Often referred to simply as "Indy", the bustling city of Indianapolis is an incredible tourist destination in and of itself, but it also makes an excellent base for exploring the surrounding area on a day trip. In the warmer months, you can take a ride through central Indiana on the historic Whitewater Valley Railroad, drive through the scenic back roads of Brown County visiting art gallery after art gallery, swim in a lake, or visit the waterfront Indiana Beach Boardwalk Resort.
If it's winter, go tobogganing in Pokagon State Park or visit West Baden Springs and the nearby ski resort of Paoli Peaks.
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Tucked away in Southern Indiana, Bedford is about an hour and a half away from Indianapolis, but it's well worth the drive. The biggest attraction here are the spectacular Bluespring Caverns, which boast the largest underground river in the country. Between March and October, visitors can take a boat tour of the 21-mile-long cave system, where they'll have the opportunity to spot unique albino animals and insects. After emerging from the caves, the rest of the day can be spent relaxing in one of the city's parks, visiting the local craft brewery, and browsing the shops in the Bedford Antique Mall.
Best known as the home of Indiana University, Bloomington is a vibrant city with a youthful, dynamic energy. It has plenty of attractions to offer visitors no matter what their interests are; history enthusiasts can check out the fascinating 1835 Wylie House Museum, art lovers can admire the wonderful collections in the Eskenazi Museum of Art, and families with children will appreciate the interactive exhibits at the WonderLab science museum.
If you need a little break from the city on the way home, stop by the Hoosier National Forest to see the Hemlock Cliffs or go for a short hike.
3. Brown County
Sometimes referred to as the "Art Colony of the Midwest", Brown County is a beautifully scenic piece of Indiana that has been attracting artists and creatives since the 1800s. If you love art and culture, it's easy to spend an entire day here simply driving around the winding back roads and visiting the many artists' studios and galleries scattered throughout the county. However, there are plenty of other things to do as well; say hello to the birds of prey at the Indiana Raptor Center, tour the town of Nashville by train or horse carriage, or explore the county's artisan distilleries, wineries, and breweries.
4. Cataract Falls
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Situated along Mill Creek in the Lieber State Recreation Area, Cataract Falls is the largest waterfall in the state. It actually consists of two separate falls: The Upper Falls are approximately 45 feet high with a sheer plunge of 20 feet, while the Lower Falls are slightly smaller. A short walking trail connects the two cascades, and if you'd like to go for a longer hike, you can walk to Cagle Mill Lake from the lower falls. There are picnic pavilions and pit toilets at both the upper and lower falls, and the park is open to visitors every day between dawn and dusk.
Off Country Rd. 1050 North, 2605 N. Cataract Road, IN 47460, Phone: 765-795-4576
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Despite its relatively small size, the city of Columbus is home to one of the most impressive displays of modern architecture in the United States. More than 70 buildings in the city were designed by renowned architects, and visitors can easily take a self-guided tour of the most significant sites by picking up an informative map from the Visitor's Center.
If you'd rather cut down on the walking, guided bus tours are available for a fee. After your tour, stop for some handmade ice cream at the city's nostalgic soda fountain or visit the 450 North Brewing Company for pizza and beer.
6. Whitewater Valley Railroad
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Operating out of the city of Connersville, the Whitewater Valley Railroad is a historic railroad that carries visitors through the scenic rural countryside of central Indiana. The regular excursions bring passengers down to the historic canal town of Metamora, where they'll be given two hours to explore the shops, restaurants, and historic sites, but there are also special seasonal train rides and a Friday evening train that travels to the Laurel Hotel for dinner. Trains run between April and December, and groups of up to 20 people can reserve an entire caboose for a private excursion.
455 Market St, Connersville, IN 47331, Phone: 765-825-2054
Located in charming Montgomery County, Crawfordsville is a beautiful city with a rich history stretching back to 1823. Home to several sights listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it's an especially good place to visit if you have an interest in history. Highlights include the Carnegie Museum of Montgomery County, the 1882 Rotary Jail Museum, and Lane Place, a gorgeous antebellum mansion that often hosts festivals and offers tours between April and December. There are also several shops and restaurants downtown, and a weekly farmer's market is held every Saturday morning during the summer.
8. Fort Wayne
The second biggest city in Indiana, Fort Wayne is known for its world-class attractions and its friendly Hoosier hospitality. The energetic downtown district is full of excellent restaurants and stores, and there is a wonderful network of parks and walkways that connect the city's three rivers and historic neighborhoods.
If you'd rather spend even more time outside, you can also visit the nearby Lindenwood Nature Preserve or the Fox Island County Park. Other popular attractions in the city include the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, the beautiful Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, which houses a noteworthy collection of American art.
