Raccoon Run Trail winds through a mature beech and maple forest. It offers excellent wildflowers in the spring and a shady respite during hot summer days.
Pay attention to closing time. They will lock your car inside the park for the night. Park opens at 10 am and closes based on the season. Check the website. An entrance fee of $5 for out of county vehicles is collected April 1 - October 31 on weekends (Friday - Sunday).
This trail winds through several sections of the park. There are road crossings and much of it is within the mountain bike trail area. The trail surface is packed dirt with leaf littler. The trail is partially marked with sections that can be difficult to follow. The trail map doesn't help because the map is not drawn to scale and sections of the trail are not on the map. There are also old trails not marked on the map that do not have trail closed signs. The trail really needs markers at every trail junction. There is a mountain bike trail that crosses the Raccoon Run trail dozens of times. Raccoon Run does not use the mountain bike trail, so don't get side tracked! The good news is that the park is small and there are almost always visual clues that can be used to help determine your location. You can also use the Trail Run Project mobile app
to help you find your way.
Park at the Nature Center. Make your way out on the road around the "R" in the Studebaker Tree Sign
to the west. The trailhead is NOT marked but can be found by looking for an old roadbed off to the right. Don't be confused by the mountain bike trail. Follow the roadbed along the fence line until it turns to the south and up the hill. Soon after there is a trail junction marker. It is confusing because none of this is marked on the trail map. Follow the roadbed straight until just before the road. There is a new trail marker. Take the trail to the right as it makes a small loop in the woods before coming back to the road. This is also not marked on the map.
Cross the road and head towards the maintenance yard fence. There is no marker but the trail can been seen as you get close to the wood line. This section of trail is lovely with really large trees and an open understory. Pay attention to the trail map at this point to make the correct choice at the next five trail junctions (left, left, right, right, right). Not all of these have a marker. This will lead you a road. Cross the road and pick up the trail. There is a trail marker.
The trail is now within the mountain biking area. The singletrack bike trail can easily be distinguished from the pedestrian trail. Do not take any of the mountain bike trails that cross the main trail. The trail is relatively easy to follow. The trail will again cross a road. There are trail markers. The final section of trail is not on the trail map. Follow the trail back to the original trail junction. Take a left back the trailhead.
Bendix Woods County Park was once owned by the famed Studebaker Automobile Corporation. 840 acres were purchased in 1926 and became the first automobile proving grounds in America. Various road conditions were simulated to test their cars. Although it was a testing facility, Studebaker maintained the grounds as a natural area. In 1938, they planted 8,000 pine trees that spell the their name "STUDEBAKER" when viewed from the air. You can still see it today on the map above running north-south. The trees were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
The proving grounds were sold to the Bendix corporation in 1963, which in turn donated 195 acres to St. Joseph County to establish the county park. The rest of the acreage is still being used as automotive proving grounds today. Bendix used the grounds until 1996, selling it to Bosch who then sold the land to Navistar in 2015.
For more information about Bendix Woods, visit the following website: sjcparks.org/bendix.h