About this Itinerary
The Wabash and Erie Canal in Indiana was a shipping canal constructed to link the Great Lakes to the Ohio River and provide commercial access to routes onward to the Gulf of Mexico. Construction began in 1832 and by 1837 there were more than 1,000 laborers on the site. Work was extremely tough and accidents, cholera and other diseases ravaged the workforce. Many workers died and were buried as they fell on the towpath. The logistics of running a canal in this landscape required innovative thinking and a number of engineering breakthroughs were established to make the canal functional. Workers and engineers persevered and by 1843 the canal was operational, and by 1840 had been extended to the small town of Delphi. This town became a natural port as the traditionally 40-foot wide canal was 80 feet in this section due to natural slough. Delphi prospered as piers were built to load and unload boats and warehouses sprung up along the banks. Unfortunately, despite the enormous undertaking of constructing the canal, after only a decade in service, it was determined to be economically unfeasible as it required constant dredging to prevent erosion of its banks, and was gradually abandoned section by section.
Today, in the town of Delphi, visitors can bike part of the longest remaining section of watered canal left in all of the original 468-mile route. Spend a day exploring an interconnected system of trails that combine to form about 10 miles of an off-road route that is the Delphi Historic Trails. Bike past buildings that were constructed during the boom years in the downtown area, explore Canal Park where an interpretive museum chronicles the history of the town, and walk through a reconstructed canal-era village. The background of the Wabash and Erie Canal is fascinating, and from the historic buildings constructed at the height of Delphi’s prosperity to the remains of the canal that runs through town, its impact is still evident today.
Delphi has limited lodging options, therefore we recommend staying in a nearby town. For a real treat, try The Lighthouse Lodge on Lake Shaffer and Mallard Bay in Monticello, Indiana. Located about 23 miles north of Delphi, the property offers a peaceful and serene setting with seven bed-and-breakfast suites in the main lodge, as well as three two-bedroom private cottages overlooking the lake. All rooms feature beautiful views and have a private balcony. The stunning property has a rolling park-like lawn, comfortable outdoor seating areas, a large sundeck, a private sand beach and a stone lighthouse built in the 1930s. Guests can swim on the main lake or in the bay, relax on the large lawn, or take a ride on the pontoon boat, all located right outside the back door.
The Delphi Historic Trails (DHT) are a collection of several small trails that travel along the canal and through the historic downtown. The surface varies from boardwalk to crushed limestone, so a hybrid bike is ideal. This is a popular town for tourists to spend the day wandering through the historic area, strolling along the canal, and visiting sites. Expect that on many sections of the route you will encounter other riders and pedestrians, and that in some areas it can be a little slow going. You should approach this not as an opportunity to get a vigorous ride, but rather as an opportunity to immerse yourself in the historical context of the town. Those who set the appropriate expectations can expect a relaxing and insightful experience. Our itinerary includes all of the 10 miles of the off-road trails, as well as sections of the on-road route which will take you through the downtown area. This is a small town and roads are not particularly congested, however, if you are uncomfortable with on-road biking, it is easy to omit these sections.
To reach the DHT trailhead parking lot from your base in Monticello, take US-65 to exit 175 to State Road 25 towards Delphi. At the Court House downtown, turn left onto Washington Street. Canal Park is your destination and is located 11 blocks north. Cruiser and tandem bike rentals are available in Canal Park at Noble Bikes. The shop is open Saturdays and Sundays or by appointment, so call ahead to ensure that they will have what you need available. The shop is run by husband and wife team Kevin and Jean Howell, who provide friendly service and are a great reference for everything going on in the area. They also offer repair service if that is needed, as well as renting paddleboats, kayaks and surreys for additional ways to explore the canal.
Before setting out, stop by the Canal Interpretive Center & Museum, which features interactive exhibits and displays that chronicle the creation of the Wabash and Erie Canal and life in 1850s Indiana. Here you will also find Pioneer Village, which includes historical buildings such as a log school house, cabins, a smokehouse, and a blacksmith shop. Some of these structures are replicas; others are original buildings that have been relocated to form the village. Before setting out, pick up a copy of the informative map of the area that is available at the Canal Center. In addition to directions, the map includes a lot of historical details about things you will see as you bike along and provides more information about the on-road portion of the route.
Head south along the Underhill Towpath Trail, which wanders about a mile along a very popular section of the canal. This is the heart of the canal area. This then connects to the VanScoy Towpath, which passes a canal lock and the 1838-39 Irish Canal Construction Camp. Along this section expect lovely views of the canal and surrounding farmland. Continuing along, join the Campbell Ridge Trail, which loops around for one mile. Take a short hike up the slope to a high bluff overlooking where Deer Creek and the Wabash River meet. It was here that an unfortunate accident led to the abrupt closure of the canal, as a boat crashed in to the rotting wooden spillway and collapsed the dam. The boat, mules, driver and cargo were all submerged in the Wabash River and met a tragic end. The canal was deemed too costly to repair and thus began the end of the canal in Delphi.
