Hiking and bicycling are among my favorite outdoor activities. I love to write about and share the beautiful places I've been.
Where Are the 3 Best Bike Trails in Indiana?
Bike trails are great for those who just want to take a casual ride with the family, as well as for more serious bicyclists. Many of these paths are built along old rail beds and are also known as rail trails. Some are paved with asphalt. while others have somewhat of a more rugged surface such as crushed limestone, but all of them are suitable for riding bicycles.
There are of course bike trails all over the country, but if you live in Indiana or are traveling through the area, this article should help you find and learn more about some of the best bike trails in the state from a 40-year resident.
1. The Monon Bike Trail
The Monon rail trail is one of the longest, and certainly one of the busiest, bike trails in Indiana, and possibly the United States. It runs through urban and suburban areas and connects to a variety of other trails to provide users the opportunity to bike, walk, skate, or run with minimal contact with vehicular traffic.
At the north end, the Monon Greenway begins at 161st street. It takes users through the Westfield/Carmel area. Portions of the trail are wooded and quiet, while other areas take users through busier areas in Carmel. There are several parks along the trail as well as a waterpark and fitness complex at Central Park (at The Monon Community Center) near 116th street, the Arts and Design District in Carmel, Skate Park, and the Clay Terrace Shoppes. The majority of crossings in this area take users over or under busy streets with one notable exception of Main Street in Carmel, where traffic is moving very slowly.
The Monon Trail officially takes over at 96th street and continues south 10.5 miles. This portion of the trail will take users through the village of Broad Ripple, past urban art, and on into downtown Indianapolis. Along the way, bike trail users can select other spur trails to further explore the area.
The Central Canal towpath takes off of the Monon in the Broad Ripple area and continues westward along the canal. Much of the surface of this trail is crushed limestone versus asphalt. It runs approximately fivemiles and takes users past the gardens at Butler University and beyond the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Continuing past Riverside Park and along the White River Waphani Trail, users will eventually find themselves in the heart of downtown Indianapolis just blocks from the State Capitol building and a variety of shops, museums, and restaurants.
For those who bypass the Central Canal Towpath and continue southward on the Monon, another trail can be taken just south of the 38th street crossing. (The 38th street crossing is probably the most treacherous along the route but trail users are able to safely pause between east and westbound vehicular traffic as they cross.) The Fall Creek Trail is just beyond 38th Street and will take users eastward toward I-465. This bike trail has an asphalt bed. Skiles Test Park is one of several locations along the trail.
In my experience, the heaviest trail traffic along the Monon is in the Broad Ripple area and near the Carmel Arts & Design District. Some of the lightest traffic appears to be along the Central Canal Towpath west of Broad Ripple and the Fall Creek Trail.
You can find trailheads and more information by clicking on the map shown at this link or find general driving directions and a look at the trail course (by zooming in and scrolling) on the map below.
2. The Cardinal Greenway
There are 62 miles of rail trails in the Cardinal Greenway system, which runs from Marion, Indiana southeast to Richmond, Indiana. Not all trail sections are connected. Currently, the longest stretch of continuous trail is the Gaston to Richmond portion of the bike trail. Despite the gap in the trail at the northern end (between Jonesboro and Gaston, Indiana), low traffic rural roads allow trail users to traverse the entire length of the trail easily.
The Cardinal Greenway is generally on flat terrain and provides an asphalt surface for easy riding. It passes through rural areas as well as through several small towns and the city of Muncie, Indiana. Trail traffic is fairly light in my experience and with the exception of a few crossings in Muncie, there is little vehicular traffic encountered. The McGalliard Street crossing is the most treacherous.
In the Muncie area, riders can also choose to take the White River Greenway Trail which takes users through older neighborhoods with stately homes. It's a particularly nice ride in the spring when flowers are in bloom.
While the Monon provides greater diversity and more "destinations," especially when combined with connecting trails, the Cardinal Greenway is a better rural experience and, with lighter traffic, a great choice for more serious biking or just getting away from the daily routine.
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For the average person who doesn't typically bicycle that often, riding a portion of the trail vs. the entire thing is more appropriate. It's important to remember that this trail, like the others, is not a loop. However far you choose to ride in one direction, it will have to be traversed a second time on the trip back.
