About this Itinerary
The well-designed Monon Trail is an important urban transportation corridor connecting neighborhoods, recreational facilities, cultural centers and schools between downtown Indianapolis and the northern suburb of Westfield, a much more country-type setting—at least for now. The flat, straight trail is easy to navigate, which leaves you plenty of energy for exploring Carmel, Broad Ripple and the big city itself via the nearby Indianapolis Cultural Trail.
Each section of the Monon is managed separately by the jurisdiction through which it passes: the town of Westfield (2.9 miles), the city of Carmel (5.2 miles) and the city of Indianapolis (10.5 miles). The trail crosses several roads; some take you over bridges, while others go under roads, but many crossings are at-grade. The latter are well marked and have adequate warnings for both trail users and drivers.
We recommend one of two places to stay in the area, each offering equally nice digs within walking distance of shops, restaurants and attractions, as well as being within a stone’s throw of the Monon. Tony Carmel (pronounced like the chewy sweet) is north of midway on the Monon and appeals to those preferring a more laid-back experience. In the evening, take in a show, or after a day on the trail, pamper yourself at one of many local spas.
The Old Towne Carmel B&B is one block east of the trail in a tree-lined residential neighborhood and within easy walking and cycling distance of shops and restaurants. Rent bikes from Carmel Cyclery, 1.7 miles due south of the B&B on Carmel Drive and just yards from the trail.
Another bonus of staying in Carmel is that the National League of Bicyclists recognized it as a bronze level bicycle-friendly city, not only because of the Monon, but because many of Carmel’s streets have bike paths, and the town has incorporated trails and paths in its new developments. The Carmel Access Bikeway to date provides five loop rides totaling 50 miles, each with its own focus. The CAB is a mix of on-road and trail riding.
The hip Indianapolis neighborhood of Broad Ripple, south of Carmel, appeals to those looking for a more lively experience; the vibrant urban setting is popular with thirty-somethings. If this appeals, we recommend the Hotel Broad Ripple on Westfield Boulevard, sandwiched between the White River and the Monon. This hotel also has a handful of bikes free for guests to use—first-come, first-served—as well as secure indoor bike storage if you bring your own. If you do want to rent bikes, Nora Bike & Skate is the closest (4.5 miles) to Broad Ripple.
Regardless where you stay, we recommend taking two days to explore the trail. From Carmel you’d have one long day first then a shorter jaunt on Day 2. On Day 1, the longer route, ride to the Monon’s southern end and pick up the Indianapolis Cultural Trail (ICT), which made its debut in 2013 and is a premier urban trail, creatively designed in every aspect. If you stay in Broad Ripple, your two days are more evenly divided.
From the Indianapolis airport, Carmel is 32 miles along I-465 to US 31; Broad Ripple is 23.5 miles along I-465 to W. 56 Street.
Southbound from Carmel to Indianapolis is 28.5 miles roundtrip. Southbound from Broad Ripple to Indianapolis is 13 miles roundtrip.
From your B&B in Carmel, head south on First Avenue four blocks to First Street and turn right. The trail is just up ahead; watch for traffic then cross First Street and hop on the trail heading south. It’s only 14.5 miles to the end at 10th Street in Indianapolis along a mostly flat and mostly straight path. And if you leave your explorations of Carmel until Day 2, you can zip downtown in under two hours, which leaves plenty of time for exploring the ICT at the other end.
Shortly after you enter the trail in Carmel, you’ll pass by the stunning Center for the Performing Arts, which includes three main performance venues. You can’t miss the Palladium, with its white sandstone and classical dome. A beautiful outdoor space, Center Green, separates the Palladium from the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre. Together, the centers offer music, dance, and theatrical performances throughout the year.
At 111th Street you reach the Monon Community Center, a massive recreation center with an awesome outdoor water park (lazy river, water slides, lap pool, diving pool, kiddie pool, wave pool, water climbing wall), fitness center and skate park.
Beyond the Community Center the trail corridor passes by back yards, a golf course and small lake before dipping under I-465. When you emerge from the tunnel you’ll find a nice rest area with water, benches and restrooms.
