Provided by: Adriane Doherty, Owner, Rubber Ducky Press, May 6, 2021
There are few urban spaces in the Midwest that can offer more family fun (potentially for little or no cost] than White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis. Bring along a blanket and spread out for a picnic on the grand lawn adjacent to the NCAA Hall of Champions. Then stroll along the canal to enjoy great views of the skyline and the downtown architecture, fountains, and micro parks along the route. You can catch some shade on a hot day beneath the many flowering trees throughout the park.
My husband and I rented a two person pedal buggy (that could also hold two small children) from Wheel Fun Rentals and started our tour at the southern end of the canal just a short distance from the rental hut. For larger families, you can rent a buggy that seats four adults and two children. The ride was challenging at times, but we thoroughly enjoyed it and were able to cover more ground in less time.
We pedaled past the Medal of Honor Memorial across the canal from the Indiana State Museum. It is an attractively presented memorial with the names, branches of service, and conflict locations of Medal of Honor recipients etched in curved glass. On a previous trip to the canal I saw it illuminated at night, and it is quite stunning. You can also access this memorial from the south end of Military Park.
Moving on, we passed a water fountain at the extra wide Central Canal where there is a boat rental facility, then at a bend we headed north passing the Indiana Historical Society. Inside that building you’ll find terrific
exhibits about the Hoosier state and Hoosier notables such as T.C. Steele, Madam C.J. Walker, Cole Porter and many others. But the Indiana Historical Society building houses more than a museum and library. You will find the Stardust Melody Café with reasonably priced sandwiches, snacks, and beverages. You can visit their gift shop, which is also one of the best bookstores in all of central Indiana.
Further along we enjoyed a little people watching and stopped at some of the interesting works of art that dot the entire White River State Park. The park boasts 15 sculptures throughout its 250 acres. In addition to sculptures, you can find some beautifully rendered monuments like the Medal of Honor monument previously mentioned as well as the U.S.S. Indianapolis monument which features an etching of that fateful ship in stone along with the story of its sinking on one side and a list of the crew on the other. There are numerous places to take a break, sit in the shade, or just enjoy a sunny day on a park bench. You’ll also find several places to grab a bite to eat.
We continued on our journey heading back south. There are a number of attractions not discussed in this post that you will find along the canal including the Indiana State Museum, which also houses an IMax theater, a large gift shop, a café, and the famous L.S. Ayres Tea Room. If you’re planning to visit the Tea Room or café, call ahead to check on the hours of operation. Another highlight is the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, which has amassed an impressive collection. They also operate a café during lunch hours and offer free parking with a valid ticket into the museum. We continued on our journey south. Cycling the canal on the buggy, we were able to cover the entire distance in one hour. The pedestrian bridge picture here is just one of many attractive architectural features you’ll find on your canal walk.
Once off the canal, we returned our buggy and headed to the Visitor Center. There you can find a gift shop where you can pick up a book, souvenir, t-shirt, and they have a supply of cold beverages and snacks. At the Visitor Center you’ll also find well maintained public restrooms. And, if you are unfamiliar with all the park has to offer this is a great place to start your exploration. You will find lots of information on how to get the most out of your experience.
Near the Visitor Center is the grand lawn previously discussed which also connects with a wide walking bridge that once was a four lane road. On it you’ll find places for picture taking, benches to rest your feet, and some of the sculptures previously mentioned. But, one of the most important features of this bridge is that it connects you to the Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens.
There was not enough time in one day to visit the entire park and all of its attractions. White River State Park offers enough to warrant many visits and we are sure to back again this spring and summer. It connects also to Victory Field, home of the Indianapolis Indiana’s AAA baseball team and is the location of one of Indiana’s great music venues, the TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park.
White River State Park is open to the public seven days a week 5AM to 11PM. To learn more about the park visit: https://www.whiteriverstatepark.org/
To check out the calendar of events and musical acts playing at the TCU Amphitheater visit: https://www.whiteriverstatepark.org/events/
What I learned about White River State Park this trip:
Parking: There is lower cost street parking a manageable walk from the park’s main attractions, but if you want to be closest to all the action you can enter the park on W. Washington St. near the Visitor Center. If the surface lot is full you’ll be directed to below ground parking. Upon entering the parking garage make an immediate left and another left and head to the back (western edge) of the garage. This will bring you closest to the Visitor Center, which holds a central position in the park. Otherwise if you are visiting the IN State Museum or the Eiteljorg you will make your first left then your next right.
Check out discounts before you go. The Eiteljorg offers free parking with ticket purchase and the IN State Museum offers reduced rate parking with ticket purchase, or a $10 purchase in their gift shop. Consider family/annual memberships offered by most of the attraction, which can save you a lot of money if you plan to visit more than once. Most attractions also offer AAA discounts. We purchased a yearly membership to Wheel Fun Rentals which paid for itself on the first use. It is also good for half price rentals at Eagle Creek State Park, and 60 locations nationwide from New York to California and closer to home in Chicago, Louisville, Milwaukee.
For families on a budget you might also consider applying for the Access Pass. Eligible families can get $2 admission per family member to Conner Prairie, the Eiteljorg Museum, the Indiana Historical Society, the Indiana Repertory Theatre, the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites (11 in all), the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, NCAA Hall of Champions, Newfields, Rhythm! Discovery Center, the Terre Haute Children’s Museum, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and Bloomington’s WonderLab. To learn more visit: https://visitindiana.com/blog/index.php/2020/02/07/access-pass/