Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Bloomington, IN

  • Published 2023/01/08

The wide selection of free things to do in Bloomington makes this city in Monroe County an ideal place to visit.

Thanks to its long development history, the city has developed many points of interest where visitors can spend nothing but time.

Incorporated in 1827, Bloomington has emerged as the seat of Monroe County and has grown as a regional economic center.

The campus of Indiana University, established in the city in 1820, is but one of the growth drivers of Bloomington.

The city also draws its economic strength from a diverse local business community engaged in technology, pharmaceuticals, health care, medical devices, and the arts.

Visitors of Bloomington can enjoy the mix of the suburban and urban vibe of the city.

The destinations in this city revolve not only around its vibrant downtown district but also extend to the natural elements well-preserved in Bloomington.

Here are the free things to do in Bloomington, Indiana:

Tour the Eskenazi Museum of Art

Exterior of the Eskenazi Museum of Art

Kzollman (Kevin J.S. Zollman)., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Indiana University Bloomington campus is home to the Eskenazi Museum of Art.

Located on East 7th Street, it holds the distinction of having one of the largest university museum collections in the U.S.

The museum impresses visitors not only with its exhibits but also with its iconic three-story building, manifesting dynamic art conservation.

The design of this building with a soaring atrium is from the drawing boards of acclaimed architect I.M. Pei.

Pei notably also rendered the plans for the glass pyramid entrance of the Louvre in Paris.

Docents and museum educators guide tours of the museum’s permanent collection and current exhibits.

These tours are free and conducted on certain days, which you can see on their official website.

Multiple exhibits are featured at each level of the three-story museum, showcasing art from specific regions and cultures across the globe.

Featured artworks include marble busts from Ancient Greece, centuries-old Japanese scroll art, and masterpieces of Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet.

Be Inspired at the Grunwald Gallery of Art

Located near the Eskenazi Museum of Art, the Grunwald Gallery of Art is another amazing Indiana University attraction.

This gallery is housed in the university’s Fine Arts building on East 7th Street.

All of its exhibits and events are open to the public for free from Tuesday to Saturday.

The gallery displays the contemporary works of professional artists and art students.

These exhibits change frequently, so there’s always something new to discover in the gallery.

The Grunwald Gallery of Art also takes pride in its unique Sage Collection, which puts together more than 25,000 fashion items.

This collection spans over 250 years, with sports uniforms and haute couture among the displays.

Professional lectures, gallery talks, and similar programs can spice up a visit to the Grunwald Gallery of Art.

Take Downtown Bloomington’s Gallery Walk

Every first Friday of the month, downtown Bloomington welcomes visitors to its free Gallery Walk.

This popular art walk spans the streets arterial to the Kirkwood Avenue corridor west of the Indiana University Bloomington campus.

The nine independent galleries in this area host special exhibits and serve drinks during the monthly art walk.

This event allows you to experience Bloomington’s vibrant art scene.

It also gives you the chance to explore the city’s charming downtown district without spending a single cent.

Visit the Lilly Library

Exterior of the Lilly Library

User:Vmenkov, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Make your visit to the Indiana University campus complete with a tour of the Lilly Library.

Located in the university’s Fine Arts Plaza on East 7th Street, this library holds an astonishing collection of artifacts.

Lilly Library charges no admission to visitors for them to view its vast literary and cultural collection.

Water fountain at the Lilly Library

User:Vmenkov, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These inspiring artifacts include not only rare books and manuscripts but also prints, oil paintings, sheet music, puzzles, and even comic books.

Most noteworthy are typescripts of some James Bond bestseller novels, the first printing of “The Canterbury Tales,” and Shakespeare’s first work folio.

Follow the Bloomington Mural Trail

The Bloomington Mural Trail provides a wonderful tapestry to many of the oft-visited public places in the city.

Bloomington’s mural trail took off in the 1980s with the installation of the public art “Red, Blonde, Black, and Olive_.”_

A work by the famed artist Jean-Pael Darriau, this piece is the oldest permanent public art installation in Bloomington.

