The Best Bike Trail in Indianapolis: The Monon Trail

Updated on September 17, 2018
RuthCoffee profile image

I've lived in Indiana for much of my life, and I've explored lots of what the state has to offer. I can show you what's here to enjoy.

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The Monon Trail: The Perfect Urban Biking Trip

Many years ago my husband and I began planning some of our vacation time around rail trails. These trails are revamped rail lines set up to accommodate bike riders and walkers and in some instances those who rollerblade. They provide a great, healthy activity for fitness-minded individuals but can also be a fantastic family activity for anyone. The trails get you out and moving, safely, with much of the time being spent away from traffic. In addition, they often provide the easiest riding and get you from spot to spot quickly; sometimes faster than driving!

On our trips, we merely took the bikes along and used the rail trail for much of our transportation once we arrived in our city of destination. Not all cities are set up so perfectly for this kind of activity, but Indianapolis, our hometown at the time, was really well suited to such an adventure. Let me tell and show you a bit about the Monon Trail and its connections which can get you to many interesting places in the Indy area while providing many miles of biking. I'll be sure to include some useful links so that you have maps and more detailed information.

High Bridge near Delphi, Indiana. Part of the old Monon line.
High Bridge near Delphi, Indiana. Part of the old Monon line.

The History Behind the Monon Trail

The Monon line, as you might suspect, was a rail line for many years. Apparently, north-south rail lines weren't so common, but the Monon was one of the few. It opened in 1853 and reportedly ran from the Lake Michigan area south, 300 miles to the Ohio River. It ran both passengers and freight.

It appears that passenger service was phased out beginning in the late 1950's, with Indianapolis service ending in 1959. The popularity of rail trails, of course, came many years later, but much of the Monon Trail in Indianapolis didn't open to the public until the end of the 1990's and early 2000's.

You can learn more about the history of the Monon Rail Line here. When hiking around Indiana you will frequently run across this line. The picture here is one I shot near Delphi, Indiana when we found a trail that led to a very high, abandoned rail bridge that was part of the Monon line.

Segments of the line are still in operation under CSX Transportation.

The Monon Trail just outside of Carmel, Indiana
The Monon Trail just outside of Carmel, Indiana

Indy by Bike

What most Indianapolis residents consider as the beginning of the Monon Trail, is actually the Monon Greenway* which is at the north end of the rail trail in Carmel, Indiana. The Monon Greenway runs from 146th street south through Carmel to 96th street at the Hamilton County/Marion County line. The trail is extended a few miles further north beyond highway 32 (in Westfield) but is not entirely paved.

The path is asphalt and easily used by walkers and runners as well as those who are on bike or roller blades. Much of the path is surrounded by trees and it passes nearby local parks and businesses. Pets are allowed on the trail as long as they're on a leash. Traffic on the trail at this point can be heavy at times.

Parking and restrooms are available at 96th street and just south of 146th street on adjacent Rohrer road. Of course, parking is also available just off of Main street in Carmel. Maps can be found at the link above.

There are a handful of playgrounds and parks adjacent to the trail at this point and plans to link the trail with other paths in the area.

*The satellite map of the Monon Greenway isn't well labeled, but it's easy to find it as it winds through downtown Carmel. It's the only winding path.

Carmel, Indiana just off of the Monon.
Carmel, Indiana just off of the Monon.

146th street has wide sidewalks or a sidepath that leads to the Monon Greenway. Clay Terrace Mall is just west of the trail at this north end and provides shopping as well as restaurants. From here, the trail passes through suburban neighborhoods but with thick tree and underbrush cover, it feels more rural. There are of course several street crossings but they aren't major thoroughfares and local drivers are well accustomed to stopping to wait for trail traffic.

Access to the Arts and Design District of Carmel is also convenient after traveling about a mile south of this 146th street trailhead. This photograph of some shops is taken from a trail crossing. There are, of course, a number of eateries available here as well with some of them sitting alongside the trail.

