The name of this city in South Central Indiana is practically a byword for Indiana limestone. The pure, dense and uniform stone quarried around Bedford is the sediment from an inland sea that existed some 350 million years ago.
Bedford stone has been used for scores of famous American landmarks, from the Empire State Building to the Rockefeller Center, National Cathedral and Biltmore Estate.
Limestone is the theme for a tourist trail linking Bedford and Bloomington to the north, with cave systems, sinkholes, springs and grand stone monuments to discover on the way.
Bedford stone is also celebrated with the Limestone Heritage Festival, a two-day event on the historic Courthouse Square at the end June.
1. Bluespring Caverns
America’s longest navigable underground river flows close to Bedford. The river makes its way through a karst cave system, which has some 21 miles of surveyed passages.
On a boat trip along the river you’ll feel like an early explorer, enveloped in darkness except for the vessel’s own light. During your hour-long voyage your guide will point out wildlife like bats and cave salamanders.
The caves have a steady temperature of 54 °F all year, and to start the adventure you have to descend 400 feet beneath the earth’s surface.
Back above ground you can also marvel at one of the largest sinkholes in the state, encompassing 15 acres and serving as a gateway to the underworld below.
2. Spring Mill State Park
Just south of Bedford is a sensational karst landscape riddled with springs that have carved out visitable caves and sinkholes.
The constant, year-round flowing water at Spring Mill made this the ideal place to construct water mills in the early 19th century and this flurry of small industry is remembered with a reconstructed pioneer village.
The surrounding old growth forest was cleared at that time, and today you can contrast a small stand of virgin timber with the regenerated forest that has since been introduced.
A highlight is the Twin Caves boat tour, taking you 500 feet into an eerie cave system. There’s also a memorial for Apollo 1 astronaut Gus Grissom (more later), a campground and the Nature Center, with natural history displays and live animal exhibits.
3. Bedford Courthouse Square
Something that will grab you about the central square in downtown Bedford is the sense of scale.
This National Historic District is part of the city’s original plat, dating back 200 years. Much of the architecture lining the square is from the late 19th and early 20th century, many with locally quarried limestone.
The buildings on the east side are particularly historic, and in the northeast corner stands the magnificent Masonic Lodge, built in 1918 and hard to miss for its four massive limestone columns with composite capitals.
The square is anchored by the Neoclassical courthouse building, completed in 1930 and capped with a balustrade and urns.
4. Limestone Heritage Trail
The high-quality limestone under Lawrence and Monroe counties is part of the Salem Formation.
This vast seam measures ten miles in width and 35 miles in length, and was created from fossils on the bed of a shallow inland sea around 350 million years ago.
This remarkable corridor, stretching between Bedford and Bloomington, can be experienced via a tourism trail.
Some stops worth checking out in the area include the Land of Limestone exhibit at Oakland City University’s Bedford Campus, the early 20th-century architecture on Bedford Courthouse Square, 14th Street and its profuse limestone mouldings and Bedford’s Greenhill Cemetery, abounding with limestone funerary art.
5. Limestone Heritage Festival
A fitting celebration of Bedford’s bedrock, Limestone Heritage Festival is an annual event at the end of June centered on the Courthouse Square.
This two-day party marks the culmination of a month of limestone-oriented festivities during June.
There’s a lot packed into the schedule, including a parade, live entertainment, children’s activities, a live limestone carving exhibit at the Downtown Depot, food trucks, a beer garden and fireworks.
This is also a chance to get acquainted with Bedford’s many stone landmarks, on a walking tour conducted by the Lawrence County Historical Society Museum.
6. Milwaukee Trail
At the time of writing, this rails-to-trails path extended for 11 miles between Bedford and the nearby town of Williams.
But there are plans in the pipeline to add another nine miles or so to the trail. As it is, the Milwaukee Trail is a wonderful way to get out to the countryside without using a car.
Passing over historic railroad bridges you’ll make your way along the banks of Spider Creek before tracking the White River.
Paved with grave for the first few miles and then hardback, the trail leads you through farmland and woods, and has an easy gradient all the way.
7. Otis Park
Bedford’s oldest park was established in 1923 on a former farm that was purchased by newspaperman Fred Otis and donated to the city.
Otis Park, along with its neighboring golf course, is a U.S. Historic District, with several contributing buildings, including the original Italianate farmhouse from 1865.
Much of the park as it appears today dates to the Depression era, when the Works Progress Administration erected structures like the bandshell, picnic shelters, clubhouse and bathhouse, all using local limestone.
8. Lawrence County Historical Society Museum
To learn more about Bedford and the wider Lawrence County you can visit this museum on Courthouse Square. You’ll find it in the century-old Hamer-Smith building at 929 15th Street, filled with artifacts shining a light on many different aspects of the area’s past.