9. Marengo Cave
Discovered in 1883 by two young children, Marengo Cave is one of the most visited natural sites in Indiana. Visitors can choose from two walking tours, one of which leads through the stalagmites and stalactites of the Crystal Palace and the other of which gives visitors a taste of the cave's pure darkness. If you're craving a bit more adventure, you can even join a cave crawl that leads through tight holes and passageways. There are also several activities geared towards younger children, including a gemstone mining station and a winding maze that simulates the experience of exploring a cave.
400 East State Rd 64, Marengo, IN 47140, Phone: 812-365-2705
10. Marshall County
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Nestled in the rolling hills of northern Indiana, Marshall County is the perfect place to go if you're longing for a taste of the simple country lifestyle. The best thing to do here is simply soak in the relaxing atmosphere, so bring a fishing rod and spend some time at one of the area's lakes, stop by a roadside diner for a stack of pancakes, and take a drive down the backcountry roads to admire the dozens of hand-painted barn quilts on display. Every summer, there's also a four-day blueberry festival that attracts vendors and visitors from all over Indiana.
Sitting on the shores of the meandering St. Joseph River, Mishawaka isn't far from the city of South Bend. There are plenty of attractions in both the city and the surrounding area; the downtown Beutter Park features a river race and a beautiful perennial garden, and the commercial district is home to one of the biggest retail centers in the entire Midwest. If you're willing to travel a bit further afield, you can also whitewater raft down the East Race Waterway, take a football tour at the University of Notre Dame, or admire the historic vehicles at the Studebaker Museum.
12. Indiana Beach Boardwalk Resort
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Opened in 1926, the Indiana Beach Boardwalk Resort is a family-friendly amusement park situated on the shore of Lake Shafer. Rides include six rollercoasters, an 80-foot drop ride, and a thrilling Skycoaster that simulates the experience of skydiving, and the waterpark offers six slides and a lazy river. There are also plenty of restaurants and snack bars, including a rooftop lounge that offers alcoholic beverages and a bird's-eye view of the boardwalk. The price of admission includes unlimited access to most of the rides and slides, and a discount is given for tickets purchased at least two days in advance.
5224 E. Indiana Beach Rd. Monticello, Indiana 47960, Phone: 574-583-4141
Known as Muncietown until 1845, Muncie is a historic town located approximately 50 miles away from Indianapolis. It has primarily served as an agricultural and industrial hub throughout the years, but it's still a delightful small-town getaway with a handful of museums and cultural attractions. Check out the model planes at the National Model Aviation Museum, explore the themed gardens and historic house at the Minnetrista cultural center, or go for a walk or a bike road along the paved Cardinal Greenway, which stretches for 62 miles all the way to the city of Marion.
3700 S. Madison St. Muncie, Indiana 47302, Phone: 765-284-2700
14. New Harmony
Settled in 1814 by a group of German Christian separatists who called themselves the Harmonists, New Harmony is a tiny town with a unique history. In 1824, the town was purchased by the wealthy Robert Owen, who dreamed of creating a community that supported education and equality for men and women. This dream fell to the wayside only three years later, but the town still made plenty of important contributions to the educational theory and the woman's suffrage movement. Today, visitors can learn about the town's fascinating history by taking a two-hour walking tour of the historic district.
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15. Parke County
Informally known as the "Covered Bridge Capital of the World", Parke County is home to 31 historic covered bridges. A day trip here is like stepping back in time; the quaint villages streets are lined with antique stores and historic buildings, and you'll likely see more than one horse-drawn buggy rolling through the countryside. The county is also home to Turkey Run State Park, where visitors can hike along sandstone gorges and paddle down creeks. If possible, the best time to visit is during the Covered Bridge Festival in October, when the fall foliage puts on a spectacular show of red, orange, and yellow.
401 E Ohio St Rockville, IN 47872, Phone: 765-569-5226
16. Patoka Lake
With a surface area of almost 14 square miles, Patoka Lake is Indiana's second largest reservoir after Lake Monroe. It offers plenty of opportunities to swim and boat, and it's kept well-stocked with game fish for fishermen. Six miles of paved bike trails wind through the park, and there is also a disc golf course and marina for visitors to use, both of which can get quite busy during the summer. However, the lake's size means that there are also plenty of more secluded areas where visitors can hike, swim, and picnic while remaining relatively undisturbed.
3084 N. Dillard Rd. Birdseye, IN 47513, Phone: 812-685-2464
17. Pine Lake Waterpark
If you're looking for a place where you and your family can beat the summer heat, Pine Lake Waterpark fits the bill perfectly. The spot has been a popular local swimming hole since 1924, and today, it's a family-friendly waterpark with six slides, a zipline, and plenty of fun, challenging water games and activities. Other amenities include a beach volleyball court, a children's splash park, diving boards of varying heights, and a concession stand selling snacks and beverages. Hours of operation vary according to the season, and children under the age of 4 receive free admission.
