Driving through Indiana might not be the first place that comes to mind when planning a road trip, but it’s a route that definitely should be considered. Road trips can be a ton of fun, especially when there are stops all along the way that blends together a mix of fun, good food, adventure, history, culture, and architecture. Southern Indiana has all of these! If driven straight through, this Indiana road trip would only take around four hours, but there are more than enough interesting stops to spend a day or more at each of the five main areas.
Each of the places below is only between one and three hours from Indianapolis. If you flying into or beginning from there, here are some fun things to do in Indianapolis.
1. Miller House and Gardens
The Miller House is one of the finest expressions of American modernism — an integration of a bright and open floor plan home featuring stone and glass walls, skylights, and colorful textiles. The compelling landscaping is concerned with the composition of shaping spaces… The house showcases the work of leading 20th-century architects and designers: Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard, and Dan Kiley.
2. Zaharokos Ice Cream Parlor and Museum
Step inside Zaharakos and you’re stepping back in time to an old-fashioned ice cream parlor with stained glass Tiffany lamps, carved oak, and marble, and a double soda fountain. There’s also a museum where you can learn about soda fountains and mechanical music after you finish their famous GOM spicy sloppy joe and cheese sandwich followed by their Tin Roof Sundae.
Downtown Columbus is perfect for an afternoon stroll. Stop in at the Bartholomew Public Library, admire the public sculptures and architecture of First Christian Church, or my favorite – peak through the wrought iron gates into the colorful manicured courtyards of the majestic historic homes.
4. State Park
The park is often called “Little Smokies” because of the resemblance to the Great Smoky Mountains. The park encompasses nearly 16,000 acres of rugged hills, ridges, and ravines, and offers 20 miles of tree-lined roads, hiking trails, and scenic overlooks for some of Indiana’s best sunsets.
Known as the “artist colony of the mid-west,” the charming village of Nashville is overflowing with pristine country shops selling original art, handmade crafts, and antiques. It’s one of the many charming small towns in Indiana.
6. Indiana University
No Indiana road trip would be complete without a visit to Indiana University. Founded in 1820, the Bloomington campus is the flagship campus of IU’s eight campuses statewide, and the heart of the attractive college town. The campus is beautiful, with historic architecture, rich history, and landscaped gardens and walkways. Tours available.
7. Lilly Library
The Lily Library is a treasure of rare books, manuscripts, and special collections and well worth an hour or two of exploration. Rare copies of (my favorite!) Alice in Wonderland are juxtaposed next to other old gems like a first printed collection of William Shakespeare’s plays, and a handwritten letter by Edgar Allen Poe. There was an official Oscar that everyone insisted I should hold (gloved) as it was only appropriate. What??? I was caught off-guard, and blushed a bit, as you can see.
8. Hoosier Ridge Fire Tower
The Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower stands guard over the Charles C. Deam Wilderness. It was originally built to protect the forest from wildfire. The 100-foot steel structure was built in 1936 and was the last lookout tower for the Hoosier National Forest, manned until the 1970s. It is no longer in use, but the adventurous can climb the 123 metal steps to the top for a spectacular panoramic view.
9. Four Winds Resort and Marina
Four Winds is located on picturesque Lake Monroe, Indiana’s largest inland lake, about 15 minutes from downtown Bloomington. The boutique inn offers two restaurants, a private beach, an indoor/outdoor heated saltwater pool, boat and wave runner rentals, fitness center, tennis courts, basketball, and mini-golf. On the premises are also hiking and walking trails, picnic shelters, fishing, and boating.
10. Oliver Winery
Oliver Winery is Indiana’s oldest and largest winery with a distribution of their award-winning, fruit-forward wines to 18 states. They offer daily wine tasting and weekend tours of the production facility and cellar. The grounds are breathtakingly beautiful with walking paths to soak in the atmosphere as you enjoy a glass of your favorite wine. An assortment of gourmet picnic items are available, as well as gifts and accessories.
