Special acknowledgments: Brian Housh, RTC’s midwest policy manager; Mitch Barloga, active transportation planner, Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission
Originally serving as a primary pathway to deliver goods and people to and from Chicago, Indiana’s extensive railway system makes the state ideal for rail-trail exploration. Its ever-expanding network of trails provides residents and visitors with an abundance of options for recreation, commuting and physical activity, with 73 completed rail-trails and 34 rail-trail projects in progress as of 2021.
Exciting times are ahead in the Hoosier State, as the newly established bipartisan Indiana Trails Caucus commits to expanding and connecting the statewide trail system to provide health, economic and quality of life benefits for all Hoosiers.
RELATED: Indiana’s First Legislative Trails Caucus Summit Highlights Critical Response to COVID-19 Crisis
Passing through the heart of downtown Bloomington, the 3.1-mile B-Line Trail is central to the college town’s identity, including its deep cycling roots. The trail is a vital commuting and recreational pathway for students and residents—providing benches, drinking fountains (for both people and pets) and LED lights along its route, which passes by art murals and local shops. Located just off the trail on the west side is Cardinal Spirits, a local craft distillery that has gained national media attention (you can take a tour of the facility to see where the magic happens, or sip cocktails on the patio overlooking the B-Line). On the southern end, the B-Line Trail connects to an additional 6-mile trail network, including the Bloomington Rail Trail, Clear Creek Trail and Limestone Greenway.
Counties: Hamilton, Marion
The famed 27.1-mile Monon Trail is a hallmark of the Indianapolis community and a touchstone of Indiana trails, maybe as beloved as basketball in the Hoosier State. Once referred to as the “Lifeline of Indiana,” the Monon is used by more than 1.3 million people annually and was inducted into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame in 2009. While traveling along the route, visitors will pass major destinations such as the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the Palladium and Broad Ripple—a free-spirited village with a vibrant culture. The Monon’s proximity to an abundance of arts, cultural and tourist attractions is what makes it a premier Indiana trail. Just steps off the path, visitors can find local shops and farm-to-table restaurants well as well-known icons like the Indianapolis Art Center.
Counties: Delaware, Grant, Henry, Randolph, Wayne
Bearing the name of the passenger train that once ran its route, the Cardinal Greenway stretches across five Indiana counties and, at 62 miles, boasts the title of the longest rail-trail in Indiana. Beginning at its northern endpoint in Sweetser, the Cardinal Greenway connects to the Sweetser Switch Trail. Heading south takes you to downtown Marion and then Gaston, after which the trail heads to Muncie, where visitors can jump on the White River Greenway or continue south to Richmond. The trail—inducted into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame in 2018—is a gateway of the developing 3,700-mile Great American Rail-Trail. A $60 million project in progress, Kitselman Pure Energy Park, will include a new trailhead that connects the Cardinal Greenway to the White River Greenway.
Counties: Elkhart, Lagrange
The 17.6-mile Pumpkinvine Trail, named for its curves and turns, offers miles of scenic Indiana countryside as well as cultural influences and sights from the area’s large Amish communities. Along the trail, highlights include 30 species of wildflowers, Krider World’s Fair Garden (a replica of a world’s fair exhibit that ran 1933–1934) and a 160-foot wooden trestle across the Little Elkhart River. At the southernmost point in Goshen, the Pumpkinvine Trail connects to the Wilden Avenue Trail for 3.2 miles and then connects to the MapleHeart Trail, which ends just south of Elkhart. In Middlebury, you can connect to the Ridge Run Trail or the Wayne Avenue Trail to reach the popular Das Dutchman Essenhaus, which has an Amish-style inn, restaurant, and shops.
Counties: Lake, Porter
A few miles south of the Lake Michigan shoreline and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is the 10.3-mile Prairie Duneland Trail, which—true to its name—features prairies and dunes as well as ponds, picturesque woods, farm fields, and access to state and local parks and green space. A flat trail that’s great for people of all ages and abilities—suburban residential backdrops increase as you travel westward from Chesterton to Hobart, its endpoints. Just north of the trail is Imagination Glen, a 276-acre park popular with mountain bikers for its 10 miles of dirt trails. The trail also connects 2.4-mile Iron Horse Heritage Trail, leading to the town of Portage, and the 5.5-mile Dunes Kankakee Trail, which leads to the Indiana Dunes State Park.
