While Labor Day officially marks the end of summer in our culture, the autumnal equinox marks the beginning of fall. The “autumnal” part of the phrase references autumn and the “equinox” part of the phrase means the day and night are split evenly at 12 hours each, on the equator. In addition to less daylight, I love autumn for the hayrides, apple picking, corn mazes, pumpkin patch visits, and the leaves changing color. Fall doesn’t officially start until September 22nd.
Indianapolis has some fantastic places to see the leaves change colors. There are places to go on a fall drive to see the changing leaves and there are places to take a nice walk to see the fall foliage.
Why do leaves change color in the fall?
You might know that leaves have a green pigment inside them called chlorophyll that traps the sunlight leaves use to produce food for the tree. In preparation for winter, trees seal off leaves and stop producing chlorophyll, leaving only the other pigments to be seen. The yellow and orange pigments are present year-round but are only seen after the chlorophyll has faded away. The red and purple pigments are only produced in late summer.
The autumnal equinox is coming. And I can’t wait!
Where to See Changing Leaves in Indianapolis
Taking a trip to see the beautiful displays of color during fall is a favorite among many Americans. Here are some places in Indiana where you can be awed by the beauty of nature.
Butler University Campus
4600 Sunset Ave, Indianapolis
From Hinkle Fieldhouse, walk southwest past the Health and Recreation Complex towards Lake Rd. and Holcomb Observatory. Take Garden Rd. north into the trees and you can cross the canal. You’ll find trees on both sides of the canal along Central Canal Trail from north of W 52nd St. to South of the IMA at 38th St. You can also walk towards Holcomb Gardens and see beautiful views of changing trees near the water features.
Crown Hill Cemetery
700 38th St, Indianapolis
With 25 miles of paved road and more than 4,000 trees over its magnificent 555 acres, Crown Hill Cemetery at 700 W 38th St in Indianapolis is easily-overlooked but you do not want to miss the amazing colors right here inside the loop. They even have a walking tour specifically with trees in mind.
As you drive through mature trees in the city, you wouldn’t expect to find such beauty within the city limits of Indianapolis. But if you get off I-465 at the Shadeland Ave. exit and head northeast up Fall Creek Rd., you’ll be delighted with this trip. For the first part of the drive, you’ll be alongside Fall Creek but won’t be able to tell due to the thick cover. Up and down hills, around curves, you’ll think you’re in Southern Indiana. Just past 82nd St., turn west onto Mud Creek Rd. and drive north up to 96th St. Head west 2/3rds of a mile to Sargent Rd. and go south until you reach Fall Creek Rd again and turn right, which points you west and in the direction you came.
The city of Indianapolis has some gorgeous greenways if you like to walk or bike. Eagle Creek Greenway, Fall Creek Parkway Trail, and Pleasant Run Trail are all great places to see fall colors.
This gorgeous drive, on the northwest side, will give you lots of opportunities to see spectacular colors. On 465, get off at 56th St. and head west to Eagle Creek Pkwy. Go north, twisting and turning your way through the colors until you pass under I-65 and reach Lafayette Rd. Turn north and follow that up to W 86th. St. Head due east to Moore Rd. then go north past Traders Point Creamery until you hit W 96th St on your right before the road curves to the left. Take W 96th St. east until you go under I-465 and hit Zionsville Rd. Take Zionsville south until you reach W 86th St. where you can get back onto the highway.
Walks to See Fall Foliage Near Indianapolis
Indiana University Campus
107 S Indiana Ave, Bloomington
Enter campus on foot through the iconic Sample Gates at Indiana Ave & Kirkwood Ave. Walk east through Dunn Woods towards the Union. Further east past Ballantine Hall, you’ll find Bryan’s House surrounded by trees.
Notre Dame University Campus
Notre Dame, IN
Starting from the football stadium on foot, head north towards Hesburgh Library. Then walk west across St Joseph Dr. through Fieldhouse Mall. Go southwest around LaFortune Student Center and into the trees in front of the Main Building, which will be to the north. A little further to the west, a jaunt around Saint Joseph’s Lake or Saint Mary’s Lake should be worth your while too.
Parke County, Indiana
The covered bridges of Parke County are the focal point of the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival every year. Considered the “Covered Bridge Capital of the World,” Parke County sees tens of thousands of visitors during this event. If you want to skip the peak of tourism, don’t visit in early October. You can still follow the planned map routes later on to see the 31 bridges.
You can find Clifty Falls State Park just north of the Ohio River, in Southeast Indiana. Clifty has more than 12 miles of trails and features 4 waterfalls over 6 stories tall. A favorite of mine, I’m including Clifty because an ADA accessible overlook can be found at the north end of the park.
Indiana Fall Drives to See the Changing Leaves
A walk through the changing trees is always beautiful, but here are some drives where you can get spectacular views without leaving your car!
Brown County State Park
Just east of Bloomington and about an hour south of downtown Indianapolis, enter the park off IN-46. This is probably the place I visit most often. Not all of the road names are easily identifiable from maps, but they are all paved and wide enough for traffic in both directions. The two main entrances, West Gatehouse and North Gatehouse are around the corner from one another on IN-46. The West Gatehouse is closer to Bloomington and the North Gatehouse is closer to I-65.
Hoosier National Forest
Right next door to Brown County State Park is the Hoosier National Forest. You’ll add about 50 miles to your drive if you tack on the rest of the HNF, but I highly recommend it. Tower Ridge Rd. is the main connector between IN-446 in the west and IN-135 on the east side of the forest.
Indiana Historic Byways
A little further from Indy, there’s a 2nd section of Hoosier National Forest that you can drive through if you follow IN-37 south from Paoli to the Indiana-Kentucky border. Otherwise, enjoy the 25 or so mile drive on US-50 between Shoals and Bedford, which is part of Indiana’s Historic Pathways North Spur.
East of Shelbyville, take US-52 east. Alternatively, from I-74 in Batesville, take IN-229 north to US-52. And once you get into Brookville, go south on St Mary’s Rd. or Blue Creek Rd. through the colors until you reach I-74.
Northeast Side of Indianapolis
For a more urban drive, starting from the busy Noblesville intersection of Greenfield Avenue and Allisonville Road, I recommend traveling south on Allisonville near the White River. You can follow it all the way down to where it ends in Indianapolis near the State Fairgrounds and then turn left at Binford. Take Binford all the way back up to I-69 to go back to Noblesville or detour right when you hit 56th Street and travel east to the next light, which is Emerson. Turn left on Emerson and as you travel North, it turns into Fall Creek Rd. From north on Fall Creek Rd., you can drive through fall colors all the way up to Fishers. There are two ways to do this, either going northeast over Geist Reservoir and up to Olio Rd. or detouring more directly north by veering left onto Mud Creek Rd. which turns into Cumberland Rd. at the 96th St roundabout.
Shades and Turkey Run
Between Terre Haute and Lafayette, is a beautiful stretch of land on either side of Sugar Creek that includes both Shades State Park and its more popular sister, Turkey Run State Park. The easiest way to navigate this one is to just set out from one of these parks and GPS your way to the entrance of the other. If that’s too high-tech for you, the two roads you’ll need to get from one park to the other are Narrows Rd. and High Bridge Rd.
Can’t wait for the colors to actually change so you can go? Keep your eye on the leaf cam in Brown County and if you still want to learn more about fall colors, you can start with the US Forest Service.