Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Indianapolis This Fall

Never be bored again.

Fall approaches, yet the Halloween parties and sports events of years past aren’t on the menu this year. But no matter. A decent roster of Indianapolis venues and events are still on offer, though usually with special rules in place, such as smaller crowds and mask mandates. What does this mean for you? A crisp fall filled with nature trips and socially distanced festivities. Just make sure to bring a mask. 

Glide through the fall canopy on a zip line course inside Indy’s largest city park

Located inside sprawling Eagle Creek Park, the Go Ape Zipline & Adventure Park offers five ziplines, many of them unusually high (including a 40-foot-tall tree-to-tree crossing), and some unusually long (305 feet, max). Enjoy a literal bird’s-eye view of the park’s dense forests, plus a high ropes course that takes two or three hours to finish. You’ll need to wear a mask and gloves, but if you forget yours, the staff will happily sell you some.

Take in a movie without leaving your car

The Tibbs Drive-In Theatre has done land office business all summer, since it was pretty much the only theater in the city that was still open. But here’s a pro tip about drive ins: They’re at their best during fall, when early sundowns mean movies can start sooner, and the cooler weather makes sitting in your car far more comfortable. The Tibbs offers two screens and two movies (just point your car at the one that interests you), along with a full-service snack bar. Adult tickets are $11; kids between 12 and 4 get in for $6.

Get reacquainted with the animals at the newly opened zoo

The Indianapolis Zoo reopened only recently, and it seems the animals (well some of them, such as the orangutans and the Siberian tigers) actually missed the hairless apes who used to gawk at them. Feel free to catch up with your four-legged friends, as long as you purchase tickets in advance, and for specific times, and wear a mask inside buildings and during events, such as the Flamingo Mingle (it’s exactly what it sounds like) where social distancing is impossible.

Visit a haunted house without leaving your living room

It seems the Willard Library in the southern Indiana town of Evansville has something of a ghost problem. She’s called the Lady in Grey, and some say she’s haunted the library’s 110-year-old Victorian Gothic mansion home for decades. You can decide for yourself by checking out several cameras that offer live, 24/7 views of various rooms and hallways where the ghost has been sighted over the years. It’s perhaps not as scary as a traditional Halloween haunted house, but staring at those empty rooms does generate some Paranormal Activity-esque chills.

Canoe in splendid isolation down White River

Located less than an hour northeast of Indianapolis, Canoe Country offers day tours down the stretch of White River that hasn’t yet met up with (and been dirtied by) the city. The company furnishes canoes, kayaks, life vests, drop-off and pick-up services, and pretty much everything else one needs for a carefree day on the river. All you need is to make a reservation (no walk-ins allowed).

Get the sandwich (or other foodstuff) of your dreams

With its wide open, two-story interior, the Indianapolis City Market is pretty much as close as restaurant fans can get to dining outdoors while inside. The lineup of food stalls offers a virtual United Nations of cuisine, from The Tamale Place to Grecian Garden to Gomez BBQ. Wash it down with a little something from Mile Square Coffee or Twenty Two Juice. Just remember to wear a mask when you aren’t actually eating.

Have an outdoor Halloween adventure at the city’s premier art museum

During October the grounds of Newfields (formerly known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art) offer a Halloween experience that’s about six times classier than your typical fake haunted house. The Harvest festival features a nightly event in which guests wander down an immaculately groomed path that’s surrounded by thousands of carved pumpkins. Daytime guests can also wander the fall-themed gardens and partake of drinks and snacks. And if you want to look at paintings and stuff, the museum is nearby.

Enjoy a walk in gorgeous Holliday Park

It’s unusual to find hilly terrain around flat-as-a-pool table Indianapolis, but this near Northside park, located minutes from Broad Ripple, has it in spades. Meander along a clutch of hiking trails that trace through the park’s high and low points, past gardens, ponds, streams, and next-door White River. Keep an eye peeled for the iconic “ruins” that anchor the park. Hours are strictly “dawn to dusk,” so clear out when the sun drops.

Try miniature golf at one of the city’s last courses

There was a time, back in the 1930s, when miniature golf was the rage and courses were everywhere. If you’d like to know what all the fuss was about -- and spend a fun couple of hours practicing your short game -- check out Rustic Driving Range & Mini Golf. In addition to an old-school, 18-hole miniature golf course (which is strung with lights for night play), there’s also a driving range.

