19 Fun Things to See and Do in Indiana
Looking for Places to Visit in Indiana?
Sightseeing is about more than distance or the discovery of something more "exotic." It's really about a curiosity and an interest in all that is around you—wherever you are. I made this page for all of those curious people who may find themselves living in or traveling through Indiana and who hope to find some unique things to see. Sightseeing Indiana can be fun and economical. I'll focus on things off the beaten path.
1. Wolf Park
Wolf Park is an education and research facility which was opened in 1972. It's located in Battleground, Indiana 130 miles southeast of Chicago. Among other things, Wolf Park is home to several packs of gray wolves, foxes, a herd of bison, and even some coyotes. They offer tours of the area daily from May through November.
Howl night, every Saturday evening is another interesting experience that's offered. It allows visitors to listen to a lecture regarding the wolves and on several occasions, an opportunity to howl with the wolves; great fun for people of any age. Visitors can also learn more and observe the interaction between the wolves and Bison on Sunday afternoons.
For the more serious-minded, Wolf Park also offers seminars on wolf behavior, wolf mythology, and more with many opportunities to interact directly with the wolves. Seminars vary from 5 to 3 days and also include artist and photo seminars. A variety of kids programs are also available.
2. Fall Creek Gorge Potholes
One section of Fall Creek is surrounded by steep walls and is characterized by deep "potholes" in the sandstone bed. The potholes create small pools within the creek that can provide a cool and relaxing respite as you wade down through the creek itself. The potholes vary in size, from foot sized to large enough for a child to stand in.
The experience is akin to skinny dipping in a pond except that clothing isn't optional and actual swimming isn't really possible; lots of splashing and good old-fashioned fun are the focus.
This rural site is just a mile or two outside of Attica, Indiana, along a lightly traveled, winding gravel road. It's generally relaxing and great for families trying to escape the summer heat. Some rather rugged hiking is also available and the short walk up the creek will end at a small waterfall, so be sure to take the time to see it.
3. Mug N' Bun
Ok, most towns have some type of old-style hot dog and root beer drive-in but many are "chains," few make their own root beer, and many of them aren't as old as Mug N' Bun (est. 1960). Grabbing a bite might not qualify as "sightseeing Indiana," but it's still a learning and cultural experience!
Tiny Speedway, Indiana (yes, home of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), is home to this antiquated drive-in which serves up some great homemade root beer, out-of-this-world shakes (Banana and Butterscotch being my personal favorites), some heart-stopping Jalapeno (cheese) poppers, gigantic tenderloins, fabulous fries, and much more. The drive-in is open year round.
No, you don't want to make this stop part of your regular dining experience, but if you're going to be bad, do it right! If you happen to be a race fan, skip the overpriced track food and drift on over to Mug N' Bun and let the car hops take care of you.
If you happen to find yourself in Lafayette, Indiana, Triple XXX Root Beer is another option and you can then tour the Purdue campus if you like. This fine establishment first opened in 1929!
4. The World of Motorcycles Museum
A good offering for road warriors is The World of Motorcycles Museum, located just outside of North Judson, Indiana. The Museum is located adjacent to Kersting's Cycle Center which sells motorcycles and related memorabilia. The museum occupies a 40,000 square foot space that is jam-packed with all types and vintages of motorcycles. It even includes the first motorcycle that Jim Kersting ever had—one he built himself from an old motorcycle frame and his mother's washing machine.
Enthusiasts, however, should be encouraged as the exhibit includes rare and authentic machines from more than eight countries and represents even the earliest days of two-wheeled transportation. It's a non-profit, family-run operation built by Kersting himself. A $5 donation for admission is standard and there are no crowds or lines to wade through just sprawling Indiana farmland surrounding the site.
5. Fair Oaks Farms
The Fair Oaks Farm site has grown in recent years and now has advertising along major routes to pull in visitors, but it's still relatively unknown except in the immediate area. Located at the exit for Winamac, Indiana on Interstate highway 65, it's still notable as it provides the chance to witness what dairy farming is all about. And if you're sightseeing in Indiana, learning more about farming of some type is a must.
Visitors get the chance to learn about how manure produces electricity, dairy products are produced, and baby calves are born. There are barn tours, a 4D theater, a cheese factory tour, and a birthing barn visit where guests are sure to see at least 1 of the 80 calves being born there each day. It's a must-see for anyone less familiar with farm life and a great summer day for kids and adults who love learning and enjoy ice cream.
6. The World's Greatest Amateur Circus
Peru, Indiana, is also known as the "Circus City" and is located 70 miles northeast of Indianapolis. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Peru was home to the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus and others. Even the Ringling Brothers Circus wintered there for a while. For 10 days each July, Peru celebrates the Circus City Festival with rides, crafts, food, games, and more.
The highlight, however, is the live amateur circus that has performances throughout the festival. A unique and authentic experience that echoes the early heyday of the circus, this is a fun event not to be missed. Performers are locals, some of whom are direct descendants of professional performers in the earlier shows. Even if a visit is timed to occur outside of July, a visit to the small but impressive International Circus Hall of Fame might be worth the trip.
