Looking for an Indy area outdoor escape? Now, more than ever, city parks, nature preserves, greenways, and state parks are popular places to escape the stress of everyday life, or perhaps just home life! We here at Road Trip 7 are no strangers to Indiana’s outdoor parks and preserves. Last year we completed a hiking challenge, in which we hiked weekly on many of our state’s best trails. This year we set a goal to visit all of the Indiana State Parks. Based on our experience, we have rounded up the best places to go hiking, walking, or simply wandering around outside in greater Indianapolis. While you may have already visited a few, we hope that you find at least one or two new places to explore. Happy hiking!
Indianapolis Outdoor Hiking Escapes
Fort Harrison State Park
Hands down, our family’s favorite place for hiking and spending time outdoors in Indianapolis is Fort Harrison State Park. We visit this Indiana State Park so frequently, that we invested in an Annual Indiana DNR Entrance Permit. Why is Fort Harrison State Park, which we affectionately call Fort Ben, so awesome? It has something for everyone! Picnic sites, playgrounds, a dog park, and fishing access to Lake Delaware and Fall Creek. But what we love most are the trails. There are paved trails for walking & jogging, dirt trails for hiking, multi-use trails for mountain biking and even equestrian trails for guided horse rides. If you are visiting Fort Harrison for the first time, we recommend the Harrison Trace and Fall Creek Trails.
The Harrison Trace Trail has an asphalt surface that is ideal for walking, jogging, or a casual bike ride. At 3.5 miles in length, this easy trail winds through the main portion of the park passing the Lawrence Creek Nature Preserve, Delaware Lake, Warbler Woods Nature Preserve, and Duck Pond. Not up for a multiple-mile hike? You can access the trail from numerous spots within the park, enabling you to take a shorter stroll.
Try the Fall Creek Trail if you are looking for a more rugged hike. Beginning at the Delaware Lake Picnic Area, this moderate 1.1-mile trail follows the lowlands along Fall Creek, before heading uphill to Duck Pond. Our kids absolutely love this trail because it provides easy access to the Fall Creek riverbanks. After a hike, they can easily spend the better part of a day creek-stomping along the shores.
Eagle Creek Park
Although not an Indiana State Park, Eagle Creek Park is certainly big enough to be one. Encompassing 3900 acres of woods, meadows, and wetlands, and 1300 acres of reservoir, Eagle Creek is Indy’s largest park. With a swimming beach, boat marina, golf course, fitness course, and over 10 miles of hiking trails, this Indianapolis park offers something for everyone. Our favorite trail is the Red Trail, a ~7.0-mile loop at circles the entire park because it offers some stunning views of Eagle Creek Reservoir. Not up for that long of a hike? You can access this trail from multiple points in the park, including the North Gate, Ornithology Center, Earth Discovery Center and South Gate, allowing you to shorten your hike.
One thing to note, the Eagle Creek trails are on the rugged side. During our recent hike, we climbed up trail steps, over tree roots, and through multiple muddy patches. It’s a good idea to wear hiking shoes and bring hiking poles if you have knee-issues.
Not interested in driving to the outskirts of Indianapolis to go hiking? Holliday Park is a great outdoor escape right in the heart of Indy. Located a few miles north of downtown Indy, this 94-acre park is one of the city’s oldest. Over a century ago, John and Evaline Holliday donated their country estate to the city, intending the land be used as a public park. The park was to serve as a place of recreation, play and the study of nature. Today, the park fulfills its intended purpose. There are 3.5 miles of trails winding through the wooded ravines of Holiday Park Nature Preserve that lead down to the White River. The forests contain natural springs, wetlands, a pond, and hundreds of species of trees, shrubs and wildflowers. As well as numerous native including deer, fox, beaver, rabbits, squirrels and hundreds of species of birds. We often start our hikes just behind the Holliday Park Nature Center, heading down Trail 3 or 4 to the White River.
