It seems like spring came early to Indiana this year, whatever the reason, and has lingered a bit longer than most, with cool mornings and warm afternoons. I've been loving the sunshine, and it's inspiring me to get outside to bike or walk with my kids more often. I'm thankful for the many paved trails in and around urban Indy that are perfect for this. The benefits of these trails abound: They create safe spaces (more protected than bike lanes, with smoother surfaces than sidewalks) for kids to practice riding a bike, scooter or skateboard. If you want to go for a run with a jogging stroller, a paved trail works much better than most city sidewalks. In many cases these trails connect parks and neighborhoods together. They help us rediscover the beauty and value of urban waterways, which were neglected and polluted during the previous century (in 1997, the White River was one of the most threatened rivers in the U.S.) Trails and greenways help meet the need for an active, healthy lifestyle (which is important, because our state ranks seventh-highest in the nation in adult obesity). They give us access to nature, fresh air and greenspace, which have been shown to improve mental and physical health. Last but certainly not least, they're fun! Whenever we set out to explore a new stretch of trail, a sense of adventure always infuses our family outings. Or if we set a goal (biking to Mass Ave or Broad Ripple for ice cream), there's a sense of pleasure and satisfaction in accomplishing what we set out to do, and in reaching our destination. Here's a list of our favorite Indianapolis trails to keep handy for the summer:
1. Monon Trail (18.2 miles)
The popular Monon Trail was originally a passenger railroad in 1897 and connected Chicago with Indianapolis and Louisville. The Monon Railroad was named for the town of Monon in northwest Indiana, where all routes converged. "Monon" comes from a Potawatomi word meaning "swift-running," so it was very appropriate as the name of a busy railroad. You can read more about the fascinating history of the railroad and its transformation to the modern rail trail here. In the late 1990s, the defunct railroad was repurposed into a shared-use path for walking, running and biking. Over the past 15 years, this trail has been extended gradually to its current length, stretching over 18 miles from downtown Indianapolis (10th Street) up through Broad Ripple, Carmel and Westfield. Maps of the trail can be found here.
2. Indianapolis Cultural Trail (8 miles)
The Cultural Trail project has garnered a lot of attention over the past few years, winning awards both here in Indy and nationwide. A fun summer activity would be to explore this trail with the goal of seeing all 18 installations of public artwork, like a scavenger hunt, stopping at local cafes or coffee shops for snacks along the way, of course. Visit the website for a map of the trail, as well as info about the Pacers Bikeshare and group tours.
3. Fall Creek Greenway (12 miles)
I love this trail, and I hope it becomes more widely known in the future. The northern part of Fall Creek Greenway has existed for many years, but the extension south to downtown (Fall Creek Place) was completed about two years ago. This trail follows Fall Creek all the way from downtown Indianapolis (George Kessler Park at Meridian & 25th St.), to Fort Harrison State Park on the northeast side of the city, intersecting the Monon Rail Trail on the way. It's right alongside the creek, so it's green, shaded, curved and more varied in elevation, compared with the Monon which is of course straight and flat. The other day when I was biking along Fall Creek, I came around a bend and saw a family of geese right next to the trail, a mother with about 8 or 9 goslings. The Fall Creek Greenway is an oasis of greenery in the middle of the city, and a great asset to the surrounding neighborhoods which have seen so much positive change and revitalization in the past two decades.
4. White River Wapahani Trail (4.75 miles)
This trail originates in White River State Park, next to the Indianapolis Zoo, and goes in several different directions. It connects to the Canal Walk (behind the Indiana State Museum) and the Cultural Trail (along Washington Street in front of the Eiteljorg Museum), it extends south to the Lilly Recreation Park at Raymond Street, and it also goes north along the White River to Riverside Park and connects to the Central Canal Towpath at 30th Street. The Central Canal Towpath also connects to the Monon Trail near 64th Street in Broad Ripple. At some point in the future (maybe this summer), I want to do a family bike ride all the way from our house by way of the Cultural Trail, the White River Wapahani Trail and the Canal Towpath up to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and 100 Acres Nature Park for a picnic lunch. I know, all these names start to sound alike--you just have to look at a map to get things sorted out. Thank goodness for smartphones! In the future, this trail will be expanded southeast to connect to the Pleasant Run Trail and northeast to connect to the Fall Creek Greenway. I think there are actually 18 miles of trail expansions planned. To get to the White River Wapahani Trail, you can park in the Zoo parking lot (walk between the zoo entrance and the White River Gardens building through a large gate), or the surface lot or parking garage at White River State Park.
5. Canal Walk (3 miles)
A friend just told me recently, "You know, we used to go downtown and walk the canal all the time before we had kids, and I really miss that! The logistics just seem overwhelming to us now, like figuring out where to park and finding an elevator or ramp for the stroller, instead of stairs." Yes. I hear you. It's definitely more challenging to do certain things with little ones and strollers. But it can also be really fun! My three-year-old absolutely loves to feed the ducks when we visit the Canal Walk, which we usually access on foot or bike by way of the Cultural Trail, which connects with a ramp near the intersection of Walnut Street and Senate Ave. Of course the easiest way to get to the canal walk if you're driving is to park in the White River State Park garage or surface lot, and there are ramps and pathways to get to the canal behind the State Museum and Eiteljorg Museum. I just received an updated map of handicap/stroller-accessible entry points to the Canal Walk from the helpful people at Downtown Indy, but I am still trying to figure out how to make it accessible to all of you from this website :).
The Canal Walk is beautiful, fun, popular with runners, and dotted with museums, war memorials, apartments, and a few restaurants and coffee shops. You can also rent paddle boats, kayaks, segways, and bikes, or take a gondola ride. [Fun fact I just learned: "pedal boat" is actually incorrect, although you do pedal the boat with your feet: "paddle boat" is the accepted American English word and refers to the paddle wheel in the rear that propels the boat forward in the water. It's called a "pedalo" in the United Kingdom.] This article shares about the canal's appeal from the perspective of a newcomer to Indy living in an apartment right on the Canal Walk; check out the amazing photos.
The Pleasant Run Trail (6.9 miles) from Garfield Park to Irvington and the newly-extended Pennsy Rail Trail (3 miles) in Irvington are places on our list to explore this summer! Do you have a favorite Indianapolis trail that's not on this list? Please feel free to comment and share about it!