7. Wilbur Wright Birthplace
For those interested in the history of flight, a visit to the rather remote birthplace of Wilbur Wright can be an interesting side trip. Located outside of tiny Millville, Indiana is Wilbur's first home and a museum dedicated to his life and achievements with his brother Orville.
Wilbur was actually only one of seven children in the family. He was born in 1867 and lived in this Indiana home through most of his high school years.
Both guided and unguided tours are available, and a special summer festival is celebrated in June each year. Visit their website for more information about the Wright birthplace.
8. The Kokomo Automotive Museum
There are a number of notable automobile museums in the region; the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum (Auburn, Indiana) for example. However, the Kokomo Automotive Museum in Indiana meets my criteria for being lesser known.
The museum opened in 1998 and celebrates the automotive heritage of the area, including the achievements of Elwood Haynes, maker of the first commercially built automobile. It houses automobiles from as long ago as 1884 and includes over 100 cars to admire without the hassle of crowds.
The home of Elwood Haynes is also nearby and open for guided and self-guided tours for those who wish to visit. It provides an opportunity to learn much more about the early automotive industry in the area.
9. Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area
In the northern part of the state near Medaryville, Indiana lies the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area. What is notable here is a once a year visit by as many as 30,000 sandhill cranes as they begin their migration south.
From as early as August to as late as December the cranes make their temporary home here. (November generally sees peak numbers) Smaller numbers are also known to stop over in February and March giving visitors another chance to view and photograph these creatures.
10. Adams Mill
There are a number of old mills in Indiana for history buffs to visit and even more covered bridges, particularly in Parke County, where you can tour dozens of them or attend the Covered Bridge Festival in October. Bridgeton has both a mill and a bridge and is a personal favorite. However, if you want to find one that is hidden away and less traveled you can try Adams Mill in the more northwestern region of the state.
There are no touristy shops here, no rustic restaurants or renovated small towns to charm you. There is just Cutler, Indiana with a glimpse of what tiny towns in this midwest area are really like. Aside from a small summer festival and community yard sale you won't find crowds gathering in this area.
What you will find is Adams Mill, a water-powered grist mill erected in 1845 on the Wildcat Creek. It now houses an impressive exhibit of related farm and mill equipment from the period. Just a short walk away is a covered bridge that is still used today.
11. French Lick and the West Baden Springs Hotel
For anyone sightseeing in Indiana, a tiny town in southern Indiana is another worthy stop. You can find this on a map of Indiana, but outside of the local area, it's unknown. Although French Lick has a population of less than 2,000 throughout the past century, it has hosted some national events and welcomed celebrities. The sulphur springs in the area were touted as having a medical benefit and in 1902 the West Baden Springs Hotel was built. Its domed atrium spanning 200 feet was the largest freestanding dome in the world until the 1960s when the Huston Astrodome was built. It offered bowling, golf, swimming, spas, high-end dining, and much more for its wealthy guest. The Great Depression closed this grand hotel but in 2007 the refurbished version reopened to the public.
There are also more modern resorts and casinos in French Lick as well as shopping, antiques, flea markets, ranches, waterparks, and dining. Nearby, visitors can find Patoka Lake Reservoir with cruises, Paoli Peaks for skiing in the winter, ranches, state forests, hiking, golf courses and much more. There are other historic sites including the Indiana Railway Museum which offers a number of train rides through the Hoosier National Forest.
12. Exotic Feline Rescue Center
The Exotic Feline Rescue Center provides a permanent home for big and exotic cats that have nowhere else to go. Many have been re-homed from circuses, private owners, and so forth who could no longer keep them. I have seen tigers, lions, servals, leopards, cheetahs, ocelots, lynxes, pumas, and more at this center.
Currently, they have 200 resident animals and visitors can take an hour tour, getting closer to these cats than they ever would in a zoo. It may not be an ideal home for them under normal conditions, but these animals are not able to return to the wild.
The center is open to visitors Monday through Sunday and is located just outside Centerpoint, Indiana on a quiet gravel road. You can learn more about the Exotic Feline Rescue Center here.
13. Great Outdoor Adventures
There are numerous state parks in Indiana that are worthy of a visit. Turkey Run is a personal favorite, especially a hike to the Punch Bowl through the wet ravine in a morning mist or perhaps Indiana Dunes for its beach along Lake Michigan and challenging sand dune hikes on a hot summer day. Spring Mill has an interesting historic village and Pokagon offers toboggan rides in the winter.
There are caves and caverns to be explored for the adventurous and Squire Boone Caverns are one choice lying just east of Louisville, Kentucky and south of historic Corydon, Indiana. In addition, Bluespring Caverns outside of Bedford Indiana allows you to explore the longest underground river in the country.
If you love a bike ride there are great rail trails too. Indianapolis has the Monon and its many connecting trails, the Cardinal Greenway, and the Nickel Plate Trail to name just a few. Any of these trails could give you a full days bicycle ride and more.
There is also some great hiking. Not only in the state parks and national forests (Morgan Monroe, Yellowood, etc.) but elsewhere. The Knobstone Trail offers nearly 60 miles of trail (trailhead just outside of Salem, Indiana) for backpackers who want to go the distance.
