The Best Bike Trail in Indianapolis: The Monon Trail
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 IMAClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
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
© 2009 Ruth Coffee