Indiana Rivals Top Leaf-Peeping Locations: 13 Trips to See the Best Fall Foliage in the Hoosier State

Indiana Rivals Top Leaf-Peeping Locations: 13 Trips to See the Best Fall Foliage in the Hoosier State

By: Eric Mees

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August 29, 2022

Fantastic fall foliage isn’t limited to New England or the Rocky Mountains. Whether you’re new to Indiana or you’re a Hoosier through and through, there are plenty of great adventures across the state to catch the changing seasons in full color.

We’ve broken the state into three fall foliage areas, compiling a list of the top leaf-peeping places in the northern, central and southern regions. Keep reading for our list of the top 13 places to see the leaves change in Indiana.

When is Prime Leaf-Peeping Season?

There are several factors that come into play for the leaves to start losing their chlorophyll and gaining those gorgeous reds, yellows and oranges.

When the last weeks of summer are dry, and the first days of fall feature sunny days and cool nights, the colors tend to be at their brightest. Other factors include the occurrence of a light frost and  big storms that strip the leaves prematurely.

Where you are in the state is also a factor. Here are the average peak times for fall foliage:

  • Northern Indiana — early October
  • Central Indiana/Indianapolis — mid to late October
  • Southern Indiana — late October

Fortunately, many media outlets across the state will keep an eye out for when peak coloration will occur, so make sure to tune into your nightly news as autumn approaches.

4 Places to See Fall’s Colors in Northern Indiana

Leaf watchers will want to put northern Indiana on their list in early October to catch the best chance at fall colors. As you drive north, it’s a great time of year to incorporate a college football game into your trip, or even head up to Chicago for a night on the town.

Here are our picks for fall foliage trips in northern Indiana:

Indiana Dunes National Park

If you’re like most Indianans, you’re very familiar with the unique landscape and beachfront setting at the Indiana Dunes. But if you haven’t been there in the fall, you’re missing out.

Originally called Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the park was redesignated in 2019, making it the first (and only) National Park in Indiana. It covers 15,349 acres along 15 miles of the south shore of Lake Michigan.

Our pick:

While there are plenty of trails for all levels of hikers, we recommend the Bailly/Chellberg Trail Loop, where you’ll likely encounter maple trees bursting with warm red and golden hues crafting a spectacular backdrop on your hike to the Chellberg Farm. The inner loop is 1.1 miles, while the outer loop is 3.4 miles. Plan on 45 minutes to 2.5 hours for this easy to moderate hike.

Where:

Located in the extreme northwest corner of the state at the southernmost point of Lake Michigan, the park is less than an hour from central Chicago, or 2-1/2 hours from Indianapolis.

Website:

Indiana Dunes National Park

Directions:

376 North County Line Road, Gary, IN 46403

Indiana Dunes State Park

With dunes, beaches, forests and a unique story to share about how they all come together, Indiana Dunes State Park has become the most visited of all Indiana’s state parks. Dedicated to preserving the dunes, the park is within the boundaries of the aforementioned National Park and is comprised of 2,182 acres of primitive, beautiful, historic, and unique Hoosier landscape. Find it at the north end of State Road 49 in Porter County.  

The park includes more than three miles of beautiful beach along Lake Michigan’s southern shore. There are seven numbered trails within the park, ranging in ability from easy to rugged. Inquire at the park gatehouse for up-to-date information about which trails are offering the best leafing experience during your visit.  

Our picks:

We like either Trail 4, a moderate, three-quarter-mile hike traversing the dunes and a black oak forest, or Trail 2, an easy, 3-mile stroll through a climax forest. Both should offer a great opportunity to see the Indiana fall colors on full display.

Where:

Just like its national park cousin, the Dunes are located in the northwest corner of the state at the southernmost point of Lake Michigan. The park is an hour from Chicago, or 2-1/2 hours from Indianapolis.

Website:

Indiana Dunes State Park

Directions:

1600 N. 25 East, Chesterton, IN 46304

University of Notre Dame

There’s nothing like touring the campus of Notre Dame in the fall. You don’t even have to feign interest in attending the university; just check with the Eck Visitors Center (or download their app) and take in the many highlights surrounding the tree-lined campus including ivy-covered Gothic buildings, the Grotto, Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Main Building (the Golden Dome), and the Hesburgh Library (“Touchdown Jesus”).

Football weekends tend to leave the South Bend area feeling crowded, so unless you’re attending a Fightin’ Irish game, try to avoid the hubbub and pick a weekend the team is traveling.

Where:

Located in South Bend, Indiana, 2-1/2 hours due north of Indianapolis via US-31. Out-of-state visitors often fly into Chicago’s Midway Airport, which is about a 2-hour drive away.