Here the kids love to explore, look for critters, and go creek stomping if the water level is low enough. Returning on Trail 3 or 4 will lead you past the park’s rock garden, and back to the Nature Center.
Also along the White River, Southwestway Park on the city’s south side is another great place for an outdoor escape. This 587-acre Indianapolis city park has a number of features: a golf course, equestrian trails, mountain bike trails, and hiking trails of course.
On a recent spring day, we hiked the ~2.0-mile Southwestway Loop trail through fields, upland forests, floodplain forests and along the White River.
As you can see, spring wildflowers were in bloom at the time and it was simply gorgeous!
Carmel Outdoor Hiking Escapes
Just north of Indianapolis, along the Monon Greenway, is Carmel’s Central Park. This 159-acre park offers a number of great outdoor escapes. From an amazing playground with adjacent splashpad. To a prairie grass-lined lagoon, with boardwalks for fishing. Not to mention, the park has over 6 miles of trails that run through prairies, wetlands and woodlands.
Our family’s favorite is Central Park’s East Trails. Along these wooded trails are a number of trees carved into the shapes of animals native to the area. For younger kids, in particular, spotting the animals while walking in the woods is a great motivator to keep moving.
Cool Creek Nature Preserve
On the far north side of Carmel, Cool Creek Nature Preserve is wonderful place to enjoy the outdoors. As the name implies, a creek runs through this 90-acre park, providing a great place for kids to explore and play in the creek’s shallow water. In fact, the Cool Creek Nature Preserve regularly offers free 90-minute creek stomping programs for kids during the summer months. All three of our boys previously participated in one of these programs. They had the best time finding minnows, crawfish, and fossils.
Not interested in mucking around in the creek? Cool Creek Nature Preserve offers a paved road for biking or roller-blading. As well as 4.0 miles of wooded hiking trails. Lining the trails are bench swings perfect for relaxing, enjoying the sounds of nature, and perhaps spotting a few deer wandering through the woods.
Another great option for an easy outdoor escape in Carmel is the city’s West Park. At 120-acres, the park is the city’s second-largest. Among its amenities are 2.0-miles of walking trails leading through grasslands, woods, and wetlands. Our kids particularly like the boardwalk trails that wind around and through the fishing pond. They always manage to spot wildlife, despite how noisy they are. On our last visit, they found a turtle and a snake!
One of our kids’ favorite spots is the sledding hill. Regardless of the season, they take great joy in racing to the top and then back to the bottom. Can you spot them? If you are looking to add a physical challenge to your time outdoors, make a few runs up and down this hill. It’s harder than it looks!
Fishers Outdoor Hiking Escapes
Heritage Park at White River
Fishers Heritage Park at White River has fast become one of our favorite places for an easy outdoor escape. This 33-acre park on the west side of Fishers has a 0.5-mile trail that is perfect for a leisurely stroll. The trail loops through an open grassy field, past the eastern banks of the White River, and through a grove of woods.
Best of all, the trail is paved, which means that even after substantial rain, you don’t have to worry about mud. Our kids take advantage of the asphalt trail, by bringing their scooters and skateboards. They particularly love to speed down a portion of the trail with a gradual slope.
If you are looking for a fairly quiet place to enjoy the outdoors in Fishers, try Heritage Park!
Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve
If you interested in going hiking in Fishers, Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve, just north of Indianapolis is your best bet. Just northeast of Indianapolis, the 127-acre property has nine different trails, offering 2.25 miles of hiking. The Ritchey Woods trails wind through a number of different habitats: forest, prairie, wetlands and swamp. One trail even passes by a pioneer family graveyard!
Our kids prefer hiking the Swamp Trail, which is partially boardwalk, to look for waterfowl and frogs. Regardless of which trail you choose, we recommend wearing hiking or rubber boots. The runoff from Cheeney Creek, which meanders through the northern portion of the preserve means that the trails can get rather muddy, no matter what time of year.
