Indiana is one of the most interesting states in the Midwest. The northern border of the state is on Lake Michigan while the southern topography is rugged and somewhat mountainous. Indianapolis has a lot to offer those who prefer their vacations to be a little more metropolitan. But, there are beach getaways and mountain escapes as well. When planning a visit to Indiana, there is plenty to see and do no matter what you are looking for.
Indianapolis is the largest city in Indiana and serves as the capital. It is located in the middle of the state, so it is a good place to start exploring. There is plenty to do here for families, history buffs, art lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and sports fans alike. Plus, Indianapolis is quickly becoming one of the top culinary scenes in the Midwest. There are award-winning restaurants like St. Elmo Steak House, as well as burger bars, delis, farm-to-table restaurants, wine bars, and much, much more.
The Michigan City Lighthouse is located at the southern tip of Lake Michigan off the coast near Michigan City. It is regularly recognized as one of the most Instagrammable places in Indiana. While you are here, visit the museum to learn about the historical significance of the lighthouse and the number of shipwrecks that once occurred in this area. On a clear day, look across Lake Michigan and see if you can spot the Chicago skyline.
The University of Notre Dame is located in South Bend not far from the northern Michigan border. It was founded in 1842 and consistently ranks as one of the best private universities in the US. Visit campus and take a student-led walking tour. See the "Word of Life" mural on the library, better known as "Touchdown Jesus." Light a candle in the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Or, visit the art museum on campus that offers free admission and over 28,000 works of art.
Indiana Dunes National Park sits along the southern shore of Lake Michigan. This 15-mile stretch has a lot to offer anyone who loves spending time outdoors. Whether you prefer bird watching, flying kites, sunbathing, or swimming, this park is a great place to be. There is also an extensive trail system that covers 50 miles of varying terrain, including prairies, wetlands, rivers, and forests. Needless to say, this is a great place for photography.
Southwest of Indianapolis you will find Cagles Mill Lake. This is actually a 1,400-acre reservoir built in the 1950s for flood control. The creek feeds Cataract Falls. This water feature flows over bedrock ridges that were buried under ancient lakes during the glacial period more than 150,000 years ago. When you visit, stop by the visitor center for more information on the fascinating history of the area. There are tons of other things to do here as well. Visit the aquatic center, go swimming, picnic, or set up camp at one of the 115 campsites.
The Indianapolis Zoo is definitely worth a visit even if you have no desire to do anything else in Indianapolis. There are a lot of amazing and unique animals to see here, including African elephants, Alaskan brown bears, bald eagles, sea lions, white-bearded wildebeests, eels, baboons, and so much more. This zoo also boasts the world's largest shark touch tank as well as an opportunity to swim with dolphins. In addition to the animals, visitors can also enjoy walking through the zoo's aquarium and the beautiful botanical garden.
West of Indianapolis and about a 30-minute drive from the Illinois border is Turkey Run State Park. This is a great place for outdoor lovers and features some of the most unique and photogenic land formations in the state. Sandstone gorges are common, and the collapsed coal mine entrance is a draw for hikers. An extensive trail system covers the park with Trail 3 being exceptionally rugged with ladders and narrow gorges to make your way through. Take caution when hiking in the spring as rainfall and melting snow can fill the gorges with water. Sugar Creek flows through the park as well, providing an opportunity for canoes, kayaks, and tubing.
It is impossible to talk about Indiana without mentioning the Indianapolis 500. In a suburb northwest of Indianapolis, you will find the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which hosts the world-famous race every Memorial Day weekend. The Speedway hosts may other racing events, too, including the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race. True race fans should be sure to stop at the on-site museum where you can see cars on display as well as learn the history of your favorite motorsports.
Middlebury Amish Country is located in north-central Indiana just south of the Michigan border. The best way to experience this area is to drive the Heritage Trail, which has been considered one of America's Most Scenic Drives. Along the way, you will likely see a lot of Amish horse and buggy making their way down the road. There are a lot of quaint restaurants and attractions roadside. Make sure to stop and sample some Amish baked goods and take a look at the handmade crafts and furniture.
Brown County State Park is often called the "Little Smokies" because it resembles the Great Smokey Mountains. This park is located south of Indianapolis and just east of Bloomington. It includes nearly 16,000 acres of ridges, hills, and ravines carved by glaciers in the last ice age. There are plenty of trails for hiking and mountain biking, horse trails, a swimming pool, indoor water park, and nature center. This is a great place to visit year-round, but the forest is really something to see when the leaves change color in the fall.