The old Monon Depot
The old Monon Depot

Just south of the Carmel Arts and Design District, you'll come across the tiny Monon Depot on the west side of the trail. It's a small museum that's full of interesting artifacts, photographs, and documents from the heyday of the Monon rail line.

Admission is free so if you have some time to kill and have an interest in railroads, it's worth the time to stop in for a visit. For most of the year, it's open in the afternoons on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

The tunnel under 126th street.
The tunnel under 126th street.

As you continue south along the Monon trail, you'll pass through the back side of old Carmel. At the present time, you'll pass by everything from old grain elevators to abandoned lumber yards. I've occasionally seen deer here as well as a family of foxes. This area is however under development and soon it will consist of more eateries, gathering places, shopping, and higher-end housing.

After passing under 126th street you'll come to the bustling area of government buildings, the Performing Arts Center, condos, offices and much more. There are no highrise buildings in Carmel, and most of these buildings are Williamsburg style.

There isn't much here to interest most trail visitors until you get to Civic Square.

On the south east side of Civic Square
On the south east side of Civic Square

Civic Square can at times be a nice stop for those passing through. There are a couple of city government buildings here (one is pictured), the fire department and a large fountain where kids like to splash around on a hot day. The square offers a nice place to sit and enjoy the quiet surroundings.

Of course if you time it right, you can also attend one of the many free public concerts that are offered primarily throughout the warm weather months in the early evening. These are fun family events held at the gazebo in Civic Square.

The trail heading south out of Carmel
The trail heading south out of Carmel

Heading South Through Nora and Into Broad Ripple

After leaving the Carmel area and heading south toward the Monon Trail, you'll pass through more suburban areas along this wooded section. The trail has a bit less traffic here and there are no businesses located directly on it for a couple of miles now. Like the entire trail, it's flat, easy riding that's sheltered from the wind for long stretches.

In general, bikers, and rollerbladers need to be alert for those on foot who travel more slowly. It's important to warn those who are moving at a more leisurely pace when you are intending to pass. Something such as "passing on the left" can help avoid a collision even at these points when trail traffic is much lighter. Riding speeds along the Monon Trail and the Greenway should be moderate.

Heading south, passing under part of the Monon Center, a fitness complex at Central Park..
Heading south, passing under part of the Monon Center, a fitness complex at Central Park..

As you head south the first significant site will be Central Park which sits just outside of the tiny community of Homeplace. It's situated between 116th and 111th street. It's a large park with fitness facilities. It includes a water park, a skate park, gymnasium, trails, and an area for fishing. It also offers a small wetlands area, gardens, an arts studio, a cafe, and more.

It's free to the public if you want to utilize the playground and outdoor trails and can be a great destination in itself. There is fee however for use of the pool, skate park of fitness complex.

Continuing south into Broad Ripple
Continuing south into Broad Ripple

After passing Central Park, the only item of interest for most trail visitors in Homeplace would be access to a convenience store/gas station. They can find this if they turn west on 106th street and ride about a half a mile. Of course, if a restroom is your primary need, then those facilities are available on up the trail just a bit at the 96th street trailhead where the Monon Greenway makes it's connection to the Monon Trail.

As you continue southward, on the Monon trail you will cross under the highway loop, 465, and the woods drops away from the trail. You'll be passing through the backside of the community of Nora. The intersection at 86th street is one of a handful of busy intersections you'll cross without the benefit of an under or overpass. There is a light however, making the crossing safe. There are a variety of shops in this area, including a handy bike repair shop, and a spot to stop and take a rest.

Beyond this area, is a pleasant ride of about 2 miles through a mostly wooded area. A portion of this goes along the eastern border of Marott park, which offers a nice hiking trail. However, if you stick to the Monon trail you'll proceed to the community of Broad Ripple. You'll pass over White River just before arriving there.