4640 IN-218, Berne, IN 46711, Phone: 260-334-5649
18. Pokagon State Park
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Formerly known as Lake James State Park, Pokagon State Park is a 1,260-acre park bordered by two picturesque lakes. There are plenty of hiking trails that range in difficulty from easy to moderate, and the water offers excellent swimming, fishing, and boating. Private boats are not permitted on the lake, but fishing boats, kayaks, and peddle boats can be rented onsite, and fishing is also permitted from the pier. The park is also a popular destination during the winter, when it's transformed into a snow-covered wonderland that invites visitors to toboggan, cross-country ski, and ice fish.
450 Ln 100 Lake James, Angola, IN 46703, Phone: 260-833-2012
Most notable for its location in the Indiana Dunes ecosystem, the town of Porter provides easy access to both the Indiana Dunes National Park and the Indiana Dunes State Park. If you're expecting to find nothing but sand here, you're in for a surprise; the area boasts more than 15 miles of world-class beaches where visitors can swim and sunbathe. There are also more than 70 miles of trails of varying difficulty, and anyone looking to test themselves can attempt the 3 Dune Challenge, a 1.5-mile trail that leads to the tops of the three tallest dunes in the state park.
20. Santa Claus
As you might guess from its name, the town of Santa Claus is a living embodiment of Christmas year-round. The bustling streets are particularly busy during the Santa Claus Christmas Celebration that takes places each December, but they're chock-full of Christmas-themed attractions that are open all throughout the year. Visitors can roast chestnuts over the fire at Santa's Candy Castle, write a letter to Santa at the Santa Claus post office, and pick up some souvenirs or decorations at the Holly Tree Christmas Shop. After exploring the town, head to the Holiday World & Splashin' Safari theme park to enjoy the rides.
Home to one of the country's largest Amish populations, Shipshewana is a refreshingly family-friendly destination that encourages visitors to slow down and experience a simpler way of life. The biggest attraction in the town is the outdoor Shipshewana Auction & Flea Market, which boasts 26 aisles of vendors, but visitors can also explore the town's corn maze, take a wagon ride through the Dutch Creek Animal Park, or enjoy a delicious meal in an Amish home. Most local shops and businesses are closed on Sundays and in the evenings, but visitors can still enjoy the town's beautiful parks and scenery.
22. Spencer County
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Spencer County is home to the town of Santa Claus, but there's much more to it than that. It's true that no visit here is complete without visiting the Christmas-themed town to see the sights and snap some photos, but make sure to leave some time to explore the surrounding attractions as well. The Lincoln Pioneer Village is a must-see if you're interested in history, and it's worth stopping by the 1854 Saint Meinrad Archabbey for a tour of the grounds as well. If you want to hike or swim, you can do so in the scenic Lincoln State Park.
Hidden away in rural northwestern Indiana, the city of Valparaiso is a charming university town filled with inviting parks, peaceful residential neighborhoods, and unique shops. Families will enjoy the trails and gardens of the Gabis Arboretum, the drive-in movie theater, and the entertainment center at Zao Island, but there are also cultural attractions like a theater, an art museum, and an opera house. The city also hosts all sorts of events throughout the year, including a summer market in the Central Park Plaza, a popular Brewfest, and the annual Popcorn Festival, held in honor of popcorn magnate Orville Redenbacher. Things to do in Valparaiso
24. West Baden Springs
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Named after a German spa town, West Baden Springs is a resort community that has been welcoming guests since the 1850s. As a resort town, it offers accommodations ranging from cozy bed and breakfasts to rustic cabins nestled in the woods, but it's worth stopping by the historic French Lick Springs Hotel even if you're not staying the night. Visitors can also take a themed train ride on the French Lick Scenic Railway, visit the Vegas-style casino, or golf at the French Lick Resort. In the winter, the town provides easy access to the winter playground of Paoli Peaks, which offers skiing, snowboarding, and tubing.
25. West Lafayette
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Located right across the Wabash River from Lafayette, its sister city, West Lafayette is a beautiful waterfront city that proudly serves as the home of Purdue University. Visitors are welcome to stroll around the university's beautiful campus, but there are plenty of other wonderful things to see in the city as well, including a local art museum, a replica 18th-century French fort, and a historic Frank Lloyd Wright house open for tours on a seasonal basis. Just outside town, visitors will find the Celery Bog Nature Area, a beautiful wetland preserve with an educational nature center.
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