Trailheads can be found here.
3. The Nickel Plate Trail
The Nickel Plate trail lies in the northern half of Indiana. It runs from Rochester, Indiana at its northernmost point, 25 miles southward to the north side of Peru, Indiana. From the south side of Peru, the trail runs southward to Kokomo, Indiana adding approximately another 15 miles to the distance.
The ride along the trail is generally moderate to easy. The surface is asphalt and the terrain level in many portions with gently rolling features in a few sections especially near Peru and the town of Denver. There are significant portions of the trail that pass through wooded areas but much of it also provides a view of the open farmland in the area, as well as a glimpse of the small rural towns the trail passes through.
Peru (pop. est. 13,000) and Denver are the largest towns along the trail until you come to Kokomo (pop. est. 58,000). For the majority of the trail, there is very, very little traffic encountered although there is increased activity on weekends.
Riding the trail is fun any time of year, but Fall, of course, is ideal with its cooler temperatures and display of autumn colors.
This map can help you plan a trip on the trail and will even provide tips on navigating through Peru where the trail is briefly interrupted. There is some indication that the Nickel Plate Trail may someday connect to the Cardinal Greenway.
Things to Know About the Rail Trails
Rail trails offer an opportunity to safely walk, bicycle, jog, or skate (depending upon the surface) with minimal motorized traffic contact. There is no fee to use the trail so it's certainly a very economical activity. In general, pets are allowed on the trails only when on a leash.
Bicyclists and skaters need to take care when approaching walkers and joggers. They can signal by verbally indicating their approach on the left or on the right. Excessive speed when skating or on a bike can create hazards for those on foot. Children and pets especially need to be approached with caution as they may change direction without checking for oncoming traffic. Those on foot should stay to the right to allow passing.
Luckily, many of the trails don't have heavy traffic and provide for a relaxed ride or walk.
Most of the trails will offer facilities/restrooms only at trailheads where parking is available. For this reason, taking your time to familiarize yourself with your route and the location of restrooms and so forth is important before you start.
Riders should always take along some water and sufficient clothing and protection from the elements. Bicyclists should also have any necessary tools and tire repair equipment.
As mentioned above, if you aren't someone who bicycles frequently, be careful not to outride your abilities. These bike trails/rail trails are not loops, it's possible to ride too far and have a very difficult, slow, and even painful ride on the return leg of the journey if you overestimate your abilities.
© 2010 Christine Mulberry
Do You Have a Favorite Bike Trail in Indiana?
5 in 50 Rush County Indiana on August 15, 2019:
5 covered bridges in 50 miles in scenic Rush County Indiana.
River Greenway on November 15, 2010:
Fort Wayne has a great mass of bike paths:
Tony McGregor from South Africa on November 11, 2010:
An intersting Hub makes me wish I could ride there!
Love and peace
PaperNotes on November 03, 2010:
Indeed! It is always a smart thing to carry and bring with you all your basic necessities like water, protection gears and emergency kit to better enjoy your bicycling trip.
nicomp really from Ohio, USA on October 26, 2010:
I rode the Nikel Plate in August into a killer headwind from Peru to Cassville, then on to Kokomo. It's a great trail.
Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on October 25, 2010:
Well done, beautiful pictures and great information. It makes me want to hop on my bike and take a ride.
theherbivorehippi from Holly, MI on October 25, 2010:
Oooooh I love the looks of the Nickel Plate trail! It amazes me the number of people that don't take the opportunity to use trails, see some nature, breath in fresh air. I would be lost without my daily dose. Great info! Shall I ever make it to Indiana I will know where to go!
POWERS1205 on October 21, 2010:
Hi there! I love the information and would like to suggest another trail in northern indiana. It is called the Maple City Greenway Trail.
Rika Susan from South Africa on October 21, 2010:
Hope I get a chance to experience these trails someday! Gorgeous pics you have in your hub.
prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on October 20, 2010:
I love this information. I wish I could try this track someday. It must be fun, entertaining and healthy. Thank you very much. Vote up.