Take a walk along the downtown canal

Visit downtown’s ornate Central Canal, whose meandering course sends it past some of downtown’s most iconic sights. One loop around it takes you past the Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis Zoo, a memorial to the USS Indianapolis (the one Quint talked about in Jaws), and dozens of pieces of public artwork. If you want to get on the water and the weather cooperates, you can also rent a paddle boat or kayak, or go for a ride in an authentic Italian gondola, handled by a classically trained singing gondolier

Tour the city’s cultural centers on foot or bicycle

One of Indianapolis’s most unique amenities is the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, offering eight miles of immaculately maintained, public art-lined trails connecting six of the city’s most important artistic hotspots, including Fountain Square, Mass Ave, and White River State Park. It’s a great way to get both the lay of the land and a solid cardio workout. 

Reflect on the past and future of race relations at one of the city’s most historic parks

If ever there was a place for quiet reflection, it’s MLK Memorial Park. This smallish sliver of near-downtown green space plays an outsized role in history, because it was here that Robert F. Kennedy announced the assassination of Martin Luther King to a large crowd that had gathered to hear him speak. The park features a recently dedicated statue of both Kennedy and King. 

Find a farm-to-table fantasia at the Garfield Park Farmers Market

There’s no better time to visit Garfield Park than on Saturday mornings. In one fell swoop, you can get coffee, breakfast, and plenty of farm fresh ingredients to make a bangin’ dinner. The Market stays open until the end of October, so it can also handle your jack-o-lantern and apple cider needs. When you’re done shopping, stash your stuff in the trunk and take a walk around the park -- or maybe sashay around the rapidly reviving neighborhood, where you’ll find the Tube Factory Artspace, and an ever-growing assortment of public murals. Covid-19 mask and distancing rules are spelled out here.

Take a walking tour of the third-largest private cemetery in the US

Not surprisingly, sprawling Crown Hill Cemetery has cancelled its usual fall festivities, including concerts and group tours. However individuals and small groups are still welcome to walk the heavily wooded, carefully landscaped grounds on their own. Feel free to admire the ornate, Victorian-style memorials, some of which date to the mid-1800s, and to visit the graves of everyone from poet James Whitcomb Riley to bank robber John Dillinger. If you’re on the fence about a cemetery visit, this virtual preview might help you decide.

Pick some apples and try out a corn maze at a much-less-crowed-than-usual orchard

During the fall months Tuttle Orchard is usually packed with fall groupies. But not so much this year, because admission is strictly controlled and you have to make online reservations for the day and time you want. On the bad side, this can be inconvenient. On the good side, lucky ticket holders will find the you-pick orchard, gift shop, and other amenities much less crowded than in past autumns. This will not, however, get you out of wearing a mask and making regular use of the disinfecting stations scattered around the property.

Tour the world’s greatest race track when there aren’t any cars around

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted this year’s Indianapolis 500 in August instead of May, and didn’t allow fans to attend -- which led to the surreal sight of dozens of race cars roaring around an empty facility that normally hosts hundreds of thousands. But this doesn’t mean the track is entirely closed for business. If you’d like a very intimate look of the famous Brickyard, they’ll be happy to accommodate with a two-hour golf cart tour that’s conducted by an extremely knowledgeable guide and includes refreshments. Or you can opt for the quirkier IMS Museum Basement Tour, a group event that guides you through the basement of the track’s museum, where all the stuff too odd to display is stored. Reservations required for both. And make sure to bring a mask.

Take a haunted hayride and enjoy a Covid-conscious outdoor Halloween festival

While most traditional Halloween extravaganzas are either cancelled or toned way down this year, Conner Prairie’s annual Fall Festival, complete with a haunted hayride featuring the Headless Horseman, is still good to go. Perhaps because the event (which includes a corn maze and carnival midway) sprawls across the entirety of the living history museum’s expansive grounds, making social distancing a snap. But you still have to wear a mask except when eating and drinking. Also tickets are only sold in advance, and you also have to pick the day and time of your Headless Horseman hayride.

Visit a museum honoring Indianapolis’s most famous author

The pandemic forced the Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library to close to the general public, but it’s still open to individuals and small groups who book an advance appointment. However the online gift shop is still available, and the museum is revving up for Banned Book Week. It runs from September 27 to October 3, and this year offers a long list of virtual presentations. An online pass for every event will set you back $45.

Finally get that ultimate, one-of-a-kind facemask

Downtown Indy, Inc. and the Arts Council of Indianapolis plan to entice shoppers downtown with an October 15 open-air market selling the wares of area artists. Called the Downtown Market on the Circle (cuz it’s on Monument Circle), the goodies on offer include jewelry, home decor, paintings... and of course, custom-made, one-off masks. For those who want to stay safe but still get noticed.

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Sam Stall contributes to Thrillist Indianapolis.
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