Once part of the Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville Railroad, the Monon occupied 300 miles of track between Lake Michigan and the Ohio River in 1853. It was one of the few north–south railroads of its time, thus, played an integral role during the Civil War, carrying volunteers and supplies to Union troops and retrieving the wounded and sick. After the Civil War, the rail line provided exclusive service to southern Indiana’s renowned limestone industry before serving five of the state’s major universities: Purdue, Wabash, DePauw, Indiana at Bloomington and Butler in Indianapolis.
Next stop is the Broad Ripple neighborhood, once you cross over the bridge on the White River. The original railroad bridge here collapsed in 1884, killing several people. That same year, the White River broke through levees that were built after the flood of 1875, leaving the town under water for several days.
If you’re not staying here, pull over to check out what this funky village has to offer: art galleries, sidewalk cafes, and a collection of eclectic shops. One of the village’s more famous sons is late night show host David Letterman, who grew up here in the 1950s and ‘60s. Another notable son, Johnny Weissmuller (perhaps more well known to an older generation), earned his swim fins at a local pool (now long gone) and went on to Olympic fame. Subsequently, he traded in his Speedo for a loin cloth to become Tarzan.
The area got its name from the wide, shallow, rocky spot in the White River—which makes a giant bend here, creating broad ripples—and was said to have been a good place for early 19th-century travelers to cross safely. As you ride through this stretch (and stop to explore other parts of the village), you’ll see murals created by local graffiti artists, sculptures and functional art, including artist-designed recycling containers.
Just after you cross the bridge over Central Canal (just north of the bridge on the west side is the Central Canal Towpath), go right on Westfield Boulevard one block to Guilford Avenue to see Fire Station 32, on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s been beautifully restored.
Leaving Broad Ripple, the trail continues through densely populated north Indianapolis, straight-as-an-arrow south. The tree-lined passage provides a respite on hot summer days; in fall, the colors are nature’s artwork.
In a few miles you reach 42nd Street at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, which hosts the annual fair in addition to dozens of other events throughout the year. At the other end of the fairgrounds, take care when crossing E. 38th Street. Trail users do get a signal.
Soon, the trail crosses over Fall Creek—the road, trail and actual creek—on a couple of bright red bridges, the second, an old railroad trestle. From this point south the scenery turns a tad shabby, a mix of light industrial and neighborhoods that have seen better days. Still, a park or two adds greenery before you reach the colossal interchange where I-65 and I70 merge high above you. At 10th Street, signs will guide you to the start of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which spans five cultural districts in the city’s downtown and offers a wealth of museums, theaters, shops, and restaurants. To pick up the ICT (only a block from the Monon’s endpoint), turn right at 10th Street (there is a path) and go under both Interstate Highways. Just after you emerge from the second underpass, cross at the signal on Bellafontaine Street to begin your ICT adventure.
Northbound from Carmel to Westfield is 8.5 miles roundtrip. Northbound from Broad Ripple to Westfield is 14.2 miles roundtrip.
From the hotel in Broad Ripple, head north on the Monon, over the old railroad bridge high above the White River. The original bridge collapsed in 1884, killing several people. That same year, the White River broke through levees that were built after the flood of 1875, leaving the town under water for several days.
The trail continues, paralleling Westfield Boulevard a short distance and going over another bridge spanning the White, testament to the river’s loopy course. You’ll pass by the back yards of homes and past shopping centers to 86th Street, where you have to make a dogleg to cross safely at the traffic light; just follow the trail signs. Whole Foods is in the shopping plaza just north of 86th if you need to stop for food or refreshment.
The Monon then passes beneath I-465 as you approach Carmel. At 111th Street you’ll pass through the Monon Community Center. After you go over the bridge at W. Carmel Drive, look for a spur trail on the right leading to Kawachinagano Japanese Garden. Pull over and take a short stroll in this pleasant little space behind City Hall. It was installed to honor the sister-city relationship between Carmel and Kawachinagano.