Broad Ripple
Broad Ripple | Source

As the Monon Trail enters Broad Ripple you'll first pass the Arts Center (where you can wander around a bit to view some interesting sculptures) and then pass through some of the neighborhoods. Broad Ripple hosts an Art Fair each year. Many of the older homes close to the main thoroughfare were transformed into small trendy shops some time ago.

As you get to the heart of the town you'll find plenty of restaurants, cafes, second-hand shops, art stores, quirky shops, clubs, and more. In the evening you can catch bands, comedians, and so forth at the various venues. The trail and the streets can be quite busy here. Even the McDonald's is a step above as it's one of those with a homey interior and cafe.

Along the canal
Along the canal

Splitting Off and Heading West on the Central Canal Towpath

While the Monon Trail continues south from Broad Ripple, you also get the opportunity to instead divert to the west on the Central Canal Towpath. If you really want to take a tour of Indy, some of the side trails really need to be explored as well. I'll give you a glimpse of what the Towpath and Canal Walk offer before continuing along the main trail.

As you approach Broad Ripple from the north, the Central Canal Towpath takes off to the west just before you cross the canal itself. It quickly turns into a crushed limestone surface that's wedged between the canal and Westfield Blvd. Be aware that although human traffic decreases at this point, there are plenty of ducks for the first 3/4 mile and it's not uncommon for them to loiter directly on the trail. It's still easy riding and it becomes quieter after you cross over the canal. It's a fairly scenic ride and will take you past a number of worthy sites as you continue south-west.

The conservatory at Butler University
The conservatory at Butler University

Butler University will appear on the opposite side of the canal. Holcomb Gardens is there bordering the canal and a small bridge allows you to easily make a short visit. If you happen to be there on a Sunday evening around 6:00 p.m. you may even catch the bell concert.

There are hiking trails, some small ponds, and a fountain to enjoy if you want to take the time to take in the surroundings. If you get adveturesome, you can even ride up the hill from the gardens and take a look around Butler University.

There are a number of old stone buildings of course as the University was founded in 1855. There's also an observatory which is pictured here.

A canal crossing near the Art Museum
A canal crossing near the Art Museum

Just a bit further down the Central Canal Towpath you'll come to the back of the Lilly Home with it's gardens and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. I'll include some slides here for you to get and idea of what the area looks like.

The Lilly House is a 22 room mansion which sits on a 26 acre estate. The Lilly House was the home of Indianapolis businessman, J.K. Lilly Jr. and is decorated circa 1930's. Tours are available.

The Lilly Gardens and IMA

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Along the canal in downtown Indianapolis
Along the canal in downtown Indianapolis

Continuing Down the White River-Wapahani Trail

You can continue even further via the bike trails on into downtown Indianapolis by making connections. The White River Wapahani Trail will take you further along the river, past Riverside park and allow you to hook up with the Downtown Canal.

Here there's quite a selection of sights to see and things to do. White River State Park complete with a butterfly garden, the Indianapolis Zoo, Eiteljorg Museum, the IMAX Theater, the Indiana State Museum, the NCAA museum, and much more is accessible. Of course, downtown is also easily reached with its full range of eateries, hotels, and more.

There are even rentals available, from carriage bikes and tandems to Segways for those who want more speed and less effort.

The old rail line crossing just south of 38th street and the State Fair grounds.
The old rail line crossing just south of 38th street and the State Fair grounds.

Back to the Monon Trail and Beyond

Ok, when I last left you standing on the Monon in Broad Ripple, we were ready to head south. You'll pass through the area, beyond some local parks and enter an older, more urban area. You'll see some urban art on small buildings as you go, and some decay as well. (I included some video I found about that below.) You'll ride past the Indiana State Fair Grounds and if you have a great deal of time for your bike trip you can check out the various activities scheduled there. The biggest event is probably the State Fair which occurs in August each year, but even in the winter, there are events as well. Concerts, ice skating, car auctions, racing, conventions, and more are often held here.

