Morgan-Monroe State Forest in Indiana is a beautiful wooded area with an abundance of activities for the entire family. Here is a list of some of the best activities you can do when visiting this forest.
How We Spent Our Weekend In Morgan-Monroe State Forest
Jack and I are hikers so what drew us to the park was its two longer loop trails. However, there are more activities to enjoy in the park, and we are not going to skip over those. At the end of this article, there is a complete list of all the activities you can enjoy in MMSF.
General Information About The Park
With over 24,000 acres, Morgan-Monroe State Forest is Indiana’s second-largest state forest. It gets its name from the fact that it is within both Morgan and Monroe Counties.
Located in South-Central Indiana, the forest is roughly one hour south of Indy and 35 minutes north of Bloomington. The closest town to its entrance is Martinsville.
Unlike state parks in Indiana, a state forest has no entrance fees. You also won’t find typical state park amenities like modern plumbing at the campground or a large nature center.
Trails Within The Forest
There are nine trails in the forest. On the pamphlet, the trails are marked by numbers on the map and by names in the description area. Be advised that hunting is allowed in most areas of the forest; it is recommended that all hikers wear hunter orange or other bright clothing during hunting season.
Trail #1 Tree ID Trail, 1 mile–easy
This path starts behind the forest office. Drop into the office to grab the corresponding map that will help you identify the close to 30 different types of tree species along this short, family-friendly trail.
Trail #2 Pathfinder Orienteering, .5 miles–easy
The trailhead is close to the Scout Ridge Youth Tent Campground. Booklets are available at the forest office.
Trail #3 Scout Ridge Nature Preserve Trail, .6 miles–moderate
The beginning is found behind the shelter house at Scout Ridge. This trail takes you through a nature preserve filled with beech and maple trees.
Trail #4 Three Lakes Trail, 9.5 miles–rugged
You will notice the difference between the distance marked on the trail sign and the distance I got from the map the park produced. On Alltrails, the trail is said to be 10.6 miles.
This is a pet peeve of ours regarding the DNR; the pamphlet length often doesn’t match the distance marked on the sign. It usually isn’t off by much, although it is off by almost a mile in this case.
Trail #5 Mason Ridge Trail, 2.7 miles–moderate
This path makes a loop down either side of the forest road within the park. It has very little elevation change, making it a good pathway for those whose knees act up going up and down hills.
Trail #6 Rock Shelter Trail, 3 miles–moderate
If you want to see the rock shelter without hiking the 10+ mile Low Gap Trail, this is the path you want.
Trail #7 Low Gap Trail, 9.8 miles–rugged
The wooden sign at the trailhead states the route is 10.4 miles, and Alltrails says it is 10.3 miles.
Please note that when an Indiana trail is marked rugged, it means rugged compared to most trails in the state. If you have hiked rugged trails in states like West Virginia or Colorado, this trail will seem mislabeled to you, but trust me–compared to other trails in the Hoosier state, this is rugged.
Trail #8 Tecumseh Trail, 40 miles–rugged
It’s one of a handful of Indiana backpacking routes. The trail starts here and ends in Yellowwood State Forest. There are several shelter houses for backpackers to spend the night at along the way.
Trail #9 Hike- Bike Trail, 5.2 miles–easy
Paved and ADA accessible. I read a touching review of this pathway by a man who pushed his recently wheelchair-bound wife along it. He said it was so nice to be along a wooded path together like they used to when they were younger. He also mentioned that if you want to avoid hills, start past the forest office.
The Trails We Hiked
Jack and I want to try a longer, several-day backpacking trip in the near future so we decided to hike the two longer trails within the park over two days as preparation.
We camped in our truck camper at the Mason Ridge campground each night, but we wish we had thought to plan ahead and register for an overnight backpack camping permit and camped along the Low Gap Trail one night. It would have been a great way to try out all our backpacking gear.
Oh well! It gives us an excuse to go back, hike the short paths we missed, and then hike to the back country area along the Lower Gap Trail to spend a night or two.
Low Gap Trail
The trailhead for the Low Gap Trail is just up the road a bit from the office building. The parking lot looked like it could hold at least half a dozen vehicles. But if it is full when you get there, you can park your vehicle at the forest office, adding only a few more minutes to your hike.
The trail begins on a gravel road that allows you plenty of room to walk side-by-side with your hiking partner and chat for a while.
Once you get into the wooded area of the footpath, don’t forget to stop and look up occasionally. The canopy of an Indiana forest is beautiful, especially when the leaves change colors in fall.
Many of the campsites along the trail were full the weekend we went, but here is a picture of an empty one we found. Remember, although Indiana doesn’t have bears, we have healthy raccoon and squirrel populations, so you still need to ensure your food is safely stashed away at nightfall.
If you start at the parking lot near the forest office roughly midway through the hike, you will cross Low Gap Road. You will know you are getting close to the parking lot when you see several back country campsites within a short distance. When we hiked the trail, these sites were set up more like regular campground sites than backpacking sites in that the campers had huge tents, comfy camp chairs, and large coolers.
We guessed these campers stayed the maximum of three nights allowed, and their vehicles were parked in the parking lot nearby, meaning they didn’t carry the items too far.
I (Victoria) love finding and photographing various fungi I find along the trail and then using the Google lens feature in the camera area of my Pixel phone to figure out what it is. If Google is correct, then this is Chicken Of The Woods.
This particular one isn’t as vibrant as others, but still an interesting find.
Along the trail, you will pass through two nature preserves. The first will be Low Gap and the second will be Sweedy Hollow.
We saw several of these along the trail, and I believe they are part of a ground wasp nest.
Besides a chipmunk or two, this guy, who I think is a type of leopard frog, was our only wildlife sighting on the trial.
