10 Gorgeous Hikes Near Indianapolis For All Levels
By Kay Rodriguez
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Updated August 24, 2021
While many people wouldn’t equate Indianapolis with rugged hiking trails, there are a surprising number of scenic parks and trails within a short drive of the city. With tons of lakes, forests, hills, and rivers dotted around the landscape, hiking near Indianapolis is a fun and exciting activity to enjoy the outdoors and get some fresh air. We created this guide to the best hikes near Indianapolis so you can plan your next adventure outdoors!
Easy Hiking near Indianapolis
South Overlook Waterfowl Sanctuary Trail
Distance from Indianapolis: 0 miles (Eagle Creek Park)
Trail Length: 2.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 134 feet
You might be surprised to learn that you can find some of the best hikes near Indianapolis right in the heart of the city! The South Overlook Trail at Eagle Creek Park is one such trail, where you’ll often find locals and regulars walking their dogs in the evenings or going for a stroll to catch some fresh air. This waterfront trail borders the Water Fowl Sanctuary and is absolutely stunning, with coastal pathways and small inlets peeping out of vast forests. The 2.4 mile trail offers a lot of great photo opportunities on an easy, beginner- and family-friendly trail that’s perfect for hikers of all levels.
Camp Creek and Fall Creek Trails Loop
Distance from Indianapolis: 15 miles/30 minutes (Fort Harrison State Park)
Trail Length: 2.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 124 feet
Passing by two lakes and a river, the Camp Creek and Fall Creek Trails Loop is one of the most scenic hikes in Indianapolis. Situated in the northeast side of the city in Fort Harrison State Park, this loop trail offers leisurely, easy terrain through beautiful forests and peaceful waterways. It’s not far from the city center – about 30 minutes driving – but it feels at times like you’re completely immersed in nature. The park has an entire trail system that’s constantly evolving, so be sure to check the park’s website for the latest updates.
Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve
Distance from Indianapolis: 19 miles/25 minutes
Trail Length: 1.3 miles
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Looking for a short, easy trail that you can do in less than an hour? The Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve is a wonderful option! With 1.3 miles of boardwalks over swampy, lush forest lands, it feels like another world from the bustling streets of Indianapolis. While there aren’t many wide open views here, the area is full of dense forests and local wildlife to enjoy and explore. It’s a quiet, contemplative place for a walk in the woods, perfect for taking a short break from the city.
Vandalia Rail Trail
Distance from Indianapolis: 16 miles/20 minutes
Trail Length: 8.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 124 feet
The Vandalia Rail Trail is a suburban recreation trail that combines history, nature, and the city environment. Located southwest of Indianapolis, this long hike, walk, and bike trail is an easy, accessible option for hikers of all levels. With historic bridges and access to the city’s local waterways, this trail isn’t a traditional “hike,” but rather a multi-use recreational trail that is open to everyone from around the city. Great for people-watching, exercising, and walking dogs, head to the Vandalia Rail Trail for a fun urban hiking experience!
Distance from Indianapolis: 105 miles/1 hour, 45 minutes
Trail Length: 1.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 190 feet
The Shawnee Lookout Trail (also known as the Miami Fort Trail) is one of the best easy hikes near Indianapolis if you’re looking for a trail that feels like an adventure. Although the trail is easy and accessible to all experience levels, the small changes in terrain make it feel a lot more rugged and “backcountry” than some of the other trails on our list. From the top, you can see down to the Ohio River and a few steel bridges below. For immersing yourself in nature and some historical landmarks in the Indianapolis area, this short and sweet forest hike is a great way to stretch your legs and explore the outdoors.