The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is an impressive route linking five cultural districts and art specially commissioned for each neighborhood. The 9.1-mile trail comprises a core downtown loop with a northeast and southeast spur that connects to the Monon Trail at E. 10th Street and Lewis Street, and the 6.9-mile Pleasant Run Trail at Shelby Street and E. Pleasant Run Parkway Drive, respectively; and a southern midpoint spur from the downtown loop that leads to Lucas Oil Stadium. In the southwest, the trail also connects to White River State Park and the northbound White River Wapahani Trail. A highlight of the trail is a 1-mile section along the Indiana Central Canal where visitors can stroll or bike while observing the Indianapolis Central Library, American Legion Mall and University Park.
Located along the banks of the St. Joseph, St. Mary’s and Maumee rivers, the 30.1-mile Rivergreenway is a 30-mile linear park that is part of a growing network of trails in the area around Fort Wayne, Indiana’s second-largest city. Consisting of three main pathways, each named for the river it parallels, the natural river corridor and trail system provide unlimited opportunities for recreation, fitness and conservation, including inline skating, bicycling, walking and jogging. The Rivergreenway also connects residential and downtown business districts, making it ideal for commuting. Because it runs through the heart of Indiana’s second largest city, the Rivergreenway offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience both urban and more rural settings.
The Big 4 Trail is a developing 50+ mile trail in central Indiana that will one day span from the northern suburbs of Indianapolis to Lafayette. Fun fact: In 1861, Abraham Lincoln traveled the route on his way to his presidential inauguration. Declared a State Visionary Trail in 2006, the Big 4 Trail’s development is strongly supported by the state and is being pushed by four major towns along the trail route: Zionsville, Whitestown, Lebanon and Thorntown. Trail users can enjoy the quaint food and shopping in the historic downtowns of Zionsville and Whitestown, as well as access to parkland and greenspace. A mural celebrating the trail and its railroad poast can be seen under the I-65 overpass (near the Lebanon trailhead). Currently, trail managers are working to address challenges in building out the $3.9 million trail related to land acquisition from private landowners.
Counties: Fulton, Howard, Miami
Visitors of the Nickel Plate Trail will travel through the vast Indiana countryside enjoying a diverse range of scenery from woodlands to wetlands to farmland and beyond along a nearly 40-mile pathway. Connecting 10 communities, the trail traverses rural Indiana through Cassville, Bennett’s Switch, Miami, Bunker Hill, Peru, Denver, Deedsville, Birmingham, Macy and Rochester. While farmland is perhaps the star of the show, the trail also features an iconic trestle bridge over the Wabash River. The Nickel Plate Trail currently ends just north of Kokomo, but surrounding communities have expressed interest in connecting to the trail. Most recently, the city of Tipton has begun a comprehensive plan to connect to the trail and create a connection to the Cardinal Greenway Trail, resulting in the longest seamless piece rail-trail in the state.
Counties: Lake | Length: 17.7 miles
Just east of the Indiana-Illinois border, the Erie Lackawanna Trail attracts nearly 200 visitors a day. The almost 18-mile trail connects to, or is in close range of, a half-dozen other trails, including the Pennsy Greenway, which crosses into Illinois. Because of the trail's proximity to Chicago and Gary, the surrounding area is heavily industrialized, but the trail offers respite for those who’ve grown weary of the grey skylines. In fact, a section of the trail in Schererville is intentionally kept more naturalized to attract wildlife, and just a mile off the Erie Lackawanna Trail, the Ivan Gatlin Nature Preserve is well-worth a quick side trip see a variety of birds and wildlife. Currently, the Erie Lackawanna Trail ends at Sibley Street, but due to demand in the area and its high visitor rate, a connection north is being considered.