Home News 13 Spring Break Ideas from the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands


13 Spring Break Ideas from the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands


Pullman National Monument National Mall & Memorial Parks Red River Gorge Geological Area Turkey Run State Park Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Mammoth Cave National Park Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site Pecos National Historical Park Bandelier National Monument Zion National Park Lake Mead National Recreation Area Death Valley National Park

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No plans for Spring Break? Want to get away from Bloomington for a day or two without spending tons of money?

Why not visit one of these destinations recommended by the staff at IU’s Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands? These sites are not only among Eppley staff’s favorite parks, they are all within a short drive of Bloomington—you can get there on an average tank of gas (or less)! These are special places that provide outdoor experiences for all ages and are part of our national, regional, or state heritage.
Here’s our list of recommended places and our top reasons for visiting them.

  • corey_seeman_mammoth_cave

    Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky: About 3.5 hours away, this site features spectacular karst formations, the world’s longest known cave system, and a long history of community access.

    Why go there? Caves are the same temperature all the time—there’s no need to worry about changing weather conditions when you’re spelunking! Plus, having all the lights turned off when you’re hundreds of feet under the ground is an experience like none other.

  • Pullman Chicago Clock Tower

    Pullman National Monument, Illinois:
    About 4 hours away, this urban park in Chicago is one of the newest sites in the National Park System (designated on February 19, 2015) and just a short drive from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

    Why go there?
    This site celebrates the history of Pullman—one of the nation’s first company towns—and its pivotal role in African American history and labor history. When you’re done working your way through the Pullman District, pop on over to Indiana Dunes, one of the National Park System’s most diverse natural resource areas and a wonderful place for walks. Explore bogs, forests, and oak savannas, and enjoy unmatched views of Lake Michigan.

  • Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, Kentucky and Tennessee:
    About 5 hours away, this is a large recreation area on the Cumberland Plateau with plenty of natural and historical features to explore.

    Why go there?
    Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, with its bluffs and gorges, preserves scenic beauty beyond compare along with the history of our country’s migration from the coastal Colonies to lands west of the Appalachians. The Big South Fork Area offers all types of recreation activities, and with spring coming earlier in the South, there is a good chance that the trees and flowers will be blooming.

  • Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Missouri:
    About 4 hours away, this site is located in downtown St. Louis next to the Old Courthouse, which was the site of the first two trials of the Dred Scott case in 1847 and 1850.

    Why go there?
    This is the monument to the westward expansion of the US. It features the iconic stainless steel Gateway Arch, the world’s tallest arch at 630 feet tall. If you crave an urban visit, a great museum, and a wide-ranging history experience, this is the place for you. The arch is located next to the Mississippi River, so a walk is definitely part of the itinerary.

  • Turkey Run State Park, Indiana:
    Less than 2 hours away, Turkey Run is Indiana’s second-oldest state park. The first parcel of land was purchased in 1916, the same year the Indiana State Parks system was established.

    Why go there?
    This park has a wide variety of recreational uses, easy-to-hike trails, an Inn for overnight stays, food, and good accessibility. The geological features are so stunning you might forget you’re still in Indiana!

  • Red River Gorge Geological Area, Kentucky
    About 4 hours away and located in the Daniel Boone National Forest, this is the place for rock climbing, hiking, and camping.

    Why go there?
    Clifty Wilderness, located in the Red River Gorge, is 12,646 acres of officially designated wilderness that features 750 different kinds of flowering plants and nearly 200 species of moss. The landscape is remarkably “mountainous” for this part of the country.

If you have a little more money, but not much time, and want to fly somewhere on the cheap, consider travelling to a national park site via one of these airports. If you’re flying out of Indianapolis, you’re likely to find the lowest airfares on flights to one of the following destinations, and the nearby parks are some of Eppley staff’s favorite places.

  • LAS – Las Vegas
    • Death Valley National Park

      Why go there?
      Early spring is a great time of year to visit this one-of-a-kind park, a below-sea-level basin that is subject to intense summer heat and extreme drought.

    • Lake Mead National Recreation Area

      Why go there?
      Besides offering opportunities for boating, hiking, fishing, and other recreational activities, this site also preserves desert plants and animals. Spring is a good time to visit a desert park.

    • Zion National Park


      Why go there?
      A special favorite of Institute staff, Zion is a gem of the Southwest, with slot canyons, dramatic cliffs, wilderness areas, a wide range of plants and animals, and fantastic history.

  • ABQ – Albuquerque

      Bandelier National Monument

      Why go there?
      With human activity dating back 11,000 years, this site of over 33,000 acres features rugged canyon and mesa country, petroglyphs, cliff dwellings, and standing masonry walls. If the moon is full, check out the full moon interpretive walk.

    • Pecos National Historical Park

      Why go there?
      Among fragrant piñon, juniper, and ponderosa pine forests in the mountains just outside Santa Fe, explore the remains of ancient Pueblo structures and learn about the Pecos Valley’s thousands of years of human history.

  • DCA – Washington, DC
    • National Mall & Memorial Parks

      Why go there?
      If you have the chance to visit our nation’s capital, the wide variety of monuments and memorials there are not to be missed! Be prepared to walk a lot and spend plenty of time exploring all the sites on the National Mall.

  • ATL – Atlanta
    • Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site

      Why go there?
      Tour the house where Martin Luther King, Jr. was born, step inside the church that was his lifelong spiritual home, contemplate his gravesite, and take in the interpretive rose garden, all in this park designed to commemorate the life of one of the world’s greatest Civil Rights leaders.