You'll cross 38th street at this point. I would consider this the most treacherous crossing along the Monon Trail if traffic is heavy at the time. Luckily there are often significant breaks in the traffic if you're patient and willing to wait 4 or 5 minutes. After crossing, you'll come to an old rail bridge and continue south. Unless of course, you choose to take the split off on the Fall Creek Trail which currently heads east from here.

The Fall Creek Trail is a scenic ride as well. It stays close to the streets and the creek. It runs all the way to the 465 loop (about 7 miles) on the east side near Skiles Test Park (more hiking here). The trail may be extended in the future. When this happens it will be a short ride to Ft. Harrison State Park and a number of other destinations. Plans are also in place to extend the trail westward from the Monon around 38th street to connect up with the canal/White River Trail I believe but it is not yet completed.

For now, the Monon Trail ends at 10th street. This final leg of the journey is much more urban but you get to see parts of Indianapolis, some of the network of highways, and end up downtown if you choose to stay there.

At this point, you can further explore Indianapolis from the hotspots on Mass Ave, on to Fountain Square, through downtown, and so forth by taking the Cultural Trail at its northeastern point. That of course, could lead you to the Pleasant Run Parkway running south-east out of Indy. But that's another day.

A Very Quick Ride Along the Monon

Questions & Answers

    © 2009 Ruth Coffee

    Let Us Know You Stopped By!

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      • patinkc profile image

        patinkc 

        6 years ago from Midwest

        Delightful triptic!

      • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

        William Leverne Smith 

        6 years ago from Hollister, MO

        A Fascinating lens. Thank you, so much for sharing! I love the rail trail concept! ;-)

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        As I do not own a car, I use the monon to get to appointments, do light shopping and take care of business that requires my attendance. Cabs are convenient, but can be quite expensive. A DETAILED map of the monon would be invaluable to me as I am older and my memory is not what it used to be.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        This is a great article! Very informative and helpful. We are going there tomorrow and now I have a better idea where we want to start and what to see. Thanks!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        Why is it so hard to find a map of the Monon trail???? I don't care at all about what can be sold on the trail I refuse to by from the scalpers anyway!!! I would just like a map so I can plan my start and end points!!!@!@

      • profile image

        Fit_Over_40_Buzz 

        8 years ago

        Very cool lens. Informative and fun. Thanks for sharing. Thumbs Up given.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        8 years ago

        Nice scenic biking trails to ride. Lovely presentation as always.

        Adding this to my Krispy's Return list.

      • profile image

        steamtown 

        8 years ago

        Someday I will ride this trail!! Great job on your lens,

      • profile image

        poutine 

        8 years ago

        Would love to bicycle on this trail one day.

      • profile image

        kimmanleyort 

        8 years ago

        This is a wonderful and very familiar look at the Monon Trail. Excellent!

      • rebeccahiatt profile image

        rebeccahiatt 

        9 years ago

        Sounds like you have visited this trail frequentlly. Very nice lens, great pictures

      • indigoj profile image

        Indigo Janson 

        9 years ago from UK

        Wonderful. I'd love to cycle a trail like that. It looks like you chose a lovely day for it.

      • Ramkitten2000 profile image

        Deb Kingsbury 

        9 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

        I love places that have urban trails and rails-to-trails. We used to walk the Youghigheny Trail--a rail-to-trail--when we lived in Pennsylvania, and we have a really good urban trail system here in Flagstaff. It's nice to see you have the same in your area.

        This is a great lens.

      • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

        ElizabethJeanAl 

        9 years ago

        Great lens!

        Thanks for sharing

        Lizzy

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        9 years ago

        Looks like a great place to go see and tour. Great pictures here too!

        I have never been to Ohio, sure would like to take a trip there!

        Susie

      • JenniferAkers LM profile image

        JenniferAkers LM 

        9 years ago

        I'm not a biker, but I loved going on The Monon Trail with you. The photos captured my attention and your layout kept me trekking along to the next part of the journey. Well deserved purple heart (and 5* from me)!

