Hot On The Trails: Zionsville’s Big-4 Rail Trail

Formerly known as the Zionsville Rail Trail, the Big-4 Rail Trail, a greenway through the heart of the northwestern suburb, is a favorite of children and parents, at the center of a sprawling system that spans Boone County.
Big-4 Rail Trail

Length: 3.75 miles / Surface: paved, crushed stone / Location: Zionsville

All but the southern end of the trail is paved with smooth asphalt, making it a popular stroller route for parents in the charming suburb. The paved portion begins at Starkey Road, with free parking lots at both ends. Visiting on weekdays from late morning to mid-afternoon is a good way to miss the crowds.

At the northern terminus of the Big-4 Rail Trail, Heritage Trail Park is busy with family-friendly activities, including a kids’ play set, basketball and bocce courts, a community garden, and a covered pavilion for gatherings and birthday parties. This year, the park will become the new home of the Zion Nature Center, which promotes environmental awareness with educational programming and nature and wildlife exhibits.

The Nancy Burton Corridor, the southern portion of the greenway surfaced in crushed stone, resembles a wooded hiking trail. You can break at one of the benches along the way to rest and Instagram a shot of the greenery. The best photo ops might be on the wildflower-rich paths of Starkey Nature Park near the southern end of the Big-4 and accessible from the trail via a ramp. Other draws along the trail include a Wetland Reserve to the north and Zion Nature Sanctuary near the middle.

Designated parking is available at several locations along the trail, but finding a spot along Main Street—also free—in quaint downtown Zionsville puts you close to not only the greenway, but a couple of spots the kids will enjoy: old-fashioned ice-cream parlor The Scoop and fashionable children’s boutique Ballerinas and Bruisers.

A 3-mile walk = one strawberry banana smoothie (300 calories) from The Scoop.

Located near the northern end of the trail, Mulberry Fields Splash Park has sprinklers, misters, fountains, and a shallow, man-made creek with sand and rocks children can build with. There’s also a shaded picnic area where parents hang out while watching their broods (as well as a skate park popular with the older kids). A prime place to wade with the dogs on hot days is below the old railway bridge at the southern end of the trail, in the shallow waters of Eagle Creek. And there’s a doggy clean-up area at the American Legion Trail Crossing, further north. (You’re welcome.)

Unlike the Monon and other greenways, this route is free of street crossings, making it ideal for safe, stop-free running and cycling. On June 11, Run2Race, a half-marathon and 5k, incorporates the Big-4.

“While Zionsville grows, I’m happy to always see familiar faces whenever I use the trail,” says Big-4 regular Kate Gehan. “When running, I can use the mile markers to do speed work without having to stop. I love that you can continue into the woods of Starkey Park for hiking or more trail running.”

This article is part of “Hot on the Trails,” IM’s road-free guide to exploring Central Indiana.