If you’re from the Indianapolis area, no doubt you’re very familiar with Eagle Creek Park, Broad Ripple Park or Fort Harrison State Park. But, if you’re far from these major parks, like I am now, or you just don’t want to pay a fee to enjoy some outdoor time for a few hours, there are dozens of great smaller parks in Indianapolis and the surrounding area to enjoy free of charge! Here are some of my faves:
Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve
Two of my must-haves in a great park are woods and water, and this place has both. With no bikes allowed, it’s a great place for walkers and runners to enjoy being outdoors without having to worry about staying on some part of the trail to keep out of the way.Right at the entrance, there’s a picnic table that’s a nice spot to meet up with other people before heading into the park. Not far from the entrance, there is a nice covered shelter area with more picnic tables, restrooms, and a water fountain, but I’d highly recommend bringing your own water since the water tastes like… well… it tastes like water from a free park’s water fountain. It’s better than no water at all in a pinch though. There’s also a fire-pit near the shelter, though I’ve never seen it in use.
Right at the entrance, there’s a picnic table that’s a nice spot to meet up with other people before heading into the park. Not far from the entrance, there is a nice covered shelter area with more picnic tables, restrooms, and a water fountain, but I’d highly recommend bringing your own water since the water tastes like… well… it tastes like water from a free park’s water fountain. It’s better than no water at all in a pinch though. There’s also a fire-pit near the shelter, though I’ve never seen it in use.
There’s not a lot of paved/gravel walkway — about 20% of the walkway is paved and 80% is dirt — so if you’re interested in a longer walk, don’t go after it’s been raining unless you like slogging through the mud. There are only a few miles of trails in total, which makes it perfect for short, regular walks/runs. I’ll typically spend about 30-45 minutes out there, during which time I’ll walk at least the Beech Hollow Trail Loop (usually twice), the Creek Ridge Trail, South Ridge Trail and the Swamp Trail (see map).
Overall, Ritchey Woods is an ideal park for regular, everyday walking in the Fishers area and, on the hottest days of summer, the woods keep the trail-walking temperature comfortable.
When entering the park from the College Avenue side, don’t be put off by how many cars are in the parking lot. Most of the people coming to this park are there to bring their kids to the popular playground there, and there are generally only a handful of people walking/running/biking on the trails.
My favorite path is the paved trail around the lagoon, mainly because I go as a mental-health break from work and am constrained to about half an hour of walking. One loop all the way around takes about 25 minutes walking, which works out perfectly for a quick break or lunchtime walk. There are plenty of geese, ducks and changing variety of wildflowers along the lagoon that keep the walk scenery interesting. I’m usually not a fan of parks that allow bikes, but this one is smaller and only attracts recreational bikers, not those obnoxious people that are training for a triathlon or something and nearly run you over in the larger parks.
In addition to the walking trails, there are also several covered areas with picnic tables and restrooms. There are also several steps under and around the bridge that are nice spots to sit — you’ll often see people fishing from these areas. All in all, this little park is the perfect spot if you work in the Carmel area and are looking for a place where you can both walk and eat outdoors over your lunch break.
This park isn’t a place that I visit frequently, but it is a beautiful spot in Carmel and you should check it out at least once. Rather than being a good place for walking or running, this park serves as a good spot for reading or reflection time — there are some nice artistic architectural features here and plenty of places to sit and relax.
Flat Fort Creek Park
This park really surprised me. From the street, it looks extremely small, but once you start walking into the wooded parts of the park, there are quite a few miles of trails hidden from view.
At the entrance, you’ll immediately see the big sledding hill, that conveniently features a paved walking path to get to the top, if you don’t feel like trekking up in the grass. The hill looks massive when it’s right in front of you, but it’s actually the equivalent of walking up 3-4 stories of steps in an office building, which isn’t that bad. To the right of the hill is a small lake surrounded by wildflowers.
If you continue around the path from the bottom of the hill, you’ll encounter a few different trails, a fairly long wooden bridge, and some fun tree houses.
White River State Park (Canal Walk)
If I’m downtown for any length of time, I try to make time to visit White River State Park, particularly the area around the Canal Walk. Walking the canal is so serene, and there’s plenty of visual interest along the way to keep the journey interesting. The Indiana State Museum, NCAA Hall of Champions, Eiteljorg Museum and Indianapolis Zoo and several restaurants are all within the White River State Park path, which makes this area perfect for a day trip downtown.
The only downside of this park is that parking nearby can get expensive if you’re staying more than a couple of hours. The parking cost, combined with the fact that it’s a little bit of a trek for me to get to, make it one of my less frequented parks, though feature-wise, this one is on the top of my list.