Indianapolis might be best known for its racetrack and stadium, but the Indiana state capital also has two state parks and hundreds of green spaces. Whether bundled up in winter coats or baring sun-kissed shoulders in the long-awaited heat of summer, residents and visitors with kids swarm to the 130 playgrounds scattered around the city and county parks.
If you want to work up a sweat in the great outdoors after brunch at an Indy brewery or stroll through a fragrant flower garden before heading to Lucas Oil Stadium for the big game, you’ll find your perfect spot at one of these best Indy parks.
Let the kids loose in White River State Park
Dubbed "Indy's urban escape," White River State Park packs an amphitheater, the Indianapolis Zoo, NCAA Hall of Champions, Victory Field and more into 250 green acres. As if that isn't enough, the city's Central Canal and White River slice through the park too. In summer, grab a bite from local food vendors, rent a kayak or take a Segway tour. Families flock to the children's maze and free concerts on the lawn.
Even stormy weather can't dampen a day at White River State Park: just pop into the IMAX theater, Indiana State Museum or Eiteljorg Museum.
Spend time reflecting at Martin Luther King Jr. Park's Landmark for Peace Memorial
In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Later that day, more than 450 miles north in Indianapolis, Robert F. Kennedy memorialized MLK in a speech calling for justice and peace. The Landmark for Peace Memorial stands in that spot. It depicts King and Kennedy reaching out to one another. This moving memorial piece and surrounding green space are downtown Indy's best park for respite and quiet contemplation.
Pack a picnic and see the skyline from Highland Park
It would be easy to blink and miss small Highland Park east of downtown Indy, but this city park offers some of the best picnic views of the Indy’s skyline. Hoosiers also know it as one of the best vantage points for Fourth of July fireworks. Pack a picnic or pick up a pizza pie from King Dough a few blocks up Highland Avenue and enjoy an afternoon in the sun.
Smell the flowers at Garfield Park
The oldest park in Indianapolis is also one of its lushest. You'll find families, photographers and hand-in-hand couples strolling through the free picnic area and walking trails in fair weather. The Sunken Garden and colorful, fragrant herbs and plants inside Blake's Garden beckon visitors to literally stop and smell the flowers. On a rainy day – or any day when you're pining for a glimpse of tropical foliage – spend $3 to explore the Garfield Park Conservatory. On snowy winter days, join the crowds zooming down the Garfield Park sledding hill.
Take the dog for a long walk at Eagle Creek Park
Eagle Creek Park sits on the northwestern edge of Indianapolis. With 3900 acres of nature and 1300 acres of reservoir, Eagle Creek is one of the largest municipal parks in the country. It acts more as a community hub than a humble city park. With 16 miles of walking trails, a dog park, a golf course, exercise stations and several playgrounds, no one's likely to get bored. It is also home to the Peace Learning Center, an educational facility dedicated to promoting peace-building and equity in the area.
Have a splashing good time at Holliday Park
Holliday Park might not be the oldest or biggest Indy green space, but it's undoubtedly a Hoosier favorite. With walking trails, wildflower gardens and a massive indoor nature center full of books, interactive exhibits, and hands-on learning activities for kids, what's not to love? Don't miss the city park's true star: The Ruins, an artistic facade of New York City’s former St. Paul Building. Part building ruins, part sculpture park, it includes a contemplative space, summer concert venue and children’s water table, making it the focal point of Holliday Park gatherings.
Embark on a mini adventure in Broad Ripple Park
Though it’s a 20-minute drive north of downtown, Broad Ripple Park stays busy, thanks to its plethora of family-friendly amenities. You'll find families picnicking on the hillside, couples bantering over a friendly tennis match, parents pushing strollers along the paved trails that weave past outdoor fitness stations and even a boat ramp for paddling into the White River. An outdoor swimming pool, playground, picnic shelters and one of Indy’s most popular dog parks complete the package.
Pack the tent and plan a hike at Fort Harrison State Park
Fort Harrison State Park is in Lawrence, about 13 miles from downtown Indy, and its location is what makes it a perfect retreat from traffic and city crowds. This landscape offers equal parts military history and untouched nature. Formerly known as Fort Benjamin Harrison, the campus once housed an army training facility and a WWII prisoner of war camp. Now it's the site of the Museum of 20th Century Warfare and several yearly WWII reenactments. The park’s vast array of lodging – from primitive camping to full RV hookups – and its easy access to trails through woodlands, ravines, and fishing spots along Fall Creek, make it a haven for visitors who love hiking and camping.
Get some exercise on the Monon Rail Trail
Ask most Indy residents where they walk their dogs, run on the weekends or cycle to work, and you'll quickly understand the importance of the Monon Trail. Decades ago, this 26-mile former railway corridor began a long transformation into the paved urban greenway of today. You can walk, bike or even cross-country ski between hubs like downtown Indy and the Indianapolis State Fairgrounds or take it easy on a shorter route like Broad Ripple Village to Broad Ripple Park.
Spend some me-time in Holcomb Gardens
This 20-acre flower-festooned hillside sits on the campus of Butler University, but Holcomb Gardens is free and open to the public. Wander through thousands of native trees and flowers, stroll the length of the hedges, stop by the garden house or rest on one of the stone benches in the so-called "poets' corner," where the benches feature quotes by famous poets. With a canal, gazebo and small waterfall area, it's no wonder Holcomb Gardens has become a beloved local spot for senior photos and proposals.