Indianapolis offers many miles of scenic trails, pathways, and public parks for outdoor enthusiasts, and taking advantage of them is free. Get active (bike, run, rollerblade), explore scenic trails, visit a nature center, or simply while away an afternoon on a blanket under a big tree. Watch the sun set. Walk your dog. But whatever you do, don’t let these opportunities for free fun pass you by.
Garfield Park, located on the near south side of Indy at 2505 Conservatory Dr. (phone 317-327-7183), is a relaxing retreat from city life. The highlight of the 136-acre park is the Sunken Garden, 3 acres of classic European gardens known as the Sunken Garden. Garfield Park also includes pavilions with picnic tables, an Arts Center, and an outdoor theatre.
For $2, you can gain entry to the park’s conservatory, which features a lush, tropical rainforest environment, complete with waterfalls and exotic blooms. Show admission is $4.
Garfield Park is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 21-October 14, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 15-April 20. The Conservatory is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
The Monon Trail
Walk, run, bike, or rollerblade on the scenic Monon Trail, a 16.7-mile asphalt, north-south trail that runs from 10th Street in Indianapolis to 161st Street in Westfield. The trail traverses the State Fairgrounds, the White River, and several popular neighborhoods, including Nora and Broad Ripple, where you can find drinking fountains, restaurants, ice cream shops, and bicycle shops.
Ten miles of the trail are located in Indianapolis, with connections to the Fall Creek Trail, the Central Canal Towpath, the White River Trail, and the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. The rest of the trail, north of 96th Street, runs through Carmel and Westfield in Hamilton County, where it’s called the Monon Greenway.
Get up close and personal with Indiana wildlife at Holliday Park, on Indy’s north side at 6363 Spring Mill Rd. (phone 317-327-7180). A 13,000-square-foot nature center includes bird and wildlife observation and feeding stations and a sound system to amplify birdcalls. You can hike the park’s 3.5 miles of trails that run through densely wooded ravines, past natural springs and wetlands, and along the banks of the White River. Over 200 species of birds and many species of wildlife, including deer, fox, beaver, and rabbits, have been spotted.
The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset, and the Nature Center is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Located on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), the Oldfields Gardens surround the Lilly House and are part of a 26-acre American Country place estate that has been recognized as a National Historic Landmark. A greenhouse and a variety of gardens, including a ravine garden, formal gardens, and an orchard, are yours to roam as you please from dawn to dusk daily. The gardens were designed in the 1920s by Percival Gallagher of the Olmstead Brothers, a famous landscape architecture firm of the period.
The entrance to the gardens is located at 4000 Michigan Rd., one block north of the intersection of 38th Street and Michigan Road (phone 317-923-1331). Pets are welcome.
Indianapolis Canal Walk
Take a scenic leisurely walk through the heart of Indianapolis by strolling along the Indianapolis Canal Walk, which runs from 11th Street to West Washington Street. You can view several of the city’s major attractions along the way, including the U.S.S. Indianapolis Memorial, the Indiana State Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, Victory Field, the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial, the NCAA Hall of Champions, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art, the Indianapolis Zoo, and the White River Gardens.
Take some empty jugs along with you on this trip, because at Carmel’s Flowing Well Park, you can fill them for free with the artesian water that flows from the well. The park covers 18 acres and includes a nature trail, one mile of which is paved, plus fishing and shelter. The park is located at 5100 E. 116 Street in Carmel.