14. Some Historical Sites
The old river town of Madison, Indiana lies along the Ohio River at the southern tip of the state. For those who like a stay in a bed and breakfast or arts, crafts, and antique shopping, Madison is worth the time. It includes many historic old homes, including the Lanier Mansion (built in 1844) which you can tour. It's a picturesque, once very prosperous river town, that lies close to Clifty Falls State Park for those who like to get outdoors. If you time your visit right, you could also attend the Madison Regatta on the Ohio River for 200mph on-water racing fun.
Just north of Indianapolis, Conner Prairie Farm offers historic re-enactments from the early days of settlers in this area. For a special ending to the day, visitors can also enjoy a symphony on the prairie in the summer. There's nothing like a warm summer evening on the grass with good music and a picnic. It's great fun for families or a romantic evening for couples.
There are many old small towns in Indiana. Delphi is one which is located approximately an hour north of Indianapolis. The town is not typically a tourist destination. Here you can hike along the remains of the Wabash Erie Canal, ride in a canal boat, learn about the history of the canal in the museum, or see the small historical village.
Other towns of historical note include:
- Corydon, Indiana in the southern part of the state was the original capital.
- Vincennes where you can learn about George Rogers Clark (militia officer and surveyor during the revolutionary war and the US push westward)
- The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial where the Lincoln Historical Farm can be explored (just south of Vincennes)
- New Harmony which is a town at the southwest tip of the state. It was settled in 1814 and was purchased just over 10 years later and organized as a utopian type of community. You can see what remains of the experiment that helped bring us things such as a public school system and free public libraries.
- Fort Ouiatenon (near West Lafayette) was the first fortified settlement in Indiana and it is the location for The Feast of the Hunter's Moon each autumn where various aspects of 18th-century life are reenacted. On the other side of Lafayette, you will find historic Prophetstown where, among other things, you can learn about 1820's style homesteading via a functioning farm.
15. Places for Winter Fun
Despite the fact that Indiana is the 12th flattest state in the country, there is a spot for skiing too. You can ski, snowboard, tube, and so forth at Paoli Peaks which is just outside of the Hoosier National Forest in the southern half of the state.
I mentioned already that toboggan rides are available at Pokagon State Park and outdoor skating can be found in a number of locations such as Carmel, Indiana during the Christkindlmarkt during and just after the holidays. Sleigh rides depend upon the weather, but can usually be found in Shipshewana thanks to the Amish community.
16. A Few Shopping Destinations
Sure, there is plenty of shopping in the larger communities such as Indianapolis and antique stores in even more locations. But, if you are a shopper looking for a bargain, a visit to Shipshewana, Indiana may be ideal. Their huge flea market is in operation throughout the warmer months. It's an Amish area and there are plenty of communities worth a visit.
On the other hand, if handmade art, jewelry, and crafts are more your style both Nashville or Madison Indiana would be good choices.
17. Unique Venues for Movies
There are of course innumerable movie theaters, IMAX, and movie/grills, but movies in a different environment can make for a more unique experience. Over the years I've found a few options that are reliable.
- An affordable movie can be enjoyed in an old-time theater that's been lovingly saved and kept in operation called the Historic Artcraft Theater. It's south of Indianapolis, in the pleasant community of Franklin Indiana.
- There are a number of other historic movie houses across the state. Just to name a few the Tivoli in Spencer, Indiana, The Damm Theater in Osgood, and The Strand in Angola are ones I've personally experienced.
- If you prefer a drive-in there are still a number of them operating around the state. The Tibbs in Indianapolis, The Skyline in Shelbyville, and the Starlite in Bloomington, are just a few of the options.
- If you're in Indiana during the summertime, The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) also hosts a Summer Nights Film Series. A visit could include a trip to the museum, a walk along the canal, and a tour of the historic Lilly House (Eli Lilly) and gardens.
18. Something Different in Indianapolis
There are, of course, many museums, restaurants, zoos, butterfly gardens, entertainment venues, a world-class Children's Museum, and so forth in Indianapolis. But as a long time resident I know about a few options you won't likely find in a travel book.
- For family fun, you might try duckpin bowling in Fountain Square at Atomic Bowl.
- Sure there are a number of music venues in Indy, but if you want the inside track there are a couple of fun options in the summer. The Symphony on the Prairie as mentioned earlier is one option. Another is offered by the Indiana Historical Society which provides a concert series in the summer along the canal downtown. Free seating is available for these Concerts on the Canal.
- If you find yourself in Indy with a group of people a great activity could be a visit to the Escape Room. This one isn't as much "out-of-the-way" as it is unique. You select a level of difficulty and are then locked in a themed room. You and the other members of your group have to solve puzzles and so forth to earn your freedom.
19. Amusement Parks
Indiana doesn't have any of the large amusement parks, however, there are a few smaller local ones if you want to squeeze one in during your visit.
Indiana Beach in Monticello, Indiana and Holiday World & Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana are two of the possibilities. Remember, these are in Indiana, not southern Texas, California, or Florida. These parks are only open during the warmer months with the exception of some holiday festivities.
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© 2008 Ruth Coffee