You can view this artwork depicting racial diversity at Miller-Showers Park on 17th Street on the northern side of Bloomington.

Visitors of the city can see 40 of these murals artfully rendered on the exterior walls of buildings, parks, and businesses around Bloomington.

Artisan Alley on West 2nd Street is one great stop on the Bloomington Mural Trail.

The murals here can change frequently, but you may catch some interesting old renditions titled “Entrance to Paradise and Sacred Journey.”

Enjoy a Stroll at Cox Arboretum

Visitors of Bloomington can enjoy the city’s natural surroundings in places like the Cox Arboretum.

The Arboretum is a facility on 10th Street and Fee Lane at the 1,940-acre campus grounds of Indiana University.

It spreads over 11 acres Eskenazi Museum of Art directly adjacent north of the Eskenazi Museum of Art.

Ribbons of walking paths meander in the arboretum, enabling its visitors to enjoy up close a vast collection of plants and trees.

The arboretum’s verdant landscape also features a gazebo and a pond.

The 61-bell Metz Carillon Tower, installed in 1970 to celebrate Indiana University’s sesquicentennial that year, is another attraction of the Cox Arboretum.

Compete in Disc Golf at Sherwood Oaks

Bloomington has been ranked as one of the top 10 disc golf destinations in Indiana, providing courses like those in Sherwood Oaks.

Located on East Rogers Road, this disc golf course was established in 2005 on the grounds of the Sherwood Oaks Christian Church.

This course features six layouts on lightly wooded and mostly flat terrain that disc golf beginners love.

Newbies in the sport can play a quick, easy nine-hole game on Sherwood Oaks’ main layout, which stretches over 2,095 feet for a par 27 round.

For a longer, more challenging round, take the Sherwood Gold V 2.0 layout of 18 holes over 4,660 feet for a regulation play of par 54.

Tour the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center

A shrine at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center

Nicholas J Klein /

Open and free for visitors to explore, the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center is on South Snoddy Road.

You can visit this beautiful showcase of Tibetan culture on a 90-acre site on the south side of Bloomington at any time of the year.

The center’s trademark Tibetan Chortens are the only Buddhist stupas in the U.S.

Prayer wheels at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center

Nicholas J Klein /

Other points of interest in the center include various Tibetan artworks like butter sculptures and a permanent sand mandala.

At Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, you will also find the Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple offering a peaceful sanctuary for reflection and meditation.

Buddha at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center

Nicholas J Klein /

Cool Off at the Splash Pad of Karst Farm Park

An itinerary for a summer visit to Bloomington best includes a stop at Karst Farm Park, which has a splash pad as one of its facilities.

Located on South Endright Road, this park boasts a splash pad with Playscape equipment.

Free for public use from Friday to Monday, the zero-depth splash pad also features a patriotic corner and a musical playground.

Other Karts Farm Park facilities open to visitors include a nine-hole disc golf course, a dog park, sports courts, ballfields, and horseshoe pits.

In addition, you can explore the park’s natural areas via the trails of Karst Farm.

Try Birding at the Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve

The Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve is located off North Woodall Road in northwest Bloomington.

The National Audubon Society has designated this preserve as an Important Bird Area.

During the breeding season, 80 bird species have been observed in the preserve.

These birds include flocks of nesting Great Blue Herons and Bald Eagles.

The preserve also provides an important habitat for other rare and threatened animal and plant species.

Visitors can explore the nature preserve through a two-mile trail featuring observation decks and an elevated boardwalk.

Enjoy Relaxing Views at Griffy Lake

The waters of Griffy Lake

shutter_breaker /

Just minutes from Bloomington’s downtown, Griffy Lake offers a serene setting for paddling a canoe or kayak.

This lake is accessible via North Headley Road and within a namesake 1,200-acre nature reserve.