11. Dubois County Museum, Jasper
47,000 sq. ft. Dubois Museum houses an extensive collection of regional collectibles, proudly curated by local volunteers who act as guides in period dress. The upper level is dedicated to military and sports, while the lower level hosts a full-size log cabin, agriculture equipment, German heritage, and a wildlife adventure room especially popular with children.
12. Jasper City Mill
Stepping into the replica mill is like taking a step back in time. Visitors are invited to watch the process of corn being ground into cornmeal the old-fashioned way using a water wheel. The Jasper City Mill is situated on the scenic 2.1-mile paved Riverwalk path along Patoka River, which is the best place to get a view of the working mill’s waterwheel.
13. Spirit of Jasper Passenger Train
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to ride the rails as it was during its Golden Age, then climb aboard – for a journey or at least a tour – on the Spirit of Jasper. The painstakingly restored train takes passengers on a luxurious and romantic dinner excursion through unspoiled Indiana countryside to fabulous French Lick.
Named as one of the Top 10 independent restaurants in Indiana, Schnitzelbank is a festive and delicious place to stop for a bite. The eatery has evolved into a destination in itself, dousing customers with its “Olde World” ambiance, delicious German dishes such as goulash, wiener schnitzel, bratwurst, and sauerbraten. To add to the fun, Sandra Chastain, decked out in traditional German garb, crooned out German folk songs while playing the accordion and then passed out song music we could all sing along. No one went away hungry or unhappy!
15. French Lick Springs Resort
Established in 1845, this upscale historic hotel is the winner of the 2015 USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Award for Best Historic Hotel. The French Lick Resort is the perfect blend of history with modern amenities and offers golf, spa, hiking, biking, swimming, tennis, or shopping.
16. Monastery of Immaculate Conception
Also known as the “Castle on the Hill,” the Monastery in Ferdinand is home to one of the nation’s largest communities of Benedictine women who originally came from Germany to teach and run a boarding school. The highlight of the tour is Sister Christine, who guided us through the exquisite interior from her motorized wheelchair, regaling us with information as well as humorous stories of her youthful misadventures as a young Sister.
17. League Stadium
If you’ve seen the movie A League of Their Own with Geena Davis, Madonna, Tom Hanks, and Rosie O’Donnell, then you’ll recognize League Stadium in Huntingburg. The stadium, built in 1894 was the setting for this fictionalized account of the Rockford Peaches and based on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, from 1943-1954. Park Director Jim Rueger, who was an extra in the movie, told us that Coke, Columbia Studio, and Budweiser each paid one million dollars to advertise on the outfield billboards.
Established in 1872 as “The First and Last Chance Saloon,” Snaps is a favorite with locals. Snaps claims to hold the oldest liquor license in Dubois County and it was the first bar to be granted the honor one at the end of the prohibition. The fried gator snaps appetizers are a must-try.
18. Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Memorial
Abraham Lincoln, one of the country’s most admired presidents, grew up and formed much of his character and morality in southern Indiana. The memorial contains a typical 1980’s homestead on land owned by Thomas Lincoln, a visitor’s center with Lincoln exhibits, hiking trails, and memorials.
19. Saint Meinrad Archabby
The Benedictine tradition came to the Midwest in the 1850s when the Swiss Abbey of Einsiedeln sent two monks to Indiana to start a new foundation. Now, Meinrad Abbey is an active community of 90+ monks who pray, work, and live together. Tours of the beautiful grounds, historic buildings, and artifacts are available at reception.
20. Lincoln State Park Beach
Lincoln State Park offers two scenic lakes, ten miles of hiking trails, campgrounds, cabins, and group cottages. The 1,747-acre park was established in 1932 as a memorial to Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks.
21. Holiday World
With sections depicting Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and the 4th of July on any day, Holiday World in the town of Santa Clause has been voted the Cleanest Park in the World for more than a decade. The highlight is Thunderbird, America’s first launched wing coaster, which propels its victims at a speed from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds! Live shows with singing, dancing, and diving are held throughout the day.
As you can see, a southern Indiana road trip is a lot of fun!
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Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of Visit Bloomington, Dubois County Visitors Center & Tourism Commission, and Spencer County Tourism during her stay in Indiana, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.
She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the new few months.
Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.