From here, head back north and connect to the Robbins Trail.Along this route, you again will enjoy splendid views of the countryside and find yourself surrounded by majestic sycamore and cottonwood trees. This trail then winds in to the Interurban Trail. Interurban were electric trains that operated in the early 1900s on narrow, elevated tracks. Running parallel to the Interurban is an on-road trail that runs for only a half mile and takes you past an old dairy farm. Take this side route and loop back along the Interurban before ending in the historical downtown area. Follow the Riley-City Trail and the Downtown Loop Trail on town streets to the Delphi Courthouse Square National Register Historic District, which features dozens of historically significant and beautifully designed residential and commercial buildings. This area also includes various shops and restaurants. To follow the route, look for the broken red- and blue-lined trail markers (or refer to the map you picked up at the Canal Center).
While in the downtown area, stop for lunch at the Stone House Restaurant located at 124 E. Main Street. This local favorite serves diner foods such as meatloaf, burgers, sandwiches and salads and is well known for their desserts. Be sure to save room for a piece their homemade pie with such tempting flavors as coconut cream, lemon and blushing peach, or blueberry. Two blocks down at 114 E. Main Street find The Sandwich Shop. This tiny restaurant is a popular spot and serves a wide variety of sandwiches made with fresh local ingredients.
After lunch, follow Main Street to City Park and connect with the on-road Monon High Bridge Trail. This 1.5-mile route follows part of the abandoned Monon Railroad line and includes High Bridge, Indiana’s second highest railroad trestle. This is a one-way route so, when you reach the end, retrace your path and return to City Park. From here, reconnect with the northern section of the Riley-City Trail (follow the broken red-line markers) to travel on-road through a more residential portion of the town and connect to the off-road Draper North End Trail (you will now be just slightly north of where you started at Canal Park). This trail runs past the site were local limestone was ‘burned’ to produce mortar, plaster and whitewash during the canal era. Continue over the bridge at the trail’s end at Founder’s Point to return on the opposite side of the canal along the Founder’s Towpath Trail before ending at Canal Park.
Upon your return, spend some time exploring the canal in other ways. Rent a kayak or paddleboat at Noble Bikes, or take a 35-minute tour on The Delphi, a replica of a 19th century canal boat. As you make your way along the canal, guides will detail what life was like here 150 years ago. Tours only operate on weekends mid-May through Labor Day weekend, so be sure to call ahead to reserve a place on these popular excursions.
Before leaving Delphi, head back to the downtown area to grab a refreshing treat at Andy’s Place. Located less than a half mile from Canal Park at 213 S. Market Street, this small shop features over 19 flavors of locally produced gourmet ice cream. Enjoy a cone of orange pineapple, bubble gum, or chocolate chip as you meander through the historical streets of this charming Indiana town.
On the way back to Monticello, visit the family owned and operated Whyte Horse Winery. Located south of town, and only 13 miles from Delphi, stop to sample some of the award-winning wines in their beautifully renovated 1886 farmhouse tasting room, which is decorated with elegant woodwork and antique furnishings. Relax on one of the porches while listening to music as you sample wines, nibble on locally made cheeses and take in the stunning farmland that surrounds the property.
Tonight dine at The Riverside Pub and Restaurant, which offers riverfront dining and a menu focused on steaks and seafood. Featuring a relaxed atmosphere with a stunning view of the river (request a window seat), this Monticello restaurant is an ideal place to unwind. Also in Monticello, try The Sportsman Inn, which offers indoor or outdoor dining at their lakefront location. With a wide menu of steak, fish, pork and salads, this restaurant has something for everyone and features live music weekly.
For something different, experience a classic American drive-in movie theatre at the Lake Shore Drive-In Theatre. Located just outside of Monticello, this theater shows popular movies nightly in the summers and is a must-do if you have never had the pleasure of attending a drive-in movie theater.
After a full day of biking the canal trails and exploring the area, return to the tranquility and comfort of your lakefront lodge. View the stars as you linger over one of the two fire pits or relax in the recreation room over a game of darts or cards.
For more outdoor adventure, visit Prophetstown State Park, about a 30-minute drive southwest of Delphi. Its central feature is a replica Shawnee village, and the park also has hiking and biking trails to explore a variety of natural settings including woodlands, wetlands and tall-grass prairie. Swimming is available at the aquatic center here, where you’ll find a 30-foot tube slide, lazy river, splash zones and pool. Enjoy the park all day and stay overnight in the park’s campground.