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The Big-4 Rail Trail will one day stretch 50-plus miles across Boone County, from the northern suburbs of Indianapolis to Lafayette. The Big 4 in the trail name refers to the old Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway corridor. It could just as easily refer to the four communities pushing this long-term project: Zionsville, Whitestown, Lebanon, and Thorntown. The description here details the portion of this regional network that runs through Zionsville, which was formerly known as the Zionsville Rail Trail. Another 15.4 miles of the trail are open to the northwest between Lebanon and Colfax, plus 2.4 miles in Whitestown.
A number of railroads operated trains on those tracks, starting with the Lafayette and Indianapolis Railroad in 1850 and ending with Conrail in 1976. The tracks carried newly elected President Abraham Lincoln through this area in 1861 and carried his body home four years later. The “Big 4” Railroad operated the longest period, 1889–1930. Zionsville installed a trail along the corridor in the 1990s.
The trail is a paved 12 foot wide path with an additional 3 foot soft shoulder on either side for runners. This smooth wide trail is ideal for families with strollers and those with mobility aids. Restrooms, water fountains, trail markers and parking lots are found peppered along the route and are marked on the map. There are picnic benches and trash receptacles along the trail as well. Pets on leashes are welcome.
At the south end of the path, you’ll find a trailhead at Zionsville Rd between Lemberger Blvd and Arbois Cir. Briefly passing through the edge of a residential community, the trail quickly heads into the woods. As you continue along the trail, you'll cross a pedestrian bridge (known as the One-hundred Foot Bridge) 60 feet above Eagle Creek. A side trip down a boardwalk to the floodplain leads to paths in Starkey Nature Park. The 0.8-mile stretch of trail after the foot bridge is known as the Nancy Burton Corridor and the 1.5-mile section between Whitestown Rd and Heritage Trail Park is known as the Dave Brown Corridor.
For a visit into downtown Zionsville, turn right onto a short path after the trail intersects with Starkley Ave and then take residential streets. Founded in 1852, the town draws tourists to its brick-paved Main Street, where you’ll see a progression of architectural styles from previous eras. Dining and shopping are popular pursuits, and the town offers a full calendar of events.
The route is somewhat unusual in that it passes all the way through town before encountering the first at-grade crossing, located at County Road 875 on the north side of Zionsville. The trail passes beneath all other streets via tunnels as it goes through much of town below street level. Numerous parks in town—including Mulberry Fields, Jennings Field, Carter Station, and Heritage Trail Park, as well as the Rail Trail Gardens Event Center at the north end of the route—have connections to the trail. Whether you are going for a run, heading into downtown, commuting to work, or just looking to spend some time in nature, the Big-4 Rail Trail through Zionsville is ready and waiting for you.
To park near the southern end of the trail: From I-465, take Exit 27 onto US 421 N toward Zionsville. Go 0.1 mile north on US 421, and turn left onto W. 96th St. Go 2.6 miles and turn right onto Ford Road. Go 1.3 miles and turn right onto Starkey Ave. Look for the Zionsville Trail Parking lot on the left. The trail endpoint is to the south towards Zionsville Rd.
To reach the northern end of the trail: From I-65, take Exit 133 onto Albert S. White Blvd. Head east 3 miles (the road becomes County Road 400 S), and follow the road as it curves right onto CR 700 E, then left onto CR 425 S. Go 0.5 mile on CR 425 S, and turn left onto Zionsville Road. Follow it as it curves right onto CR 400 S. Go 1.3 miles and turn right into Heritage Trail Park. The park path connects to the trail, although the trail's official endpoint is further north.
Additional parking is available along the trail at Carter Station Park (4643 Pebblepointe Pass), Mulberry Fields (9645 Whitestown Rd), Jennings Fields (1130 Bloor Ln), American Legion Trail Crossing (721 Ford Rd), and Zionsville Parks & Recreation Department (1100 W Oak Street).
We took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather on New Years Eve and rode the length of this trail. We rode to the trailhead on Zionsville Road and went North from there. As of 12/31/22, the trail is uninterrupted from Zionsville Rd to Heritage Trail Park. You can go a little further North but after you cross S 800 E it turns into what looks like a driveway and eventually ends. I presume this will continue in the future, you can tell where the rail used to be. The whole thing is paved and some if it new, some old. Most of the intersections either go under or over the crossings which was nice, you hardly had to stop anywhere. The restrooms at the Zionsville City Hall were immaculate, and they had a really cool bike repair station there. Overall, it's a fairly short segment but if you want to get in 10-12 miles round trip it's worth the ride!
We visited this trail on a cloudless Sunday in September. It was mainly flat and entirely paved if you head north from the parking area off of Starkey Av. The description provided by TrailLink is spot on. South from the parking lot on Starkey it is crush stone for about a 1/2 mile before it ends.
This would be a great trail during the fall and we may return. It was lightly used that day and the pavement was in very good condition with just one or two spots where cracks/bumps are starting to form. It terminates at a small park to the north (or you can park there and head south). My 9-year old rode the whole way with no issues. Really a fun, easy, relaxing trail to walk, run, or bike.
This is my neighborhood rail trail; I've used it extensively for hiking, running, biking, and walking for many years. It is well-maintained most of the year and offers a fair amount of shade when leaves are on the trees. Zionsville needs to start clearing and salting it promptly in winter weather, though; it's a shame that it often can't be used.
I love that this trail is 5.6 miles long and easily accessible from many neighborhoods. I'm training for a marathon, and I can drive there, park, and run segments of it out and back for distances up to 11 miles.
The half-mile segment from the Starkey Avenue entrance south to the 0 mile marker is unpaved and shaded, so I head down there and back to start and finish each run. If you feel like running trails, the beautiful Starkey Nature Park is accessible at the 0 mile marker.
A previous poster mentioned that there is no bathroom, but I think there is a port-a-potty in the Starkey Avenue parking area. I've also used the Starbucks and the McDonald's on Oak Street in emergencies. And, just north of Oak Street, there is a bench and water fountains for people and dogs. (Thank you, Zionsville Christian Church!)
Amazing trail with very friendly people. Will definitely use this one again. One thing to note, though, there are no bathrooms or water areas available as of Spring 2015. There is a bathroom icon at the top of the trail, and my guess is they will have one eventually. We headed back south and got off the trail briefly to use Starbucks facilities and grab some water. My favorite trail so far for Mini training!
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