Next up is Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts, with a lovely open space separating its main indoor venues (description above). If you’re feeling peckish, when you reach Second Street in Carmel (which, oddly, intersects with Second Avenue right at the trail), look to your left and you’ll see Bub’s Café. Stop in for a hearty breakfast (or lunch), or just a cup of coffee and a pastry. It does get crowded, however, so your wait time could be long. They own a second property two blocks farther north, also just off the trail, called Bub’s Burgers and Ice Cream.
If you’re staying in Carmel, today’s journey is a short one; when you return, you can continue biking along Carmel’s CAB loops or explore the city’s shops and cultural attractions.
From Carmel north, the Monon is more heavily wooded, and more peaceful, than the southern leg. After passing under the busy thoroughfare of Meridian Street, the trail makes a slight turn west to parallel Rohrer Road for a short distance. At 146th Street, you enter the Westfield section of the trail, which is paved until 161st Street. At 169th Street, the trail leaves the old rail corridor to pick up another one, winding its way northwest on a packed-gravel surface. Here you’ll see signs for the Midland Trace Trail, which effectively carries on from the Monon a short distance farther to tiny Quaker Park just across Oak Ridge Road. The park has a sprayground for cooling off on a hot day, as well as restrooms.
When you return to Carmel, you can also explore its Arts and Design District in the heart of downtown, home to a wide selection of interior designers, art galleries, showrooms, restaurants, antique stores and a variety of specialty retail shops. Take yourself on a walking tour to see the sculptures scattered throughout the neighborhood. Stop by the Museum of Miniature Houses, a sweet little place showcasing miniatures of all kinds, from early doll houses to modern life of Lilliputian scale. If antiques are your passion, visit the Carmel Old Town Antiques Mall. In the little house next door, you’ll find the Children’s Gallery, officially designated by Guinness World Records as the World’s Smallest Children’s Art Gallery. It exhibits the artwork of local children from kindergarten through 6th grade, and the art demonstrates both amazing talent and charming innocence.
For dinner, Cajun cuisine awaits at Mudbugs Cajun Café, whose specialty is the crawfish boil, jambalaya, and po’boy sandwiches to die for. For a more elegant setting, try Grille 39 in the Renaissance Hotel, featuring playful twists on old favorites, including pasta, seafood, and steaks. Scotty’s Brewhouse is an Indiana institution, with its newest location in Carmel. Stop in for brew pub fare such as burgers and fries, wraps, soups, salads, combo plates, and more.
If you’re staying in Broad Ripple, you might be interested to know that it was originally its own municipality until the city annexed it in 1922. Today it is one of six designated Cultural Districts in Indianapolis, which the city defines as a “showcase [for] distinct pockets of cultural opportunity.” Discover some of the distinctive shops along Broad Ripple Avenue and within the boundaries of E. 67th Street north of the canal and E. 62nd south; and from College Avenue east to Compton Street.
ArtsPark, on the grounds of the Indianapolis Arts Center, is 12 acres of landscaping in the art of nature and the nature of art (west of the trail at E 67th St.). Dozens of sculptures by Hoosiers as well as internationally renowned artists are scattered throughout. You’ll also find concerts, festivals, workshops and other art-related events here.
For eats, check out the Broad Ripple Brew Pub, with a selection of nice beers and a large menu of sandwiches. They also serve soups, salads and bar snacks and host a free pub quiz with prizes on Tuesday nights. 3 Sisters Cafe; has a good selection for vegetarians and vegans and is especially popular as a breakfast venue, though they do lunch and dinner as well. The Egyptian Café and Hookah Bar is modeled after a famous coffee shop in Cairo, Egypt, which has been operating since 1773. The Indy venue, however, has been around only since 2006, and you can enjoy a belly dancing performance with your falafel, chicken souvlaki or kabobs.
For music, see who’s playing at Vogue. Wednesdays and Saturdays are dance nights. For a good belly laugh, Crackers Comedy Club has a stage in Broad Ripple, which has featured such big-name acts as Ellen DeGeneres and Jay Leno.