I told Jack I was surprised we didn’t see any deer. He reminded me it was deer hunting season. We find that when the hunters are out, the deer hide.
If you are a fan of geological features like we are, the highlight of the Low Gap Trail will be the large rock shelter.
If you are short on time or energy, you can hike the 3-mile #6 trail to this. It would also be a good option for families with younger children.
I would check the weather conditions before you go if this is something you want to see and you don’t like getting dirty. This section of the trail contains a lot of exposed dirt. To enjoy the formation up close, you must climb up a small dirt hill that could become a very slippery, muddy mess if it rains or has rained in the last few days.
Once you reach the main forest road, the trail follows the paved hike/bike trail back to the parking lot.
Three Lakes Loop Trail
There are only two lakes on this trail now, as Beanblossom Lake drained after a levee failed.
Cherry Lake isn’t technically on the trail either; instead, it is located just before the parking area for the trailhead.
The 10+ mile loop trail is a mix of ravines and ridges. There are creek beds found at the bottom of several hills that could contain water, but most were narrow or had rocks high enough to act as stepping stones.
When we hiked the trail in early October, it was dry.
Rock hounds will love this trail for its abundance of geodes. However, you need to know that in Indiana, you cannot take these from the state parks or forests. I called the Forestry office to confirm the rule. Anything found naturally in the state of Indiana should stay in the parks and forests.
Around the halfway mark, you will start hiking along the shoreline of Bryant Creek Lake.
Several picnic tables are available here to enjoy a snack or a meal. We sat at this one next to the lake and enjoyed our lunch.
A large picnic shelter, playground, and a parking lot were up the hill from our lunch spot. Visitors can also get out on the water here via the boat ramp. Boat motors must be electric trolling. There is no swimming in any of the lakes in the Forest.
This view is available on the trail a few minutes after leaving the picnic area.
Our wildlife sightings along the trail included a turtle and a salamander.
Google Lens tells me this is a Shaggy Scalycap. Would you agree?
Our Thoughts On The Hikes
After hiking both trails, Jack and I would recommend either to those who love forest-filled hikes. However, if you are short on time, take the shorter loop to the rock shelter instead of hiking all of Low Gap and walk to the first stream bed with geodes and back on the Three Lakes trail. Doing so will give you a good sense of the diversity within the park and will cut miles off your hikes.
Camping At Morgan-Monroe State Forest
We spent two nights in the park at the Mason Ridge Campground, which has 21 primitive camping sites. When the campground fills up on busy weekends, the Oak Ridge Campground offers 11 overflow camping sites.
We had site 24. This site had decent privacy and a reasonably level spot for our 20-foot truck camper rig.
Amenities in the campgrounds consist of vault toilets and dishwashing stations only. Each campsite has a picnic table and a campfire grill.
No online reservations are available; all 32 campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
There are a few sites in the middle of the Mason Ridge Campground and one or two around the loop that can accommodate a longer RV, but I wouldn’t suggest a length over 30 feet.
If you are pulling a travel trailer, you are going to want to enter the park along the main forest road near Bryant Creek Lake as the road from the other end of the park is a bit rough. It is passable for sure, but it could make for a bumpy, stressful ride for those towing a trailer.
We haven’t come across such a generously sized campwood bundle ever! And it is extremely well priced too. Most pieces were dry and burned well.
Campwood for a campfire is available outside the Forestry Headquarters, which is also where campers pay for their campsite if they arrive when the office is closed (you will need cash if you come after hours).
When we went, a campsite was $13 a night, which is very reasonable for Indiana.
The Forest Headquarters Building
There is a desk in the front of this building where visitors can pay campground fees, purchase firewood, or obtain permits.
There is also a public washroom with flush toilets near the back of the building.
The building was updated beginning in 2017 and ending in 2019, and over a dozen different wood species were used in its creations; much of it came from the state’s forests!
There are a few educational displays within the office, including these beautiful murals that span its hallway.
Other Activities Available At Morgan Monroe State Forest
Requires a valid Indiana fishing license.
Electric trolling motors only.
Boat ramps can be found at both Bryant and Cherry Lake.
Paddling (canoes, kayaks, etc).
The website says fishing is also allowed at Prather Lake; however, much of its shoreline seems surrounded by private property and I am unsure how one would access it.
No swimming is allowed at any of these lakes.
The park has several picnic areas. Five larger picnic shelters are available for day use, including:
- Bean Blossom Shelter
- Walls Picnic Shelter
- Bryant Creek Shelter
- Cherry Lake Shelter
- Scout Ridge Shelter
In certain areas with a valid hunting license and during designated hunting seasons.
You read that right; you can go gold panning in Indiana. But first you must call and obtain a free permit through the Forestry Headquarters. The use of shovels, dredges, and sluice boxes is not allowed.
There are several playgrounds within the forest, including one right across from the fire tower north of the forest office. Which also happens to be directly in front of Mason Ridge Campground. This particular park was getting a lot of use the weekend we were there.
Where To Stay In The Forest If You Are Not A Camper
Cherry Lake Lodge
It has all the comforts of home and is available year-round. With two bedrooms and a pull-out sofa bed, these are great for families.
You step back in time when you rent this old cabin. There is no running water or furniture, but there is a wood stove and plenty of privacy. Available from April through November.
A Place Nearby For Harvest Host Members
Cedar Creek Winery, Distillery & Brew Co. is a Harvest Host just over 20 minutes away.
Are you an RVer and not a Harvest Host Member? Here are some great reasons to join (use this link and get a discount on your membership).
We enjoyed what we hope will be our first weekend of many spent in Morgan-Monroe State Forest and hope this post encourages you to get out there and check it out!