. These outlets for adventure provide easy access to the scenic nature of south-central Indiana.

Discover more places to visit with our list of the top things to do in Bloomington, Indiana.

1. McCormick's Creek State Park

McCormick's Creek State Park
McCormick's Creek State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The first state park in Indiana, McCormick's Creek is just 15 miles northwest of Bloomington. Limestone caves, rushing water, and the dense forested landscapes at McCormick's Creek provide beautiful scenery to explore on a day trip or overnight adventure.

Electric and primitive camping are available at McCormick's Creek State Park. Over 200 individual sites are available, as well as group camping areas and cabins. Other overnight options besides camping include stays at the Canyon Inn within the state park, complete with lodge furnishings and front-door access to the great outdoors.

Other popular attractions at the park include an Olympic-sized swimming pool, an exhibit-filled nature center, and a variety of accessible hiking trails. Visitors can also enjoy guided horseback rides from the Saddle Barn.

Address: 250 McCormick Creek Park Road, Spencer, Indiana

Official site: http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2978.htm

2. Indiana University Bloomington

Sample Gates, Indiana University
Sample Gates, Indiana University | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The flagship campus of Indiana University, and home of the Hoosiers, Indiana University Bloomington is a prestigious public institution with a strong connection to the community. The park-like layout of the campus is always fun to visit, with many scenic stops next to fountains, landscaped green spaces, and halls of academia ringing with history.

Founded in 1820, Indiana University Bloomington has helped define the community for nearly two centuries, and this research university continues to provide many attractions for the public to enjoy today. Catching a Saturday Hoosier football game at "the Rock," also known as Memorial Stadium, is a rite of passage for some Hoosier families. And the same can be said about Hoosier basketball at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Interested observers may find themselves enjoying the open houses at the Kirkwood Observatory, near the iconic Sample Gates on campus. The adjacent Fountain Square Mall and Kirkwood Avenue are also popular with students and residents alike. Other inviting community attractions on campus include the Eskenazi Museum of Art, the IU Arboretum, and numerous free concerts that take place throughout the year.

Official site: https://www.indiana.edu/

3. Hoosier National Forest

Hoosier National Forest
Hoosier National Forest

Encompassing more than 200,000 acres of natural habitat, the Hoosier National Forest provides true adventure to south-central Indiana. Spread across nine counties, Hoosier National Forest is split between two natural regions of the state, with the northern portion easily accessed from Bloomington. This means that for city residents and tourists, escaping into the natural space is an easy thing to do.

The northern portion of Hoosier National Forest near Bloomington caters to a wide variety of recreation. Common activities include backpacking, fishing, scenic driving, rock climbing, and wildlife viewing. Numerous campgrounds can be found throughout the entire forest for both RV dwellers and primitive campers.

One of the most scenic areas of the entire forest is the Charles C. Deam Wilderness, accessed from Bloomington with a 20-mile drive. This 13,000-acre, federally designated wilderness area, is the only one of its kind in the state. Wild hyacinths are known to bloom throughout the spring in the wilderness area, and the roadless forest is ripe for non-motorized exploration.

Official site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/hoosier/

4. B-Line Trail

B-Line Trail
B-Line Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The B-Line Trail is a paved pedestrian path that makes it easy to navigate Bloomington without a car. Once a railway connector, this 12-foot-wide trail stretches for 3.1 miles through Bloomington and connects many of the city's top attractions and natural spaces.

Downtown is a prominent stop on the B-Line Trail, and walkers, cyclists, and non-motorized travelers can easily connect with amenities like the Farmers' Market, the WonderLab Museum, and countless city events and venues. Energy-efficient lights illuminate the public art along the trail from dusk to dawn, and intermittent fitness stations encourage even more exercise.

5. Fountain Square Mall

Fountain Square Mall
Fountain Square Mall | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

At the heart of downtown, less than a half mile from Sample Gates and the Indiana University campus, Fountain Square Mall is a historic building filled with many local shops to discover. Ranging from fashion and jewelry to health and fitness, including arts and hobbies, nearly every store within Fountain Square Mall is unique to Bloomington.

Within the shopping space, a historic ballroom also beckons and can be rented out for special occasions. Fountain Square Mall receives due credit for revitalizing the downtown area during the 1980s, and during any visit today, it's hard to imagine this bustling district ever needing an economic boost.

Stemming in all directions from Fountain Square Mall, particularly on Kirkwood Avenue heading towards the university, are a wide variety of storefronts and community institutions. Local eateries, specialty shops, and boutiques line this area of the city, and throngs of students, tourists, and residents fill the sidewalks.

Address: 101 West Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, Indiana

Official site: https://www.fountainsquarebloomington.com/

6. WonderLab Museum of Science, Health & Technology

WonderLab WonderGarden
WonderLab WonderGarden | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This downtown children's museum sparks the imagination with hands-on science activity and interactive exhibits. Easily accessed via the B-Line Trail, a few of the permanent exhibits at WonderLab include a Kaleidoscope Cave, Bubble Airium, and Hall of Natural Science.

Outside on the grounds, the Lester P. Bushnell WonderGarden is a bountiful natural space filled with living exhibits. As part of the mission of this non-profit institution, WonderLab also offers a variety of programs, including STEM-oriented "IDEA Labs," adult social functions, and WonderCamps for kids.

Address: 308 West Fourth Street, Bloomington, Indiana

Official site: http://www.wonderlab.org/

7. Wylie House Museum

Inside the Wylie House Museum
Inside the Wylie House Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the southern outskirts of campus, the Wylie House Museum is a historic home built and lived in by Dr. Andrew Wylie, the first president of Indiana University. The entire estate is now a public museum open to all members of the community to enjoy. Free guided tours of this 1835 home occur between 10am and 2pm Tuesday through Saturday.

