Hot On The Trails: Indy’s Central Canal Towpath

Call it the non-Monon: The Towpath may not get as much love as a certain other north-south greenway running through the heart of Indianapolis, but this trail following the route of a nearly 200-year-old canal system connects some of the city’s top cultural attractions and destination neighborhoods—and has a unique rural character all its own.
Central Canal Towpath

Length: 5.2 miles / Surface: crushed stone / Location: Indianapolis / Connects to: Monon Trail, White River Wapahani Trail

Unlike most of the greenways in Indy, the Towpath isn’t paved—it’s covered in crushed limestone. The surface means less joint impact for runners, and experienced cyclists should be fine on standard skinny road tires, but beginning bikers might prefer wider rubber.

The Towpath gets almost dangerously close to the banks of the canal in spots. Careful not to slip in.

Yes, that’s a vehicle on the trail. Autos typically aren’t allowed on greenways, but in the Rocky Ripple neighborhood—bounded by the Central Canal, White River, and Butler University—the Towpath acts as an ancillary road for residents.

Iron bridges cross the canal—including two dating back to the 1800s—and make for pretty backdrops. The gorgeous red Waller Bridge behind the Indianapolis Museum of Art—which has a new seasonal beer garden, FYI—is especially popular for wedding and engagement shots. From there, trail users can venture onto the wooded, installation-lined trails of the IMA’s Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres. A little ways north, Holcomb Gardens on Butler University’s campus offer another photogenic—and free—respite.

Wildlife is everywhere along the trail. Look for turtles sunning themselves on fallen logs and blue herons stretching their legs in the shallow water. Deer can be found roaming around the woods and sculptures behind the IMA.

Although the Towpath goes all the way up to Broad Ripple, the desire for refreshment need take you no farther northeast than the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood around 56th and Illinois streets. Near the trail, you’ll find Illinois Street Food Emporium, The Flying Cupcake bakery, Graeter’s ice cream parlor, and, yes, a Starbucks.

“The soft surface is a welcome deviation from pounding the pavement,” says Fox 59’s Larra Overton, a former college track athlete. “Especially when training for longer distances like the Monumental Marathon, extended trails with a variety of terrain and scenery are crucial.”

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