Browsing thematically organized display cases you’ll see Civil War artifacts, antique home appliances, historic cameras, minerals and fossils, musical instruments, quilts and an exhibit for NASA astronauts to have hailed from Lawrence County.
One strange curiosity is a shoe-fitting fluoroscope (X-ray machine) used in Bedford’s Ideal shoe store in the mid-20th century.
9. Virgil I. Gus Grissom Memorial
The second American to fly in space was the Mitchell-born Purdue graduate, Virgil I. Gus Grissom (1926-1967).
He was selected as one of the seven astronauts chosen to fly spacecraft for Project Mercury (1958-1963), the predecessor to the Apollo program. Grissom died in the Apollo 1 fire during a pre-launch test, and is commemorated at Spring Mill State Park.
The small museum here tells the remarkable story of his life and features the Gemini 3 “Molly Brown” craft from his space flight, along with numerous personal effects including a helmet and spacesuit.
A few minutes south of Bedford, this orchard was founded as long ago as 1937, and today combines 70 acres of fruit trees with an enticing farm market, open all year.
Naturally the selection at the store changes with the seasons, from bedding plants in spring to freshly harvested fruit in the summer and then chrysanthemums, apples and cider from fall into winter.
There’s always a delicious assortment of baked goods, jellies, preserves and handcrafted gifts available all year. One specialty you have to try is Applacres’ famous cherry-flavored apple cider milkshake.
11. Otis Park Golf Course
The 18-hole golf course next door to Otis Park celebrated its centenary in 2020 and is an economical place for a round, at just $28 for 18 holes with a cart when we wrote this list. On zoysia grass with impeccable fairways,
Otis Park Golf Course has a reputation for its challenging slopes, giving you plenty of interesting lies and breathtaking views.
The back nine is especially scenic, and even experienced players will need to be at the top of their game to hit some of the smaller greens.
12. Bedford Farmers’ Market
In summer, a fine way to spend a Saturday morning in Bedford is browsing the stands of the bustling farmers’ market on the west side of Courthouse Square.
The market is here, mid-May through October, and is swelled by numerous vendors local to the city.
On a normal week you can hope to find farm fresh eggs, seasonal fruit and vegetables, locally raised meats and poultry, pies, breads, cinnamon rolls, jellies, jams, flowers and a wealth of handmade arts and crafts.
Shopping here, you’ll be supporting local producers and makers, and connecting directly with people who grew, raised, baked or made what you’ve bought.
13. Paoli Peaks
If you’re up for some downhill skiing or snowboarding, Indiana’s top mountain resort is a comfortable half-hour drive south of Bedford.
The season at Paoli Peaks usually runs from mid-December until around mid-March, and the resort is on a natural hill with an elevation of 900 feet and a vertical drop of 300 feet.
And while South Central Indiana isn’t known for its extreme cold, the resort has extensive snowmaking capacity, able to create a 12-inch layer across the whole hill in just 24 hours.
There are 15 runs in total, more than half of which are intermediate, along with two terrain parks for freestyling. One way Paoli Peaks stands out is for its night skiing, available seven days a week, with sessions continuing until as last as 3:00am on weekends.
14. Lake Monroe
The largest inland body of water in Indiana can be reached in just 20 minutes from Bedford. Lake Monroe is a reservoir constructed in the early 1960s, with a surface area of 10,750 acres.
In summer, the lake and its beautiful forest-cloaked shores are a magnet for tourism, with three beaches, endless opportunities for water activities, four campgrounds, two hotels and miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking.
There’s a series of recreation facilities along the shore, each loaded with facilities, while much of the eastern side of the lake is within the Hoosier National Forest.
Fishing is permitted year-round, and this is one of the best places in the region to catch catfish, crappie, bass, bullhead and bluegill.
15. Salt Creek Brewery
All of the beer at this award-winning brewery just north of Bedford is brewed on site. Monday through Wednesday Salt Creek Brewery is closed for brewing, and then opens up to customers for the rest of the week.
The brewery was founded in 2011 and welcomes you to relax in a laid-back, family-friendly environment, with a patio, free Wi-Fi, HD TVs and regular live music.
As for the beer, you’ve got Blonde Ales (Damn and Bradweiser), an IPA (Switchback Sally), an American Pale Ale (Blood Orange) and a Schwarzbier (Queen Anne’s Revenge), to name a handful.
La Cala Cocina, the restaurant here, makes beer-friendly Mexican food, with authentic tacos, quesadillas, burritos, chimichangas and rice bowls prepared fresh daily.