      • Winter52 LM profile image

        Winter52 LM 

        9 years ago

        I don't even own a bike and it never really interested me until I saw your lens. I think that you just changed my mind and it was something that my daughter has been trying to do for ages. And congrats on the Purple Star. You did an amazing job!

      • profile image

        GrowWear 

        9 years ago

        Wonderful lens! Congratulations on a well-deserved purple star.

      • TreasuresBrenda profile image

        Treasures By Brenda 

        9 years ago from Canada

        Excellent lens; blessed by a Squid Angel. We have the Trans Canada trail in Canada which uses the old railway lines. I have to admit that I've only used a tiny bit of it. Maybe some day I will have the opportunity to explore further.

      • JohannDog profile image

        Johann The Dog 

        9 years ago from Northeast Georgia

        Fantastic lens!!! The Monon is a dog lovers dream :) Indiana 2 and 4 leggers RAWK, woofs! -- Johann

      • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

        ElizabethJeanAl 

        9 years ago

        I'm not much of a biker. I prefer keeping my feet on the ground. The Monon Trail would make a pretty walkway.

        Thanks for sharing

        Lizzy

      • PromptWriter profile image

        Moe Wood 

        9 years ago from Eastern Ontario

        Congratulations on the purple star!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        9 years ago

        Congratulations on your Purple Star! - Kathy

      • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

        Nathalie Roy 

        9 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

        Great lens! Loved it, very nice pictures. Sounds like a very interesting bike trail.

      • OhMe profile image

        Nancy Tate Hellams 

        9 years ago from Pendleton, SC

        Such a neat idea and a great lens

      • profile image

        MadcapDave 

        9 years ago

        Saw your lens while on the All things Bicycle Lens Group page. The topography of the two cities are different but the enthusiasm for trail riding is the same. Nice site.

      • SandyMertens profile image

        Sandy Mertens 

        9 years ago from Frozen Tundra

        Enjoyed the trail images. Seemed so peaceful.

      • ArtByLinda profile image

        Linda Hoxie 

        9 years ago from Idaho

        This trail just looks so peaceful, I love the way you put this lens together, very nice!

      • nightbear lm profile image

        nightbear lm 

        9 years ago

        Very beautiful lens. My husband would love to explore this trail.

      • Rich-H profile image

        Rich 

        9 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

        I very much enjoyed my virtual tour. It was great learning about about an area I'm not familiar with, and its history. Great pictures too! 5*s

      • Sensitive Fern profile image

        Sensitive Fern 

        9 years ago

        You've done a great job with this! The pictures are very inviting. 5*

      • oneskms profile image

        oneskms 

        9 years ago

        Lovely lens Mulberry, well worth 5*

      • drs2biz lm profile image

        David Schroeter 

        9 years ago from St Kilda, Victoria, Australia

        Interesting, with nice "trail" of images - 5 *s and a favourite!

      • DougP LM profile image

        DougP LM 

        9 years ago

        I'm very impressed by the efforts made in Indianapolis to preserve the quality of life there. You did an excellent job here, if a jump in demand for real estate follows then you should get a piece of the action!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        9 years ago

        I have walked various points of the trail...your lens makes it alluring and I want to get back out there!

      • mariaamoroso profile image

        irenemaria 

        9 years ago from Sweden

        Whish I could see it live. Nice lens indeed. I can feel your feelings about this place!

      • WindyWintersHubs profile image

        WindyWintersHubs 

        9 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

        Great Lens. 5* Thanks for sharing your info on the Monon Trail. It was nice to go back in time & learn some history. What a wonderful area to explore by bike! Your photos tell such a wonderful story.Good Job! :)

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        9 years ago

        What a lovely job on this lens! The picture taken of the Arts and Design District in Carmel is only about a block from where I work! This is a beautiful trail and the communities of Carmel and Indianapolis really get a lot of joy and use from it.

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