At the beginning of each year, I buy myself a late Christmas present in the form of a $50 Annual State Park Entrance Permit. For the price of a dinner with my wife, I can roll up to any of Indiana’s amazing parks, pass by the long line of cars, flash a card, and I’m in. This purchase challenges me to get out and get my money’s worth by visiting as many parks as possible over the calendar year. From Clifty Falls in the south to the beauty of Brown County to my favorite hikes in Shades, it is a small investment that keeps me exploring.
Above all else, I buy the pass for weekly access to Fort Harrison State Park. It is my park. During the winter months, I take my dog (not coincidentally named Indy) there at least once a weekend to walk the Harrison Trace Trail. It is a 3.2-mile paved trail that is never muddy and offers a delightful mix of scenery. I start by the orderly walnut grove and step my way by the sledding hill and playground before ascending into the woods past Delaware lake. The silence of these walks on snowy winter mornings maintains my sanity through the long winter.
When spring arrives, I jump from walking to hiking. My favorite route starts at the Fall Creek Trail with views and access to the creek. Last weekend there were families with kids splashing and taking advantage of the opportunity to cool down on a hot day. From there, wind your way to the boardwalk that leads you up, up, up for stunning views while spiking your heart rate. Soon after, you can connect with the Camp Creek Trail which takes you by the Duck Pond and a lush section of lowland woods. Altogether, it’s a 3-mile loop that is good for any fitness level.
When I’m not hiking, I am riding. Fort Ben offers the best single-track mountain biking in the city. Between the Lawrence Creek and Scheon Creek trails (both accessible from the same parking lot), you’ve got seven miles to let loose and rip. The beauty of Fort Ben is that it bucks the perception of Indy as flat. The area is unusually hilly and offers a ride that is both athletically challenging and incredibly scenic. Warning: trails are multi-use, so beware of hikers.
When I’m not hiking and biking, I like to pretend I’m a golfer. Translated: I’m not a good golfer, but I do enjoy spending four hours with friends on a beautiful piece of land. For my money, The Fort Golf Course is the best public course in Indianapolis. Pete Dye carved this course out of the rolling topography to create a masterpiece. With no homes obscuring the natural views, it is a golfer’s paradise.
If you’re not looking to push yourself, worry not. Fort Ben offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors while chilling. They have multiple picnic areas ideal for cooking out. It’s also popular for both fishing and horseback riding. On the north side of the park is one of the city’s largest dog parks.
When your day is done, I recommend a stop at nearby Triton Brewery for a Rail Splitter IPA and a hot pretzel. When the brewery boom hit Indy, Triton was one of the earliest to hit the scene and they’ve endured because they brew it right.
Treat yourself by taking the 20-minute drive from downtown to Fort Ben. There aren’t many cities with a state park within their limits and you should take advantage of this access to ease your mind, body, and soul.
Jeff Robinson markets the city he loves, and it is a privilege he is passionate about. As Director of Marketing for Visit Indy, Jeff works to make Indianapolis the destination of choice for leisure travel and meetings. He is also a proud board member of the IndyHub Foundation and moderator of IndyHub’s 1828 Project. Fun Fact: Jeff is a two-time champion of the Wicket World of Croquet, played annually at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.