If you love a study in contrasts, you’ll love Southeastway Park.
One of the unexpected surprises of this relatively-unknown Indianapolis city park is that the surrounding countryside is far more bean field than brownstone, bucolic countryside rather than a gritty urban neighborhood. In fact, the 188-acre park perched on the distant southeast corner of Marion County would appear more at home in neighboring Shelby County than alongside the other parks in America’s 14-th largest city.
Southeastway Park has all the usual amenities including playgrounds, restrooms, shelter houses, picnic tables, an activity center and plenty of open turf space. For the nature lover, there is also a small pond and wetland, several restored prairie areas and a scenic 2.5 mile paved walking/bike/stroller trail that weaves through the various “civilized” and wild landscapes within the park.
Big trees abound in the forest
But for those craving a “real” hike, Southeastway Park also offers an 80-acre forest that is fairly small but packed with big woods feel.
As you hit one of the many trails, upon entering the forest you will immediately notice the huge specimens of maple, beech and other tree species. While this woodland might not technically be considered “old growth,” it is obvious that many of these trees are well past the century mark and the tableau provides a glimpse at what Indiana’s forests looked like before white settlement. If you like majestic trees, this hike is worth the effort.
While the trails are well-maintained, there are no trail markers or maps and the woods are crisscrossed with what seems like dozens of footpaths.
While the forest is relatively small, without re-tracing your steps it is easy to get “turned around” and find yourself on yet another path that doesn’t lead back to the car. In a sense, the trail network forms a woodland maze that makes the experience seem even larger and more enjoyable.
The forested area is bounded by Buck Creek on the west and a trail follows the 10-foot bluffs along the creek. The woods are also clearly bordered to the north by corn field and south by parkland so there is no real concern about staying lost though it might feel that way for a short time.
The trails themselves are wide and level with only a few wooden steps and footbridges along the way; no climbing or scrambling is necessary. The only problem we faced was the ever-present Indiana state bird: the mosquito.
Being an Indianapolis city park, don’t expect solitude. We visited on a beautiful Thursday morning and though we only ran into two people along the trail, the park itself was full of families enjoying the fall weather. Fortunately, there is plenty of space and it didn’t feel crowded.
This park would be especially good for a two-hour morning or afternoon visit with young children. It offers a nice sample of “real” hiking alongside all the kid-friendly fun of an impeccably-maintained city park. Bring along the bicycles for an added bonus.
Big and small, urban and rural; all of them come together at Southeastway Park for a great outdoor experience.