20 Top Things to Do in Indiana
Top attractions in Indiana
Sports and speedways long have been associated with Indiana, but other sides of the Hoosier State add appealing dimension.
Indianapolis has reinvented itself with pretty green spaces and cutting-edge museums, while striking landscapes survive beyond the state's patchwork of farms -- hulking sand dunes along Lake Michigan and pristine wilderness in the southern reaches (such as Brown County State Park, pictured at left).
Click ahead to find out about 20 of our favorite experiences in Indiana, from sampling the country life in northern Indiana's Amish country to treasure-hunting along Antique Alley east of Indy.
Pack a variety of gear to enjoy Lake Michigan activities: a swimsuit for the beach at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (nps.gov/indu), hiking shoes for the trails of Indiana Dunes State Park (in.gov) and an appetite for comfort food. The 15 miles of the national lakeshore encompass the state park; together, the preserves include beaches, prairie, swamps and bogs. The namesake dunes reach nearly 200 feet above Lake Michigan, and hiking trails lead through some of the Midwest's most diverse plant and wildlife communities. Nearby towns such as Valparaiso and Chesterton offer cozy lodgings as well as restaurants that satisfy big appetites with pan-roasted trout, pot roast, thin-crust pizza and more.
- Photo Courtesy of Lavengood Photography.
White River State Park
This central Indy urban park combines green space with activities for the entire family. Stroll paved pathways along the river and expanses of shrub- and flower-lined lawns; rent a bike or surrey; and take pedal-boat rides on the historic Central Canal. Summer concerts are held on a lawn overlooking the White River.
White River State Park also is home to some of the city's major attractions, including the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, the Indiana State Museum, the Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens, NCAA Hall of Champions, the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial and Victory Field Baseball Park. (800) 665-9056; in.gov/whiteriver
French Lick resorts
A 100-foot-tall domed atrium crowns the restored 1902 West Baden Springs Hotel in West Baden, just over a mile away from partner resort French Lick Springs Hotel in French Lick. The two luxury lodgings offer access to golf courses, a casino, horseback riding trails, spas, bike rentals, pools and other entertainment. If you're a history buff, join daily tours at each location to learn more about the early days of these grand hotels. frenchlick.com
Parke County's covered bridges
You'll find the nation's highest concentration of covered bridges (31!) in the Wabash River Valley, 55 miles west of Indianapolis. Maps from the Rockville visitors center show color-coded routes to the historical spans, many of which still are open to traffic. Another highlight: the annual Covered Bridge Festival in the fall. (765) 569-5226; coveredbridges.com
In the center of downtown Indianapolis, Monument Circle includes the iconic 1902 Soldiers and Sailors Monument -- climb the steps or take the elevator to the top for a 360-degree view. Also nearby: an imposing collection of memorial buildings and landscaped open spaces including the Indiana War Memorial Museum, Indiana War Memorial Plaza, Veterans' Memorial Plaza, USS Indianapolis Memorial, University Park and American Legion Mall. in.gov/iwm
Brown County's arts and scenery
Seasoned shoppers know county seat Nashville (population: 769) as a great destination for cool boutiques, artsy finds and cooking with a Southern touch. But also come enjoy what inspired the area's first artist colonies a century ago: rolling hills and natural beauty. At Brown County State Park (pictured), secluded paths wind through the woods, and a panorama unfolds from just about every ridge. browncounty.com
Plan a day trip to this premier interactive history park sprawling across 800 acres in Fishers. Costumed interpreters at Conner Prairie play historically accurate roles in areas including an 1836 town and one of Indiana's first farms. Visitors can also rise 350 feet above the prairie at the 1859 Balloon Voyage.
Check the website for special events held throughout the year, such as the Prairie Plates dinners celebrating farm-to-table foods and craft drinks. connerprairie.org
Two-hour bus and walking tours highlight Columbus' striking architecture, including buildings by Eliel Saarinen, his son Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei and other noted architects. (At left, visitors view Eliel Saarinen's First Christian Church and Henry Moore's Large Arch sculpture.) The hip, downtown Hotel Indigo perfectly complements the city's modernist spirit, and local restaurants hold progressive dinners and other special events. (800) 468-6564; columbus.in.us
History and nature in southern Indiana
In towns like Jeffersonville, Clarksville, New Albany, Corydon and Starlight, on or near the Ohio River, you'll find an appealing mix of old and new. History fills the woods at Charlestown State Park; it was once part of the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, and the remains of those buildings still pop out of the trees beyond fences. Hikers can walk right up to the remains of Rise Island, a picnic ground/resort washed away by the great flood of 1937. When the river is low at Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, you can walk out on horizontal limestone beds ad see countless fossils embedded there. Exploration of a different kind comes at Indiana Caverns in Corydon, with an underworld boat voyage.
Jeffersonville makes for a good overnight stop. At Parlor Restaurant, fuel up on pizza from the imported Italian oven for a walk across the Big 4 Bridge (pictured), a defunct railroad bridge turned into a pedestrian magnet lit with colorful LEDs each night. Market Street Inn puts you close to the riverfront at an 1881 home that once housed Confederate War widows. Before leaving the area, stop by Huber's Orchard, Winery & Vineyards in Starlight for tours and tastings. gosoin.com
Visitors to Elkhart and LaGrange counties (110 miles east of Chicago) will find Amish heritage sites and restaurants, shops, art galleries and gardens. Take time for a walk or bike ride on the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail (pictured), dubbed the Amish Highway by locals. The paved trail flanks tidy farms and threads through towns with quilt gardens.
