Twenty-three acre Cedar Bluffs Nature Preserve in Bloomington might be small, but it’s “one of the true gems of Southern Indiana,” says Michael Hamburger, of Indiana University’s Department of Geological Sciences. The Nature Conservancy bought the area from David Allen Blewett in 1963 and dedicated it as a state nature preserve in 1976.
Driving there on Smithville Road and Ketchum Road, you’ll pass farms sprawling over lush green hills and stumble upon Cedar Bluffs, nestled just off Ketchum Road. A single sign marks the trailhead. Let the serene sound of water rushing over rocks guide you to the trail along to Clear Creek.
The trail becomes a little rugged as it follows the creek north up and over large rocks and fallen trees. The meandering path is slender. Moss covers trees and rocks, and little flowers spring up everywhere in season. Behind the bluffs, a series of little rocky streams create “a cascade of little waterfalls,” says Hamburger. His kids used to call it “fairyland.”
On the north side of the creek, the 75-foot tall limestone bluff towers above you. Uneven sheets of creamy layered stone ascend upward. The trail snakes around the exposure, making a 180-degree turn. You inch up the backside of the bluff, as the trail narrows. Here, your hike gets a little dicey. The bluff is to your left and to the right is a sharp drop off. You’ll see red cedars poking out of the bluff, twisting and hanging from various steps.
The view at the top is fantastic. “It offers one of the few natural panoramic views over the beautiful forests of Southern Indiana,” Hamburger says. You see treetops for miles and water gliding along the creek.
Cedar Bluffs isn’t just a great hike. It’s also home to a variety of rare plants. “The same place that creates a great view is the same place that supports the plant community,” says Chad Bladow, Southern Indiana stewardship director of The Nature Conservancy Indiana Field Office. The soils at the top edge of the bluff sustain hundreds of red cedar trees and wildflowers like the tiny purple nodding onion, small white flowering spurge and clusters of yellow hoary puccoon.
Even though the one-mile trail is short, Cedar Bluffs is worth a visit all year round. “Although it’s a small place, a walk through Cedar Bluffs always feels like I’ve visited a beautiful, faraway wilderness area,” Hamburger says.
Directions: Take State Road 37 south from Bloomington. After about 10 minutes, turn right on Smithville Road. Shortly, you’ll come to a stop sign at a “T” intersection. Turn left and then immediately turn right onto Ketchum Road. Take Ketchum Road for about 3 miles. (You’ll pass Cedar Bluffs Road to your left, but don’t take it.) The Cedar Bluffs Nature Preserve sign is on the left side of the road, just past a power line. On the right side of the road you’ll see a small area for parking. Surrounding properties are private, so stay on the trail.