Fill up the tank for a Hoosier vacation.
by Shari Held
No need to spend big bucks to go on vacation this year. There are lots of things to do for family fun right here in Indiana. The state has some of the most prestigious attractions in the region — and some of the best values, too.
“There’s also new things in Indiana this year, with the opening of the Miller Home, Holiday World’s expansion, Conner Prairie’s Civil War Experience, the Indianapolis Zoo’s Tiger Exhibit and The Children’s Museum National Geographic exhibit,” says Amy Vaughn, executive director of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.
Check out www.in.gov/visitindiana to get some great deals. “We have over 150 discounts listed,” Vaughn says. “It’s everything from hotels to restaurants to attractions. Our website is a good resource for people.”
Here’s our list of the top 10 vacation destinations around the state and what you’ll find this year. Have fun!
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum
The IMS has been generating more buzz than ever this year, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first running of the Indy 500 race. More than 250,000 visitors trek through the Hall of Fame Museum each year to view an eclectic collection of vehicles — including the Marmon “Wasp,” winner of the first Indy 500, and rare cars such as a 1935 Duesenberg Model JN four-door convertible passenger car and a 1925 McFarlan TV6 passenger roadster.
You’ll also find timing and scoring displays from the first race to the 21st century. “For a more visual taste of the Indianapolis 500, the museum offers visitors the 48-seat Tony Hulman Theater, featuring a 20-minute presentation of rare historic footage and Indianapolis 500 highlights,” says IMS spokesperson Tom Surber.
Find out more at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com.
Indiana Dunes State Park
There’s nowhere else in Indiana like it. Sand dunes and the resulting ecology, pristine beaches and nature at its finest are the hallmarks of Indiana Dunes State Park. The 2,182-acre park, located in Porter County, is one of the state’s oldest and most popular parks. There are also lots of fun activities — July 9 is the 14th Annual Sand Sculpture Contest and Sept. 11-12 is “History Comes Alive Weekend.”
“Dunes State Park was recently named one of the best state parks in the Best of the Midwest Guide put out by Midwest Living magazine, and the designation is truly deserved,” says Ken Kosky, Indiana Dunes tourism promotions director. “Indiana Dunes State Park has magnificent sand dunes, great beaches with lifeguards, 16.5 miles of hiking trails, a modern campground and extensive programming.” If camping isn’t your thing, try the Grey Goose Inn or Riley’s Railhouse in Chesterton or The Inn at Aberdeen in Valparaiso.
For more information, call 219/926-1952 or visit www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2980.htm.
Bats, warthogs and tigers, oh my! If you haven’t been to the Indianapolis Zoo in the last few months, you’re overdue for a visit. The new bats are in the Forests exhibit and the warthogs are housed in the Plains biome. But the Tiger Forest, which allows you to get right up front and personal with three Amur tigers, is the main attraction. “We are extremely excited about our newest exhibit Tiger Forest presented by Citizens Energy Group,” says zoo spokesperson Maura Giles. “With three subspecies of tigers already extinct, and the rest endangered, the Indianapolis Zoo is working very hard to educate people about the plight of these majestic animals, as well as empower people locally to help animals globally.” Don’t miss the rare orchids on exhibit until October 31 at the White River Gardens Hilbert Conservatory when you visit. Afterwards, enjoy a luxurious night at the nearby J.W. Marriott, the largest JW in the world, or experience nearby University Place Conference Center & Hotel at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
For more information visit www.indyzoo.com or call 317/630-2001.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
A world-class facility, The Children’s Museum pairs education and innovative offerings with exhibits such as Dinosphere, Take Me There: Egypt and The Power of Children: Making a Difference. National Geographic Treasures of the Earth, its newest exhibit, opened in June. Visitors will explore three archeological sites — the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Seti I, the burial ground of China’s Terra Cotta Warriors and the shipwreck of Captain Kidd’s Cara Merchant — and learn about history from the stories they have to tell.
“Our commitment to ‘extraordinary, always’ means we continue to go to great lengths to develop the most authentic and extraordinary experiences possible utilizing strategic global partnerships that have been years in the making,” says Dr. Jeffrey H. Patchen, president and CEO, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
Spend the night at a nearby B&B such as The Villa or the Old Northside Bed & Breakfast.
For more information visit www.childrensmuseum.org or call 317/334-3322.
Miller Home and Garden
Built as the personal residence of Irwin Miller, former CEO of Cummins Engine Co., the 1957 modernistic home was designed by world-famous architect Eero Saarinen along with designer Alexander Girard and landscape artist Dan Kiley. The Miller home and gardens were opened to the public this May.