No entrance fee is charged to access its host nature reserve featuring scenic woodlands teeming with wild flora and fauna.

Only electric-powered and non-motorized watercraft are allowed in the 109-acre Griffy Lake.

The dam of Griffy Lake

User:Vmenkov, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Thus, the lake’s waters are calm and quiet, making it great for kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding.

Visitors bringing in their boats are welcome in the preserve, and they can launch their watercraft from the lake’s ramp.

Swimming in the lake is prohibited, but fishing is allowed for those with an Indiana fishing license.

Bike on the B-Line Trail

The B-Line Trail is one of the reasons why the League of American Bicyclists has cited Bloomington as a Gold-Level “Bicycle Friendly Community.”

Via this multi-use, carless trail, you can explore many of the city’s points of interest economically.

It’s also safe to use the trail, as energy-efficient LED lights illuminate its paved path from dusk to dawn.

This trail stretches 3.1 miles from Country Club Drive to Adams Street, with parking available on Fairview Street at Rev. Ernest D. Butler Park.

The B-Line links to the Bloomington Rail Trail at Country Club Drive, offering bikers a total of 5.1 miles of riding.

Besides bikes, motorized wheelchairs and pedal-assist electric bikes are also allowed on the B-Line Trail.

Pedal on the Wapehani Mountain Bike Park

Opened in 1990, the Wapehani Mountain Bike Park holds the distinction of being the first mountain bike park in Indiana.

The park covers nearly 46 acres, offering a rolling, single-track dirt bike trail of approximately five miles.

Access to this bike park is via West Wapehani Road off Weimer Road on the southwest side of Bloomington.

The park provides visitors with a gravel parking lot that can accommodate up to 10 vehicles.

Besides mountain biking, the Wapehani Mountain Bike Park is open for hiking, birdwatching, and nature observation.

Hike at the Hoosier National Forest

The view from Hoosier National Forest

Darmon, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Spreading over 200,000 acres, the Hoosier National Forest can be accessed through State Road 446 and Tower Ridge Road.

Day hikers and backpackers can pick from nine trail systems in the Hoosier National Forest.

These trails are more than 10 miles long, with the Hickory Ridge Trail being the longest at 48.7 miles.

This trail is a great hike, as it can take you to the famous Hickory Ridge Fire Tower.

Standing 110 feet tall, this tower offers amazing photo opportunities for those game enough to tackle its 133-step flight of stairs.

Join the Fun at the Fourth Street Festival of the Arts and Crafts

The Fourth Street Festival of the Arts and Crafts is an annual free event traditionally held in Bloomington on Labor Day weekend.

The epicenter of the festival, as its name suggests, is 4th Street, between Indiana Avenue and Grant Street.

During this two-day event, you can have a ringside view of the works of more than 120 highly rated-national and regional artists.

Live music and performance art also crowd drawers during the Fourth Street Festival of the Arts and Crafts, which was first held in 1977.

A children’s art booth run by the nonprofit Lotus Education & Arts Foundation adds to the fun activities during this blue-ribbon downtown Bloomington event.

Other Free Things to Do Nearby

Enjoy the Beach at Riddle Point Park

Located on the south shore of Lake Lemon, Riddle Point Park draws visitors mainly because of its public beach.

This park is accessible from North Tunnel Road in the unincorporated community of Unionville, 11 miles northeast of Bloomington.

Buoys mark the waters of the park’s beach area for you to enjoy a safe swim.

Besides swimming, visitors can build sandcastles, sunbathe, and have a picnic on the park’s beach.

Behind the beach is a large, grassy open area suited for outdoor games like frisbee and volleyball.

Final Thoughts

There are many free things to do in Bloomington, given the numerous public facilities in the city.

The campus of the University of Indiana in the city alone features a wide array of destinations and activities that visitors can enjoy for free.

These free things to do in Bloomington, Indiana, are come-ons that make planning a trip to this city worthwhile and exciting.

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