Few activities offer a better chance to explore nature than taking a hike.
Quiet footsteps keep animal sightings in play. Rodents might scurry ahead of you. Farther in the distance, you can catch a glimpse of deer before they flee your advance. Birds soar above you, not at all concerned with what you’re doing on the ground.
All these experiences are available in The Bend. Trails are everywhere. Looking for a quick walk without leaving the city? Done. Want a more secluded destination? No problem.
Consider this your guide to finding the best hikes, one of our favorite fall activities.
Rum Village Park
Three miles of trails make their way through this natural woodland, which totals about 160 acres. It’s an immersive experience despite its location in the South Bend city limits. Excellent native trees and a wide variety of flowering plants can be found throughout the trails. Spotting animals is all but a guarantee. Over 100 bird species, fox, deer, reptiles and more have been spotted in the park.
Bendix Woods County Park
Spring just might be the best time to hike over the rolling hills at Bendix Woods, which springs to life with dozens of beautiful flower species after the snow melts away for good. You’re likely to hear the pileated woodpecker hard at work or hoots from a barred owl along the way. Add the Lower Big Tree Trail to your hike and you’ll cross a seasonal stream. When you’re done, head into New Carlisle. This quaint small town is more than just a place to pass by. It’s a foodie destination with multiple unique shops.
Ferrettie-Baugo Creek County Park
Nearly three miles of trails wind their way through this nature retreat surrounded by neighborhoods. Portage Trail is the longest at just over a mile and runs along the edge of Baugo Creek. Keep an eye out for chewed stumps — they’re evidence of beaver at work. The footbridge over the creek is a perfect spot for bird watching.
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Potato Creek State Park
Just over 10 miles of trail are a centerpiece to The Bend’s state park. Some are easy. Trail 5, for example, rolls through old farm fields and includes a small observation deck overlooking wetlands. Others are more rugged. Trail 2 winds through woods and includes the highest point in the park. Two “moderate” trails — 1 and 3 — work their way along Worster Lake, probably the park’s most notable feature.
Spicer Lake Nature Preserve
Two kettle holes — shallow, swampy bodies of water formed by retreating glaciers — are the defining features at Spicer Lake. Take the Wetland-Woodland-Lancaster Trail Loop for a longer hike (1.5 miles) that includes an observation platform overlooking Lancaster Lake (one of the kettle holes). Bullfrogs and green frogs are sure to serenade you along the way during summer.
St. Patrick’s County Park
Several loops add up to almost five miles of trail — from tranquil meadow strolls to those that run adjacent to the St. Joseph River. Early summer presents an opportunity to spot osprey as they bring food back to their nest. Bald eagles also nest nearby, so don’t forget to stop by the Morrison Family Pavilion for a look at the “eagle cam.”
Insider tip: Want to do some serious birdwatching while walking through parks? Consider two county properties: Chamberlain Lake and the Beverly D. Crone Restoration Area. Chamberlain Lake features 1.5 miles of trail through woods and fields, plus a bird observation platform on the west side of the lake.