Other highlights of the area include The Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart, with 19th- and 20th-century American works; the woods, bonsai displays and formal gardens at Wellfield Botanic Gardens; the sprawling Shipshewana Flea Market (every Tuesday and Wednesday, May through September); and comfort-food restaurants such as Rise 'n Roll (start your day with fresh cinnamon-caramel doughnuts) and Das Dutchman Essenhaus, which delivers a carb-reload with beef and noodles over mashed potatoes. amishcountry.org
- Photo Courtesy of Indiana Design Center
Carmel's Arts and Design District
New businesses in Old Town celebrate arts and style, while a snazzy interior design center in the Arts and Design District recalls Chicago's Merchandise Mart. And perfect acoustics and plush seats make the Palladium (pictured) a must-do concert spot. carmelartsanddesign.com, thecenterfortheperformingarts.org
Children's Museum of Indianapolis
Five levels of interactive exhibits qualify as a must-see for visitors of all ages; plan to spend at least half a day at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. The Take Me There: China exhibit gives you a chance to fly over the Great Wall of China and land in modern-day Beijing where you can learn to use chopsticks and play real Chinese instruments. Equally fascinating: the world's largest glass sculpture (a 43-foot tower by Dale Chihuly) and a moving exhibit about heroic children, including Anne Frank. (317) 334-4000; childrensmuseum.org
- Photo Courtesy of Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Turkey Run State Park
Indiana's best all-around park (65 miles west of Indianapolis) has a large lodge; hiking trails through deep, wooded ravines; horseback riding; hayrides; and an impressive, year-round lineup of naturalist programming. Sugar Creek at Turkey Run State Park is great for fishing and canoeing (several liveries in the area provide rentals), but not for swimming. If you're itching for a dip, the Olympic-size pool at Turkey Run Inn fits the bill. (765) 597-2635; in.gov/dnr
The towns along old US-40 east of Indianapolis harbor nearly 1,000 antiques dealers, earning the 60-mile stretch the nickname Antique Alley. The highway, known as the National Road, dates to the early 1800s, and some of the merchandise you'll find here is even older.
Richmond, Centerville and Cambridge City are home to the lion's share of shops, but Knightstown, Lewisville and other hamlets have plenty to offer, too. Businesses cater to girlfriends on antiquing road trips, with splurge-worthy pastries and comfy lodging. When you're ready to turn your attention away from antiques, check out Richmond's self-guided Chocolate Trail that leads to cafes, bakeries and more, while nearly 70 stained-glass windows can be seen on the Tiffany Glass Trail. visitrichmond.org
- Courtesy of IMS Photo/Dan Helrigel
This Memorial Day weekend race in Indianapolis stokes major adrenaline as 33 drivers fly around a 2.5-mile track at 220 mph. Even racing novices can appreciate the wow factor. Vatican City, Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl, the Roman Coliseum and Churchill Downs could all fit inside the track at the same time. A crowd of about 325,000 attends the Indy 500. (317) 492-8500; indianapolismotorspeedway.com
Bloomington's food and campus scene
The Sample Gates of Indiana University (pictured) form a gateway from campus to downtown, where excellent restaurants (such as farm-to-table FarmBloomington and Finch's Brasserie) rub shoulders with vintage bars on Kirkwood Avenue. Back on campus, check out the I.M. Pei-designed Indiana University Art Museum and the often-overlooked Lilly Library (displaying one of the world's 14 original Gutenberg Bibles and Iam Fleming's James Bond manuscripts). visitbloomington.com
- Photo Courtesy of Holiday World and Splashin' Safari
Santa Claus' family attractions
The big lure in this family-centric town is Holiday World and Splashin' Safari (left), with a plethora of colorful rides and slides that will elicit squeals from the backseat. (Grown-ups will cheer about the free pop, parking and even sunscreen.) In town, you can read kids' letters to Santa at the Santa Claus Museum or try frozen hot cocoa at Santa's Candy Castle.
But the area isn't all kitsch. Plan to visit a handful of Abe Lincoln sites, canoe on the Blue Riveror tour Marengo Cave. Lake Rudolph Campground provides RV rentals for newbie campers. santaclausind.org
- Photo Courtesy of Indiana Sports Corp.
Indianapolis Colts and Lucas Oil Stadium
The storied Indianapolis Colts often sell out Lucas Oil Stadium. One-hour tours of the stadium are offered most weekdays and include visits to the playing field, locker room, press box and other areas. (317) 262-8600; lucasoilstadium.com
Fort Wayne's renaissance
Visitors to Fort Wayne in northeast Indiana will find gems like a restaurant that will win you over with its small-plate dinners and a ball field that's been a catalyst for downtown revitalization. See Fort Wayne by bike, Segway, paddleboard or kayak through Fort Wayne Outfitters & Bike Depot. When you've worked up an appetite, treat yourself to high-end candies at DeBrand Fine Chocolates or settle in for a meal at Tolon, where Chef Matthew Nolot (pictured) rolls out a small-plate dinner to end all others, with specialtieis such as deviled eggs with Sriracha and miso paste. Cap off the day by seeing the Fort Wayne Tincaps at Parkview Field. The ballpark, which opened in 2009, has won numerous awards as the country's best minor league baseball experience. visitfortwayne.com
"Spirit of Jasper" train
The romance of rail travel returns to the southern Indiana countryside, where the beautifully restored Spirit of Jasper train takes summertime evening trips to the resorts at French Lick. Check the website for other train excursions, including 18-mile round-trip Ride and Dine trips. (812) 482-9229; spiritofjasper.com