Happy Trails

The Cardinal Greenway runs 62 miles through five Indiana counties. PHOTO: Cardinal Greenway, Inc.

Enjoy Indiana’s Urban, Suburban, and Rural Byways

By Cathy Shouse

Those seeking a wholesome and healthy activity need look no farther than the state’s ever-expanding offerings of biking and hiking trails. A treasure trove of opportunities awaits as an exceptional means of exploring urban, suburban and rural settings. The trails are interwoven within and among communities, and sometimes it’s just a matter of being aware of the locations and open to possibility. Whether a spontaneous decision or a strategically planned adventure, there truly is a trail for everyone.

For Richmond Friends School music instructor Jim McKinney, the Cardinal Greenway trail is hard to miss due to its close proximity to home. One summer he and students from the K-8th grade school were already at Richmond’s Springwood Park when they opted for a spur-of-the-moment stroll along the trail.

The Nickel Plate Trail is a 40+-mile rail trail corridor running from Howard County to Fulton County.
PHOTO: Greater Kokomo Visitors Bureau

“Five or six students and I walked about a half mile or a mile,” McKinney said. “It’s just the location is so nice. It runs right through the park. It’s very scenic, untouched, very natural. You kind of feel like you’re in another world at that point.”

While Richmond visitors and residents enjoy their portion of the Cardinal Greenway, the trail actually runs 62 miles. “We span across the counties of Grant, Delaware, Henry, Randolph and Wayne,” said Angie Pool, CEO of Cardinal Greenway, Inc. “The Cardinal Greenway’s headquarters are in Muncie in a beautiful restored train depot. We also manage the White River Greenway Trail for the City of Muncie, which is six miles in length.  We’re in the midst of a multi-phase construction project that will add a historic, select bridge that will span White River and connect these two trail systems.”

Delaware County is also home to the Cardinal Equestrian trail near Prairie Creek Reservoir and there is a dedicated group building a mountain bike trail also near the reservoir. Nearby Yorktown has been busy building trails within their city limits, too, that will end a few hundred feet shy of connecting to the White River Greenway.”  www.cardinalgreenways.org

The Monon Greenway provides miles of scenic experiences. PHOTO: City of Carmel

On the flipside, Kevin Whited and some friends from Chicago devised a well-planned trek along the Carmel stretch of trails known as the Monon Greenway, and all brought their own bikes. The state’s trails are called rails-to-trails because they are paved paths over former railroad tracks, and are named for the former railroads. Bikes can be rented for a few dollars per hour in some places.

“The Monon starts in downtown Indianapolis and ends up in Carmel,” Whited said. “My friend said, ‘This is so interesting because I’ve never been on an urban trail.’ There are quite a few 

restaurants and bars and many have bike racks. There are fix-it stands with tools and you can inflate your tires, and about 20 water filling stations. There’s a trailhead at 96th street where there are bathrooms and you can get your water refilled.”

In addition to his enthusiasm for biking, Whited’s day job is Transportation Development Coordinator for the City of Carmel. He said the granddaddy of all the state’s trails may be the new Monon Boulevard Project, a 25-million-dollar investment in Carmel with numerous must-sees, including public art, a bike park, and a splash park, among many other attractions and eateries. The normally 12-foot wide path is expanded to a 140-foot wide multi modal boulevard.  www.carmelclayparks.com

The Nickel Plate Trail is a 40+-mile rail trail corridor running from Kokomo in Howard County to Rochester in Fulton County. This corridor was purchased from the Norfolk Southern Railroad via the Federal Railbanking program for the purpose of developing a trail for hiking, bicycling, and other non-motorized recreational uses. The trail is ideal for walking, hiking, running, bicycling, skating, or even cross country skiing, since it is comfortably wide, smooth, and maintains an almost unnoticeable grade. The trail follows what was once the Nickel Plate Railroad, running alongside and in places crossing over, Little Pipe Creek. www.nickelplatetrail.org

Bike groups often stop in Midtown Carmel as they ride the Monon Greenway.
PHOTO: City of Carmel

Formerly known as the Farm Heritage Trail, the Big 4 Trail from Lebanon to Thorntown runs through a canopy of Indiana hardwoods, fields of corn and soybeans, and, at its northern end, passes over the scenic Sugar Creek on an iron bridge. The name is a reference to the Big Four Railroad, which began serving the region in 1852. In 1861, Abraham Lincoln traveled this route on his way to his presidential inauguration. www.lebanon.in.gov

Creekside Trail in Valparaiso is home to six miles of multi-use trails that bend, curve and flow through nature’s canopy. The property, called Creekside Park, was purchased by the City of Valparaiso in October of 1992 and remained unaltered until spring 2019 when a group of community members approached the Parks Department with a vision to bring mountain biking to Valparaiso. In early March of 2019, volunteers, led by lead trail designer Bob Spaulding, broke ground and by mid-October of the same year Phase 1 of the trail was deemed safe to hike, bike and jog. www.valpoparks.org

For those eager to explore rail-trails in Northwest Indiana, the 10.3-mile Prairie Duneland Trail is one of the best options thanks to its abundance of scenic spots. As the paved trail shoots a straight line between Hobart and Chesterton, you’ll see wetlands, parks, and plenty of wild and wooded terrain mixed in with patches of suburbia. Dense woodland lines the trail for the final few miles to its endpoint at a new skate park at the outskirts of Chesterton. www.indianadunes.com

For a unique trail experience, make plans to participate in “WHAM!”—the annual Whiting, Hammond, Highland, and Munster Midnight Bike Ride. In its ninth year, the ride starts and ends at Hammond’s Wolf Lake Pavilion, and takes participants along the shores of Lake Michigan, Wolf and George Lakes, the cities’ parks and neighborhoods, and more. www.whamride.com

So with some research, depending on your stamina and schedule, you can discover much of the state from one trail or another. There are many places to get off and get on, some areas have art, others spotlight bars and restaurants, and there are stretches of rural scenic views. The mission is yours, to tailor your plans to suit your call to adventure.