About this Itinerary
The Nickel Plate Trail is a 35-mile paved path that follows part of the route once traveled by the Nickel Plate Railroad. Bike through several rural Indiana towns as you traverse a landscape of woodlands and wetlands, see remnants of the old railway, and enjoy a peaceful and serene ride on a flat, well-maintained rail-trail. The trail travels north from Cassville in the north-central part of the state, though the town of Peru, where it has a several-miles-long break before resuming its path to the northern terminus in Rochester. Along the way, you can expect lovely views, but few crowds outside of the main towns.
Our base for this itinerary is the town of Peru, Indiana. Considered to be the Circus Capital of the World, Peru has been the winter home of seven of the world’s major circuses, including Ringling Brothers and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The International Circus Hall of Fame is located here and is open from May 1 through August 31. The site is one of 55 National Historic Landmarks in Indiana, and visitors can see memorabilia and artifacts from various well-known circus troupes, learn about the history of the circus, see the ‘circus greats’who have been enshrined here and view a miniature replica of the 1934 Hagenbeck Wallace Circus, complete with animals, performers and a parade. For one week in July, The Big Top Circus also performs here and the site host’s the annual Peru Amateur Circus.
Lodging options in this region are limited. We recommend staying at the Best Western Circus City Inn on the outskirts of town. This branch of the chain hotel offers an indoor heated pool and a complimentary hot buffet breakfast. To reach the hotel from the Indiana International Airport, head north on I-465/I-74 to US-421 to US-31 N. Follow US-31 N to US-31 BUS N in Pipe Creek.
Also note that bicycle rentals are not available in Peru or any of the surrounding towns. If you are driving from Indianapolis, renting there is your best bet. DG Bicycles rents adult, kid and tandem bicycles and is located close to where US-421 and US-31N meet, making for a convenient pick-up and drop-off. In downtown Peru, Breakaway Bicycles, offers repair services, if that is needed.
As mentioned, the Nickel Plate Trail is currently divided into two sections with a gap through the center of Peru. Volunteers are actively working to have this link connected, but in the meantime, they have provided an on-road route that guides bikers through the town. For the purposes of our itinerary, we will break the ride up into two leisurely days to ride about 13 miles one day (26 miles roundtrip) and 20 miles the other day (40 miles roundtrip), but if you are interested in riding through Peru, it is easy to incorporate into either of these days’ itineraries.
After a hearty breakfast at the Best Western, head to the Wallace Road trailhead located slightly less than two miles away. Before heading out, be sure to fill your water bottles and pack any snacks you might need, as the southern section of the trail does not have any trail-adjacent businesses. To reach the trailhead by bike or car: head left on U3-31 from the hotel and, after 1.4 miles, turn right on W. Ellis; go to the end and take a left on S. Wallick Road; turn right on Riverside and find the Nickel Plate Trail (turn right onto W. Summit Drive to reach the parking lot). Although US-31 can be busy at times, there is room on the shoulder to bike and it’s not that long of a ride. On the trail, turn right to head southwest toward Cassville.
As you bike along, you will find some shade in this section of the trail as it is quite wooded. This segment is particularly serene and you will likely not have a lot of company. Enjoy the landscape of rural farmland and forests, and bike through the small town of Miami. The trail ends abruptly in Cassville. There are no services here or nearby, so be prepared.
Retrace your path and head back toward Peru. Pass the trailhead where you started and continue on towards downtown Peru crossing over a lovely bike bridge that traverses the Wabash River. Shortly afterward, the trail ends. While this section past the Wallace Road trailhead is not too long, we recommend biking it as the river crossing is quite nice and in Peru you can stop for lunch, visit sites in town, or even continue on-road to the next section of the trail.
If you are interested in connecting to the northern section of the Nickel Plate Trail, turn down Walnut Street, turn left on 6th Street and go up 15 blocks to Water Street and turn left. Go several blocks north to Harrison Street and turn left, then go to Denver Pike and follow it under US 24 to Lover’s Lane and turn left. You will see the Lover’s Lane trailhead a couple hundred yards ahead. There are painted markings on the streets to guide you, so look for these as you navigate through the town.
If you just want to grab some lunch and wander around town a bit, turn down Walnut Street and turn left on 6th Street and continue up to Broadway. If you take a left on Broadway, you will reach a few options for lunch including Taco Juan's, serving Mexican-inspired dishes, and Harvey Hinklemeyers, which serves burritos as well as some of the best pizza in the area.
After lunch, visit the Miami County Museum. Located downtown at 51 N. Broadway, this museum spans two floors of a former dry-goods store and chronicles the region’s history through exhibits, artifacts and photographs. Learn about hometown legend Cole Porter, Native Americans who lived in the region, the circus and see a replica of 1910-era downtown Peru.
Located just outside of Peru, the Grissom Air Force Base is another attraction to visit. Stop by to see their small, but impressive, aviation museum where visitors are encouraged to touch the aircraft and even have the opportunity to climb into the cockpit of several planes. Learn about aviation history and climb the observation tower to see the planes from above. Some of the highlights of the collection are a B-17, a UH-1 Huey that flew in Vietnam and a rare F-102.
Today, either bike to the Lover’s Lane trailhead north of downtown Peru following the directions above, or drive and park at the trailhead lot. If you are driving, head north on US-31 and merge onto US-24E via the ramp to Peru/Ft. Wayne. Turn left onto N. Mexico Rd./Old US 31 and turn right at the 1st cross street onto W. Lovers Lane Rd.//W North St.
Head north on the Nickel Plate Trail for today’s 20-mile route. This section of the trail is also largely rural and you should not expect any crowds. The route passes through the small towns of Denver, Deedsville, Birmingham and Macy, before ending in Rochester. Note that opportunities to refill water bottles or purchase food are not available until you reach Rochester, and then it will require leaving the trail, so plan accordingly.
In Rochester, the trail ends at the outskirts of town. Bike just over a mile to the center of town and stop at the Streamliner for a burger, sandwich, or salad. This restaurant, located across from the Courthouse, has been in business for more than 70 years serving lunch and dinner and is named after the Streamliner locomotive that ran on the tracks just steps from the building. To reach it, take a left on Mitchell Drive (right before the end of the trail) and a quick right on to E. 14th Street. Turn right on College Avenue and take the first left on to E. 13th Street and a right on Monroe Street and follow it down until it intersects with E. 9th Street. Turn left and look for the restaurant on the left side of the street. If needed, a Walgreens is located only one block away at 906 Main Street. After a filling lunch, return to the trail and head back to Peru.
If time allows, enjoy an afternoon exploring Mississinewa Lake, which offers fishing, boating, swimming and hiking trails. One of three flood control reservoirs in the Upper Wabash area, this is a popular local spot for cooling off on a hot summer afternoon.
In the evening, dinner options in Peru and the surrounding area are somewhat limited. Close to the hotel, find Circus City Grill, serving burgers, salads and a variety of sandwiches. In downtown Peru, find Smitty McMusselman’s Pub and Grub. Popular with locals, this Irish bar has a large number of beers on tap and serves such Irish dishes such as scotch eggs, fish n’chips, corned beef and cabbage, as well as classics like burgers, grilled chicken and steaks. For fresh local ice cream, be sure to check out East End Dip. Open seasonally, this popular spot is well known locally for their delicious ice cream and homemade pizzas.