Noblesville (& Further North) Outdoor Hiking Escapes
White River Greenway at Potter’s Bridge Park
Noblesville’s White River Greenway Trail is a great option if you are looking to go for a peaceful walk or jog. The trail can be easily accessed from the city’s 66-acre Potter’s Bridge Park. The centerpiece of the park is a restored 19th century covered bridge; the only remaining in Hamilton County. In addition to the bridge, the park has a nature trail, playground and canoe launch. We, however, prefer to take a stroll along the 3.25-mile White River Greenway. The paved trail follows the White River southwest to Noblesville’s Forest Park. Our kids have fun exploring along the river banks when the water is low. Beware after significant rain, the trails can temporarily close. We advise checking with Hamilton County Parks & Recreation for updates.
Also along the White River, north of Noblesville, is Hamilton County’s largest park, Strawtown Koteewi Park. Located in Strawtown, Indiana, this 800+ acre park has 8 miles of multi-use trails that wind through prairie, wetland, and forest habitats. No surprise, our kids always head for the trails bordering the river. They also enjoy walking over the historic pedestrian bridge that connects Koteewi Park to the White River Campground.
If you have an interest in history, begin your visit at the park’s Taylor Center of Natural History. The center has exhibits on the historic significance of the area, specifically with regard to the Native Americans that called the land home. The park’s name, Koteewi, is said to mean “fire” and possibly “prairie” in the Miami-Peoria language. Even when closed, the center has a few outdoor exhibits that are accessible year-round, including Native American village with full-scale structures.
Plainfield Outdoor Hiking Escapes
Sodalis Nature Park
We enjoyed our recent visit to Plainfield’s Sodalis Nature Park so much, that I have no doubt we will return. Named after the endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), the 210-acre park serves to educate Hoosiers about endangered native species as well as methods for protecting them. While we didn’t see any bats during our visit, we did spot deer, snakes, salamanders and some amazing insects.
The kids spent hours exploring the West Fork Hedricks Creek, which runs through the property. So much so that we ran out of time to thoroughly explore the park’s 5.5-acre lake. Since the boys have been on a fishing kick, so to speak, we’ll have to return to go fishing from the floating dock.
Westfield Outdoor Hiking Escapes
Truth be told, I had no knowledge of Westfield’s MacGregor Park until it was recommended by a friend. One hike here and I’m certain it will be a regular stop on our Indianapolis-area hiking circuit. Considered a passive nature park, the 96-acre MacGregor Park has native tree forests, wildflower prairies, wetlands, and a pollinator garden. Winding through these habitats are 3-miles of hiking trails. These trails are well-suited for a leisurely outdoor stroll because they are made from crushed stone, which reduces mud, keeping your shoes clean and dry. Additionally, the trails are lined with wooden benches as well as bench swings, perfect for relaxing and enjoy nature.
The kids particularly enjoyed playing in the creek which runs through the park in addition to the park’s giant birds nest. Who can resist posing for a photo in one of these? If you are looking for a calm place to connect with nature, we highly recommend MacGregor Park!
Zionsville Outdoor Hiking Escapes
Creekside Nature Park
If you are looking for an outdoor escape right in the heart of Zionsville, look no further than Creekside Nature Park. This 18-acre park is directly southeast of the Village of Zionsville. From the small parking lot, an easy trail loops to Eagle Creek and back. At less than a mile, it’s the perfect length for a short stroll outdoors. Our kids love the easy access to Eagle Creek. On our last visit, they spotted geese and racoon tracks along the riverbank. If you’re looking to extend your walk, cross over Eagle Creek via the Main Street bridge to the Creekside Corporate Park, which includes more trails.
Turkey Foot Park
Another great spot to enjoy the outdoors in Zionsville is Turkey Foot Nature Park. Located north of the village, this 23-acre forested park includes a footbridge over Eagle Creek, access to the creek, gravel and paved walking trails, and a particularly unique feature, the cross-section of a sycamore tree that dated back over 335 years before it was felled!
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