By Corinne Minard
Just because summer has ended doesn’t mean the vacation is over. In the Miami Valley, we’re just a short drive away from plenty of fall fun. Whether you take a long weekend or just the day there’s a fall getaway that’s worth the trip.
About 2 1/2 Hours Away
Within two and a half hours, wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts can find plenty to view and explore. Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont, Kentucky, is a more than 15,000-acre privately held forest and natural area. Bernheim is home to more than 40 miles of hiking trails, from a small quarter-mile hike to a 13-mile trail.
“We protect 13 headwaters and streams so we have a lot of clean water
running here,” says Amy Joseph Landon, manager of communication and marketing for Bernheim. “Hikers certainly have the opportunity to see a lot of those water sources.”
While any hike will allow visitors to see the changing colors of the trees, Landon recommends the Canopy Tree Walk for a truly spectacular view.
“(It’s) a deck that goes 75 feet above the forest floor, so you’re really within the treetops, and it’s spectacular all year round, but in the fall especially you really get a great view of the breadth of fall color and the changing seasons from the top of that canopy tree walk. You can do that with a stroller, so that’s a really wonderful feature that we have here,” she says.
Throughout the fall, Bernheim also hosts several events to encourage visitors to explore and learn more about nature. On the first and third Saturdays of each month, Bernheim hosts a ECO Kids Discovery Day, which stands for Every Child Outside. Families can participate in an outdoor challenge and then explore discovery stations set up within the visitors’ center.
“That’s where some of our volunteer naturalists will be set up and providing drop-in hands-on nature experiences on all kinds of topics related to nature, from animals to trees to bugs to plants coloring and things like that,” says Landon.
Oct. 20-21, Bernheim will host its annual ColorFest. The two-day event features a hay maze, pumpkin launching, food trucks and more.
Visitors can visit Bernheim for $5 per car on weekends and holidays and for free on weekdays.
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge in Indiana also offers opportunities to get close to nature. The largest national wildlife refuge in Indiana at 50,000 acres, Big Oaks is home to many types of wildlife. In addition to white-tailed deer and wild turkeys, the refuge hosts cerulean warblers, river otters, rare crawfish frogs and one of the world’s largest populations of Henslow’s sparrows. Big Oaks is designated a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy.
Open 7 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on Mondays, Fridays and the second and fourth Saturdays of each month April through November, the refuge encourages visitors to hike its trails or to go fishing, canoeing or kayaking on its 165-acre lake. During the fall, the refuge also opens itself to deer and turkey hunting on certain days. Check with Big Oaks for an updated schedule and availability.
About 3 Hours Away
Most well known for being the home of Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, is also home to much more. “It’s a really beautiful long weekend or mid-week getaway, especially with all the natural beauty that’s
surrounding this area,” says Erin Erdmann White, director of leisure marketing and media relations for Visit Bloomington.
Both Monroe Lake, the largest man-made lake in Indiana, and the Hoosier National Forest, Indiana’s only national forest, are just outside downtown Bloomington. Outdoor enthusiasts of all types can find things to do—Hoosier National Forest and local parks offer many hikes for a range of abilities, cyclists can challenge themselves on the hilly roads and boaters can spend time on Lake Monroe.
“(Fall) is a great time to get out and do a boat rental or something like that where you can get out and cruise the lake and check out the fall leaves from the water, which is a really cool experience for folks because there are no houses on Monroe Lake,” says White.
Back in town, visitors can take in an opera or ballet on the IU campus, peruse local shops and take in the dining scene. In the fall, downtown Bloomington also hosts events like the Glass Pumpkin Patch.
“We have a really active glass blowers guild here in Bloomington and what they do is they create these blown glass pumpkins every year, hundreds of them … that they blow and set up on the lawn of the Monroe County courthouse,” says White. “Folks line up around the block for their chance to run and pick the glass blown pumpkin that they want the most.”
The annual event will be conducted Oct. 13 this year and will last as long as there are glass pumpkins.
About 3 1/2 Hours Away
For those who’d prefer to celebrate Christmas all year round, Santa Claus, Indiana, is just three and a half hours away.
“Santa Claus, Indiana, is a very festive town in southern Indiana,” says Melissa Arnold, executive director of the Spencer County Visitors Bureau. Santa Claus is home to the Saint Meinrad Archabbey, one of two archabbeys in the country; Santa Claus Museum & Village, which presents the history of the town with original town buildings; and Santa’s Candy Castle, a candy shop inside a 1935 castle.
Thrill seekers can head to Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari. The amusement park is split into four areas celebrating different holidays—Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween and Fourth of July. The park is most known for its record-breaking water coasters and its wooden roller coasters—The Voyage is the second longest wooden roller coaster in the world.
Arnold says that the town also offers a lot for campers. “If you’re coming in for the fall, you want to look into Lake Rudolph Campground and RV resort. It’s one of the lodging options right here in town that has cabins, cottages and rental RVs, where you can bring your own RV, and they have their own Halloween activities during the fall,” she says.
On weekends in September and October, Lake Rudolph gets into the Halloween spirit with plenty of spooky fun. Activities include ghost stories, trick-or-treating, costume contests, a kids’ carnival, hayrides, a glow parade and more.
Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky may not have any roller coasters, but it has some thrills of its own.
“Mammoth Cave is a national park, the only national park within Kentucky, and it’s home to the longest cave system in the entire world with over 400 miles of cave passageways that have been discovered and mapped and there are still more to be found,” says Molly Schroer, management assistant for the park.
The parks offers seven types of tours this fall. Depending on the tour selected, visitors will be able to see the Frozen Niagara Formation, domes, dripstones and the Rotunda, one of the largest rooms in the cave.
Schroer personally enjoys the lantern tours. “There’s no electric lights. You go the whole way with lanterns being carried by different members of the group so you really experience the cave in a different environment and hear some great history,” she says.
While the cave system is the reason many people visit the park, Mammoth Cave also offers many surface activities for when you’d like to spend some time in the sun. The park has both paved and off-road bike trails; over 30 miles of the Green and Niles rivers for canoeing, kayaking or fishing; and 60 miles of trails open to horseback riding.
“The fall colors will change soon so that’s always a pretty time to see the park with all the different colors along the landscape,” she says.