“It gives us an opportunity to share the story of the amazing couple who shared a vision for a livable family house, the growth of a world-class company and the development of a one-of-kind community,” says Cindy Frey, associate director, Columbus Area Visitors Center. For a total contrast, spend the night at The Inn at Irwin Gardens in downtown Columbus, Miller’s decidedly more traditional boyhood home. While you’re there, take a City Tour and see more architectural attractions.
For more information visit www.columbus.in.us or call 800/468-6564 or 812/378-2622.
Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari
Known for its award-winning rides, friendly staff and great values (free sunscreen, free parking, free sodas all day long), Holiday World in Santa Claus is always a fun destination for the entire family. “It’s a real jewel in Indiana,” Vaughn says. The Wildebeest, the world’s longest water coaster, opened last year, and Holiday World just invested $5.2 million in upgrades and new attractions for 2011. There are free wi-fi hotspots, eight new body slides for small children, the Rudolph Roundup sleigh ride for kids and adults and other assorted amenities. Families who rent an RV or cabin at Lake Rudolph campground receive free shuttle service, and nearby Santa’s Lodge is another option. Be sure to check the website for discounts!
For more information visit www.holidayworld.com or call 877/Go-Family.
Conner Prairie Interactive History Park
Leave 2011 behind and get ready for an 1800s adventure at one of the nation’s most celebrated interactive museums. The latest attraction at Hamilton County’s Conner Prairie, “1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana,” opened this June.
With technology out of “Star Trek,” it uses 3-D hologram characters to bring Indiana’s solitary skirmish of the Civil War to life. For example, the stories young Attia Porter tells show the effects of the war through a young girl’s eyes. Other Conner Prairie favorites include: 1836 Prarietown, Indian Camp, William Conner Homestead, 1859 Balloon Voyage, Lenape Indian Camp, Discovery Station, and the Craft Corner and Science Lab. Stay at the nearby historic Frederick-Talbott Inn, or head to downtown Indy — there are plenty of places to stay in the surrounding area.
For more information visit www.connerprairie.org or call 800/966-1836.
Clifty Falls State Park
“Clifty Falls State Park is a major draw for Madison,” says Linda Lytle, executive director, Madison Area Convention & Visitors Center. “The trails are some of the best in the Midwest and the inn is newly remodeled and top-notch. Great place to take a family, but book ahead because they are always busy.”
Clifty Falls is one of Indiana’s most picturesque places, with cascading waterfalls, limestone cliffs and views of the Ohio River. Located only minutes from historic downtown Madison, visitors can walk along the River Walk, visit a winery and enjoy the shops and restaurants. Two great restaurants to try are the Madison Vineyards Estate Winery Bed & Breakfast and White Hall Bed & Breakfast.
For more information visit www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2985.htm or call 812/273-8885.
Brown County State Park
The largest and one of the most visited of Indiana’s state parks, Brown County is famous for its fall foliage, hilly terrain and rustic, small-town ambience. The area was once a celebrated artists’ colony, and Brown County is still a haven for Indiana artists of all varieties.
Folks flock to nearby Nashville to buy their wares and enjoy the down-home food. Stay at the Abe Martin Lodge in the park, which boasts a 12,000-square-foot indoor aquatic center with a zero-entry pool, water slide and whirlpool, or treat your artistic side to a stay at the Artists Colony Inn Bed & Breakfast in downtown Nashville.
For more information visit www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2988.htm or call 812/988-6406.
French Lick Resort
Perhaps no place pulls together all the best that Indiana has to offer more than Orange County’s French Lick Resort. Its history includes visits from Al Capone and Franklin D. Roosevelt. It has casino entertainment, Pete Dye and Donald Ross golf courses, and the spa with the famed Pluto waters for the adults.
French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel offer two totally different experiences. The beautiful domed West Baden Springs Hotel has been called the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Kids, however, will likely be more impressed by the series of new “KidsFest” activities (International Night, Camp KidFest, PhotoVenture and Character Breakfasts), the new surrey bikes, horseback riding, hiking and the “Dive-In Movies & Family Fun Nights” at the pool. Big Splash Adventure Indoor Water Park, right across the street from French Lick, opened two years ago. “Even if you stay at French Lick Resort, you can buy day passes to take the family there,” Vaughn says.
For more information visit www.frenchlick.com or call 888/936-9360.