Location: 109 W 700 N, Valparaiso, IN
Hours: Dusk until Dawn daily
Trail Length: 4 miles, easy
Entrance Cost: Free
Dog Friendly: Yes, on a leash.
Restrooms: At the entrance at the far end of the parking lot
Each visit to Meadowbrook is a new experience and every season offers something unique. On this summer day, we arrived late morning and went straight to the information board at the far end of the parking lot to make our plan. Copies of the trail map are available at the trailhead and we took one with us to follow our progress and stay on track.
Meadowbrook has six trails totaling 4 miles that wind through a variety of landscapes. For this hike, we chose Trail 1, the longest trail at 1.7 miles and circling the entire perimeter of the preserve until we met up with Trail 3, cutting down through the center of the preserve. The trailheads for both the beginning and the end of Trail 1 start at the far end of the parking lot and we chose to start at the eastern trailhead.
As this trail moves deep into thick forest, it is also a Story Walk, with signs along the way that describe the travels of Red, an inquisitive Irish Setter, as he learns about the natural habitat, wildlife, plant life and forest life in the nature preserve. It’s a great way to learn and engage both children and adults as the hike takes you deeper into the forest.
Trail 1 provides access to all the other trails in the preserve and after crossing a wooden bridge, our first intersection was with Trail 4, the .3 mile Paul Quinlan Trail, which bisects the large meadow. Staying on Trail 1, however, the grassy path borders the far side of the meadow through tall grasses, daisies, thistle and fleabane bobbing on tall stems and purple and white clover creating a carpet for us to follow.
As the trail turns north, it moves in and out of shady tunnels of maple, sumac, elm and sycamore trees providing drama and respite from a hot summer sun. At the halfway point, the trail meets Trail 3 and we took this half mile section leaving behind the tall, waving beauty of the meadows for the cool shade of deep forest again. Trail 3 cuts directly south through the center of the preserve to a narrow boardwalk over marshy, tall cattails, grasses and flowers. It takes you past buildings quietly holding secrets of Meadowbrook’s Girl Scout Camp history years ago. Eventually a set of steps leads down a deep ridge ending where it meets Trail 7 which in turn circles back again to Trail 1 and arrives back to the parking lot near the beautiful, newly built pavilion and restrooms.
The Shirley-Heinz Land Trust makes its home here and Meadowbrook is its flagship preserve. Whether you are enjoying this nature preserve for winter’s cross-country skiing, spring’s ephemerals, summer’s dark forests and waving meadows, or autumn’s bright colors, this park provides nature experiences at every turn with easy, grass-covered trails for all ages.