Moderate & Difficult Hikes Near Indianapolis
Brown County State Park Trail 8
Distance from Indianapolis: 63 miles/1 hour, 10 minutes
Trail Length: 3.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 482 feet
For those looking for an easy to moderate hike with a few different terrain changes, head to the Brown County State Park and try trail 8. As one of the more beginner-friendly moderate hikes near Indianapolis, this trail offers plenty of lake views, forest tracks, and wooden stairs that provide fun, small challenges along this loop. Dogs are also welcome on this trail, and you’ll often find plenty of pups along the way here. It’s especially beautiful in the fall, when the leaves turn the trail vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and red.
Nebo Ridge Trail
Distance from Indianapolis: 66 miles/1 hour, 15 minutes (Hoosier National Forest)
Trail Length: 15.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,476 feet
Nearby Hoosier National Forest is one of Indiana’s hidden gems for outdoor lovers, and the nearly 16-mile Nebo Ridge Trail is a fantastic, long day hike to explore this beautiful area. With varied terrain changes and decent elevation gain, you’ll find this moderate trail to be a fun hike regardless of your experience level. Along the trail, there have been several sightings of local wildlife, and in the summer it’s wise to watch out for snakes, foxes, quails, and more.
Because the trail is out-and-back, you can choose how long (or short) you want your hike to be. We’d recommend spending a whole day out in the forest to maximize your time exploring!
Three Lakes Trail
Distance from Indianapolis: 40 miles/1 hour (Morgan Monroe State Forest)
Trail Length: 9.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,105 feet
Popular with backpackers and hikers wanting a bit more of a strenuous challenge, the Three Lakes Trail in Morgan Monroe State Forest is a wonderful spot to enjoy many of Indiana’s lakes and forests over the course of this 9.3-mile trail. Hikers love this trail because of its length and accessibility to less experienced hikers, even though it’s rated as moderate to difficult. This is a full-day adventure, so if you’re planning to hike the whole loop, we’d recommend starting early to maximize the daylight.
Distance from Indianapolis: 90 miles/1 hour, 45 minutes
Trail Length: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,164 feet
Clifty Falls State Park in Indiana is less than 2 hours from Indianapolis and offers wonderful, long trails for those looking for a moderate challenge. For a solid, 7-mile loop, the Clifty Falls, Hoffman Falls, and Tunnel Falls trail is a great starting point. On this trail, you’ll climb wooden stairs through the forest, passing by several waterfalls and creeks along the way. You’ll also pass next to (and underneath) gorgeous stone cliffsides that jut out from the earth. The Clifty Falls area is a magnificent landscape to explore with tons of variety!
Indiana Dunes National Park
Distance from Indianapolis: 160 miles/2.5 hours
Trail Length: Varies
Elevation Gain: Varies
As one of the newest official national parks, Indiana Dunes is nothing to sneeze at. While this lakefront state and national park area is known for its golden sand dunes and gorgeous location next to Lake Michigan, there are lots of great hikes to enjoy here, too! The park contains a variety of terrain, from wetlands to savannas, and, of course, the sandy beach. During the warmer months of the year, you’ll find tons of beachgoers here enjoying the sand and sun.
For hikers, there are 21 trails total – 7 in the state park and 14 in the national park – that are mostly moderate difficulty. Some of the most popular trails include the West Beach Trail (in the national park) and Trail 10 (in the state park).
Additional Resources for Hiking near Indianapolis
What to Pack
Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to wear a sweat-wicking shirt and breathable pants, like these Patagonia hiking shorts for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers for men and women, a down puffer jacket for men and women, and a Northface waterproof outer shell for men and women (a must for hiking in Seattle). And don’t forget a pair of the best women’s and men’s hiking socks!
Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we suggest throwing them in your car just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond Trail Ergo cork trekking poles, which are lightweight, easy to transport, and durable.
Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To limit disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask water bottles because they keep water cold for hours.
Sunscreen and bug spray – Sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects. Our favorite kind of sunscreen is Sun Bum, as it is free of harsh chemicals and safe for marine life, including coral reefs.
A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or capfor day hikes in the sunshine.
Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend the Osprey Tempest 20 or the Talon 22 day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes. For more information, check out our best day packs for any terrain guide.
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