Website:

Notre Dame University

Directions:

Notre Dame, IN 46556

Potato Creek State Park

About 13 miles southwest of South Bend is Potato Creek State Park. It’s home to the 327-acre Worster Lake, which is surrounded by wetlands, prairies, fields and mature woodlands. Multiple hiking trails serve the area, ranging in ability from easy to rugged. There are also bike and horse trails, as well as camping, picnicking and much more.

Our pick:

Trail 1 (a 2.2-mile, moderate hike) skirts the lake and passes through maple and oak-hickory forests, proudly displaying a wide range of colors between late September and mid-October.

Where:

Located about 25 minutes southwest of South Bend, or 1 hour, 50 minutes northwest of Fort Wayne, IN.

Website:

Potato Creek State Park

Directions:

25601 State Road 4, North Liberty, IN 46554

4 Places to See Fall’s Colors in Central Indiana

For central Indiana, we selected four spots in and around Indianapolis to catch the fall colors. If you’re already in the Indianapolis area, any of these destinations are great for a day trip or even an afternoon adventure.

Here are our picks for fall foliage trips in Indianapolis/central Indiana:

McCloud Nature Park

Visitors to McCloud Nature Park have access to more than 6.5 miles of well-marked trails through woods, glacial ravines and prairies in and around the 232-acre park. The park offers fishing, wading, canoeing and kayaking in Big Walnut Creek, as well as an arboretum, a live honeybee observation house, a restored historic truss bridge, overlooks, a Nature Center with interactive exhibits and more.

Our picks:

At a little more than a half-mile in length, Woodland Way offers a quick and easy stroll through wooded areas, while Sycamore Bend is slightly longer at 0.88 miles, and includes a stroll along the creek.

Where:

Located approximately 45 minutes west of Indianapolis, just outside of North Salem. 

Website:

McCloud Nature Park

Directions:

8518 Hughes Rd, North Salem, IN 46165

Turkey Run State Park

Established more than a century ago in 1916, Turkey Run State Park is a highlight of the Indiana park system. The area features natural geologic wonders including deep canyons and sandstone cliffs along Sugar Creek, which runs against stands of aged forests. There are 14 miles of trails in the park, ranging from easy to very rugged. Bikes are only permitted on paved public roads.

Our picks:

Make sure to pick a trail suited to your ability. For us, we opted for Trail 1, a 3-mile trek, rated moderate to rugged, with some of the area’s largest sycamore and several black walnut trees.

Where:

Located about 70 miles north/northwest of downtown Indianapolis, just southwest of Crawfordsville.

Website:

Turkey Run State Park

Directions:

8121 Park Rd, Marshall, IN 47859

Monon Trail, Westfield, Carmel & Indianapolis

Formerly the Monon Railroad line, the 27-mile long Monon Trail rail-to-trail conversion is a multi-use paved paradise.

Bikers and pedestrians transit the paved trail throughout the year, but autumn holds special sway as the cooler weather makes the ride a little easier and the turning leaves add vibrant color normally reserved for the art galleries along Main Street in Carmel.

There are multiple places to park to access the route, and the Monon intersects with several trails as it runs from Westfield south to Carmel, then continues on through the Indianapolis neighborhoods of Nora, Broad Ripple and Downtown Indy. Plan side trips along the way and take in the art galleries, funky shops, restaurants, parks and more all along the route.

Our picks:

Both of our favorite rides start at the 96th Street parking area. From there, head north to Carmel and its high-end stores, restaurants and shops; or head south to Broad Ripple to take in the hip, laid-back atmosphere. Both trips are less than 5 miles each way, making for a 10-mile round-trip ride including side trips.

Website:

Bike The Monon

Directions:

Monon Trail Parking, 1430 E 96th St, Indianapolis, IN 46240

Fort Harrison State Park, Indianapolis

At Fort Harrison State Park, autumn brings warm, sunny days and breathtaking fall colors to this, the last forested corner left in Marion County. The park comprises 1,744 acres, offering six different trails, rated easy to difficult. In addition to outdoor opportunities, the park includes two national historic districts.

Our pick:

At 4 miles in length, Lawrence Creek Trail transits the 242-acre Lawrence Creek Nature Preserve through upland woods and ravines, offering the best chance for brilliant fall colors. The trail is rated difficult and is shared between bikers and hikers.

Where:

Located in Indianapolis at Post Road and 59th Street, easily accessible from I-465 and 56th Street.

Website:

Fort Harrison State Park

Directions:

6000 N. Post Road, Indianapolis, IN 46216

5 Places to See Fall’s Colors in Southern Indiana

Southern Indiana is home to a multitude of leaf-peeping adventures. Leaves in the southern portions of the state typically offer their best coloration toward the end of October.

