(Last Updated On: March 1, 2022)

suspension bridge in a state park near indianapolis indiana

Suspension Bridge at Turkey Run State Park in Indiana

When you think of Indianapolis, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most people, it’s the Indianapolis 500, the once-a-year sporting event that draws huge crowds to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to watch automobile racing at its finest.

Indianapolis, also known as “Indy,” has much to offer besides fast cars; there are many intriguing attractions, cultural institutions, culinary experiences, and historical sites to take in—you may need to extend your visit to take it all in. With family-friendly activities like the world-renowned Indianapolis Children’s Museum, the Museum of Art (where you can see Robert Indiana’s original sculpture, LOVE), or just a relaxing stroll along the Canal Walk, Indy is a fabulous city to get to know.

For nature lovers and outdoor activities, Indianapolis has a plethora of city parks, trails, greenways, and gardens to explore. However, if you are interested in getting outside the city and seeing more of what Indiana has to offer, state parks are the way to go. We’ve done the research and found five near Indianapolis and listed the reasons why you should consider a visit.

Map of State Parks Near Indianapolis IN

Here is a map of the Indiana state parks covered in this post:

List of State Parks Near Indianapolis

Here are each of those state parks with distance from Indianapolis and what is special about each.

1. Fort Harrison State Park

Location: 6000 N. Post Road, Indianapolis, IN 46216

Travel just minutes (22) northeast of Indy, and you’ll find Fort Harrison State Park, a quick and easy escape from the bustle of the city. There are many year-round activities at Fort Harrison—from stellar sledding in the winter, hayrides in the fall, golfing in the summer, to strolling among blooming wildflowers in the spring.

Fort Harrison features walking and jogging trails, picnic sites, canoeing at Fall Creek, and two historic sites. There is a Fort Golf Resort and Conference Center and Fort Harrison Inn. The park is the perfect green oasis close to downtown Indianapolis, yet far enough away to feel a connection to the great outdoors.

Helpful tip: At only $5 a car, load up with your kids (and your neighbor’s kids) and head to the largest sledding hill in Indy. Fort Ben has been a longtime family favorite hill to get your slide on!

2. Cagles Mill Lake

Location: 2605 N. Cataract Road, Spencer, IN 47460

An hour southwest of Indianapolis is Cagles Mill Lake Park, home to Lieber State Recreational Area (SRA) and Cataract Falls. The Lieber SRA features Cagles Mill Lake, a flood control reservoir built in 1952. The main attraction, Cataract Falls, the largest waterfall by volume in the state, is a result of “ two pre-glacial bedrock ridges buried beneath ancient lake sediments.”

Lieber SRA is the perfect getaway for camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and many other amenities for the ideal outdoor experience. With both a beach and an Aquatic Center, horseshoes, and basketball, there’s no end to the options for activities.

A stunning feature of the park, Cataract Falls is actually two-tiered; the upper falls drops 45 feet, and a mile downstream, the lower falls drops 30 feet. There is also a brick-red covered bridge built in 1876 that’s worth a gander.

Helpful tips: There is a trail along the river between the upper and lower Cataract Falls that offers several panoramic views of Mill Creek, and while it’s generally an easy hike, there is a steep section. For those visiting that may not do well with a steep path, you can drive to see both sets of falls.

3. Turkey Run State Park

Location: 8121 E. Park Road, Marshall, IN 47859

Consistently voted one of Indiana’s best hiking areas, Turkey Run State Park, located an hour and 16 minutes west of Indy, is a not-to-be-missed experience.

Turkey Run has it all—Sugar Creek, Rocky Hollow-Falls Canyon Nature Preserve (home to 1,609 acres of old-growth forest), and cavernous sandstone ravines and gorges. Hiking the trails throughout the park is thrilling and requires scrambling over and around boulders, using ladder climbs, and trekking through rushing water, depending on the time of year.

There isn’t a bad trail in Turkey Run; however, hikers find trails #3,5 and 9 to be the most exciting, with waterfalls, gigantic boulders, and ravines with steep sandstone walls.

Interesting fact: How Turkey Run got its name is unknown; it is thought that wild turkeys would huddle in the gorges for warmth, making it easy for early settlers to hunt and trap them.

4. Clifty Falls State Park

Location: 1501 Green Rd, Madison, IN 47250

Only an hour and 40 minutes south of the city, Clifty Falls State Park, located along the Ohio River, is a rugged, heavily shaded, stone canyon and creek with hiking, camping, and spectacular year-round views of waterfalls. Depending on the time of year you visit and the weather conditions, the falls may be roaring, frozen, or a gentle stream threading its way over the limestone and shale layers of the canyon cliffs.

The main attractions are Clifty Fall, Little Clifty Falls, and Brough’s Folly, an abandoned 1852 railroad tunnel tourable part of the year. The tunnel is closed off from Nov. 1- April 30 to protect hibernating bats from white-nose syndrome.

There are ten trails at Clifty, ranging from easy to very rugged. Some of the trails traverse Clifty Creek and are where you can see fossils from eons ago when this region was a vast marine ecosystem. No fossil collecting is allowed within the park, but nearby collecting locations are readily accessible. Trail #2 in Clifty Falls state park is rated *very rugged and is the most challenging trail in Indiana.

Interesting fact: There is no rock climbing in Clifty State Park. The reason—copperhead snakes (the only venomous snake in the park) like to hang out in the crevices of the rocks that line the canyon.

5. Chain O’ Lakes State Park

Location: 2355 E 75 S, Albion, IN 46701

Chain O’ Lakes State Park is a bit further away than the other parks we featured, close to two hours and a half hours north of Indy, but the area is such a unique natural resource we felt we had to include it.

The park is a series of nine connected lakes that are kettle lakes that were formed by receding ice sheets eons ago. The area also has rolling hills, bogs, and a handful of smaller kettle ponds with excellent opportunities for fishing and wildlife watching.

The region is part of the Mississippi Flyway zone, a migratory corridor for birds and waterfowl. Birding is popular here, and Chain O’ Lakes is part of the Indiana Birding Trail.

Camping, hiking, boating (electric motor only), year-round fishing, and swimming are encouraged, as is taking part in the 9 Lakes Challenge—a great way to paddle your way through the lakes and make the claim that you paddled the chain.

Helpful tips: Visit a one-room schoolhouse and take a step back in history at the historic Stanley Schoolhouse. This brick schoolhouse was built in 1915, as a school used until 1945, and restored in 2013.