Upon entry to the home, the shock of time travel may occur, for the house still appears to support a 19th-century lifestyle, adorned with many original artifacts.

On the grounds outside, an heirloom garden provides even more to admire, and the neighboring Morton C. Bradley, Jr. Education Center provides deeper insight into various influential members of the Wylie family.

Address: 307 East Second Street, Bloomington, Indiana

Official site: https://libraries.indiana.edu/wylie-house-museum

8. Monroe Lake

Lake Monroe
Monroe Lake

As the state's largest inland lake, Monroe Lake is a popular spot for water activities and exploring the shore. Boating, swimming, and fishing opportunities are found throughout this massive man-made lake, and hiking trails sprawl throughout the forest surrounding the shoreline.

Fifteen miles from Bloomington, Fairfax State Recreation Area is a popular destination on the west side of Monroe Lake. The state recreation area features boat launches, a swimming beach, and resort offerings. The campground at Fairfax features 300 electric and primitive sites total.

Paynetown State Recreation Area is another popular place to visit close to the shore and Bloomington. Paynetown also features boat rentals, electric and non-electric campsites, and an interpretive center to learn more about the creation of the lake.

Address: 4850 South State Road 446, Bloomington, Indiana

9. Wapehani Mountain Bike Park

Rider at Wapehani Mountain Bike Park
Rider at Wapehani Mountain Bike Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Southeast of downtown and the Indiana University campus, Wapehani Mountain Bike Park is one of the first of its kind in Indiana. Tucked away on a quiet 50 acres of land, the mountain bike park also caters to hikers, trail runners, mushroom hunters, and wildlife watchers.

With nearly eight miles of trails, ranging from intermediate runs to more advanced downhills and obstacles, Wapehani sees plenty of traffic on the weekends and evenings. If you are planning to bike with friends, carpooling is a great option, as the gravel parking lot has enough room for maybe a dozen cars.

Address: 3401 West Wapehani Road, Bloomington, Indiana

10. Indiana University Arboretum

Indiana University Arboretum
Indiana University Arboretum | StevenW. / photo modified

Now a welcoming natural space on campus, the current location of the IU Arboretum was once the site of the original Memorial Stadium. Also known as the Jesse H. and Beulah Chanley Cox Arboretum, named after two influential Hoosier alum, the arboretum was first planted in 1984, and the tranquil attractions of this common area have really grown into the space ever since.

The fresh air and open space provide a great place to relax between classes. Community members also enjoy the slower pace provided by the arboretum. Things really start to take bloom in the arboretum beginning in late April and May.

Address: East Tenth Street, Bloomington, Indiana

11. Lower Cascades Park

Lower Cascades Park
Lower Cascades Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

A relaxing space to get away, Lower Cascades Park provides a peaceful setting alongside many recreational outlets for the whole family. Children and kids tend to enjoy the large, fully accessible playground at Lower Cascades, and adults appreciate the rambling views of the landscaped creek nearby.

Picnic shelters and creekside picnic tables make for a great place to visit to enjoy a packed lunch at Lower Cascades Park. And the variety of open spaces are ideal for throwing a football around and other lawn activities.

The Cascades Park Trail is a paved, non-motorized pathway that takes in the natural surroundings of the area.

Address: 2851 North Old State Road 37, Bloomington, Indiana

12. Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center

Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center masks
Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center masks | Dave Kleinschmidt / photo modified

Located southeast of the city, halfway between downtown and Monroe Lake, this cultural center and monastery provides a unique look into a different culture. Or for many that visit, a valuable resource to express their values.

Founded in 1979, this cultural center has evolved over the years and now strives to preserve and nurture Tibetan and Mongolian culture in the United States. This inspiring campus provides classes, workshops, and opportunities such as summer retreats and weekly teachings including prayer, meditation, and yoga.

The intricately decorated grounds are also available to tour and provide a tranquil moment during the day. Several works of art and architecture punctuate much of the space at the cultural center, with notable features including Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple and a Tibetan stupa.

Address: 3655 South Snoddy Road, Bloomington, Indiana

Official site: https://www.tmbcc.org/

Where to Stay in Bloomington, Indiana for Sightseeing

A good concentration of places to stay in Bloomington are directly downtown, with a few options located on the Indiana University campus. North of the city center, near Lower Cascades Park, affordable hotel options can be found, with more than a few offering first-class amenities and service.

  • Mid-Range Hotels: Located at the center of the city off Kirkwood Avenue, Hyatt Place Bloomington Indiana offers one of the best stays in the city. With a perfect location near the many shops and restaurants of downtown, and less than a mile from the Indiana University campus, Hyatt Place offers pet-friendly suites in stylish settings, as well as an in-house eatery and state-of-the-art fitness center.

    A few blocks from Hyatt Place, Springhill Suites Bloomington provides similar service with modern suites and a great downtown location.

    At the heart of the Indiana University campus, the Indiana Memorial Union Biddle Hotel and Conference Center is a historic hotel with superior service and comfortable rooms, as well as instant access to the surrounding university.
  • Budget Hotels: While not all budget hotels in Bloomington live up to the same standards, places north of the city center, like Cascades Inn, provide first-class service for affordable rates. The clean and comfortable rooms and friendly staff encourage repeat visits.

    On the east side of the IU campus, the Travelodge by Wyndham Bloomington also has a good reputation as an affordable hotel with first-class amenities like room service and free breakfast in the morning.

    South of the city, and closer to the Hoosier National Forest, the Economy Inn provides a clean place to stay at an affordable rate, including discounts for a extended visits.
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