Here are our picks for fall foliage trips in southern Indiana:

Clifty Falls State Park

One of the state’s most dramatic natural geologic areas is also one of the top places to peep leaves in the southern part of Indiana. Clifty Falls State Park is the site of several waterfalls, an abundance of wildlife, and numerous marine fossils of ancient corals, ancestral squids, and brachiopods found in the park’s 425-million-year-old shale and limestone rocks.

Many of the hiking trails in this 1,500-acre park are rated “rugged” although there are both easier and more challenging trails in the offing. Admittedly, the park’s waterfalls are not quite as awe-inspiring in the fall months, but they’re still impressive.

Our pick:

While the whole park offers some amazing hiking, overlooks, falls and adventures, Trail 6, a moderately rugged half-mile hike that takes hikers past a gorgeous hickory grove is our favorite. At its northernmost point, the trail intersects with Trail 7—stay left for a short hike to Little Clifty Falls.

Where:

Located in the southeast part of the state near the Ohio River, the park entrance is near Madison, and there are entrances on state roads 56 and 62. 

Website:

Clifty Falls State Park

Directions:

1650 Clifty Hollow Rd, Madison, IN 47250

Indiana University

Much like Notre Dame in the northern part of the state, Indiana University at Bloomington offers guided and group tours to experience the architecture, history and beauty of the campus while full fall colors are on display.

The student-led guided tours fill up quickly, so check availability with the IU Visitor Information Center.

Where:

Bloomington is about an hour south/southwest of Indianapolis, via I-69. Campus visitors should check in at the IU Visitor Information Center (address below).

Website:

Indiana University

Directions:

900 E. 7th St. Bloomington, IN 47405

“eXplore” Brown County

What better way to see the leaves than at leaf-level? That’s the allure of the zipline canopy tours at eXplore Brown County at Valley Branch Retreat. The 500-acre adventure center also offers paintball, off-road vehicle tours, arrow tag, mountain biking, hiking trails, camping, and cabins. The site also features an event venue, Harvest Hall, which is popular for weddings, reunions and so on.

The center offers 15 different zip lines and is billed as the “longest, fastest, tallest in Indiana.” Multiple tour packages are available, ranging from 45 minutes ($40) to 2-1/2 hours ($80-$90).

Where:

Located about an hour south of Indianapolis, via I-65, and just west of Columbus, IN.

Website:

eXplore Brown County at Valley Branch Retreat

Directions:

2620 Valley Branch Rd, Nashville, IN 47448

Bonus:

Incorporate a drive through some of the nearby parks and forests into your trip, including Brown County State Park and Yellowwood State Forest, then stop in Bloomington to tour the IU campus before heading home.

Spring Mill State Park

Spring Mill State Park is a convergence of natural wonders and historical sites. Cave springs in the area led to the creation of an industrial village in the 1900s, which is preserved in the 20 historic buildings of Pioneer Village. The park also offers a Nature Center, Grissom Memorial, and Twin Caves Boat Tour.

More importantly, the area has a wide selection of trails for exploring the surrounding old-growth and new forests, which are ripe for leaf-peeping in late October,

Our pick:

Park in the Donaldson Parking Lot for Trail 3, which offers a rugged, 2.5-mile hike past the Donaldson Cave overlook, then through dense woods, past sinkholes, then Bronson Cave, on to Twin Caves, through the giant timber of Donaldson’s Woods Nature Preserve.

Where:

Located east of the town of Mitchell, IN, almost two hours south of Indianapolis. The park is about an hour northwest of Louisville, KY.

Website:

Spring Mill State Park

Directions:

3333 State Road 60 E, Mitchell, IN 47446

Versailles State Park

Versailles State Park, Indiana’s second-largest, is a beautiful setting in the state’s southeastern rolling hills. The park’s beautiful hardwood forests support large habitats for songbirds and a variety of wildlife. Plus, they make for some great leafing experiences in the fall. 

This time of year, the park also hosts the Versailles Pumpkin Show in the town of Versailles the last weekend in September, as well as Halloween festivities during the last weekend in October.

Our pick:

Old Forest Trail, a difficult 2.25-mile hike, circles upland woods and ravines along the eastern bluff of Laughery Valley. Trees to look for include oak, hickory, maple, beech, tulip poplar, black walnut and other native trees. The trailhead is accessible via Old Fire Tower Road or near Oak Grove picnic area.

Where:

Located approximately 90 minutes southeast of Indianapolis, or an hour east of Cincinnati, OH.

Website:

Versailles State Park

Directions:

1387 U.S. 50 E, Versailles, IN 47042

After Leaf-Peeping, What’s Next?

The falling leaves of autumn are perhaps nature’s most obvious sign of the changing seasons. When you need to stow your summer gear to make room for the family gatherings and the holiday season, keep Store Space in mind. We have multiple locations throughout the state of Indiana, the northeast, the southeast and Texas.

Eric Mees

Writer who also enjoys cars, guitars and Mars bars.

Comments

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