Indiana in the Midwest and nicknamed the “Hoosier State”. Under-appreciated as a tourist destination, the state is famous for its diverse agriculture, farmlands, basketball, Indy 500 race, the University of Notre Dame, state parks, prairie, and food.
Although the state is dominated by agriculture and farming, there are plenty of hidden gems to discover in Indiana. Beyond the numerous fields and country roads, tourists can explore the state’s extensive history, gorgeous landscapes, and Midwest charm. There truly is something for everyone to enjoy.
Much of the state is rural or features small towns and cities, but there are a few major metropolitan areas worth exploring. Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Evansville are the three largest cities in the state and great places for tourists to explore the local culture, food, art, and more.
From the big cities to the rural communities, food lovers will rejoice at Indiana’s long list of delicious meals. Excelling at comfort food, most meals in this Midwest state are hearty and flavorful. Some of the signature meals that visitors must try are the pork tenderloin, sugar cream pie, Indiana sweet corn, country-fried steak, and chicken and waffles.
Livin’ La Vida Indiana
History of the “Hoosier State”
Indiana’s first known inhabitants were Paleo-Indians that emerged at the end of the Ice Age around the year 8,000 BC. Nomadic, these early humans hunted large prey like mastodons. Several thousand years later, during the Archaic period, human civilization evolved with more advanced tools and mound earthwork.
By 1,500 BC, during the Woodland period, pottery and intricate ceramics emerged. The Hopewell people also continued the tradition of mound building and they expanded agriculture. In 1,000 AD, the Mississippian culture was the last to emerge prior to the arrival of Europeans. One of the most prominent sites of Mississippian culture in Indiana is the Angel Mounds State Historic Site.
In 1679, the French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was the first European to explore Indiana for a brief trip. By 1702, the first trading post was established near Vincennes. Trading establishments would continue to be founded throughout the 1700s.
By the time of the American Revolutionary War, Indiana was an important place where British troops were cut off from attacking the Eastern colonies. Led by George Rogers Clark, a military officer, he and the state are often credited with changing the outcome of the war. From then, the land became a part of the Indiana frontier as America began to expand further to the West.
In December 1816, Indiana was admitted to the Union by President James Madison as the 19th US state. Less than ten years later in 1825, the state capital was changed from Corydon to Indianapolis. After gaining statehood, Indiana focused on expanding its education, demographics, and economy. Agriculture and farming have always been important to the local economy and the two industries continue to dominate in the modern era.
Capital City of Indianapolis
Often called “Indy”, Indianapolis is the capital of Indiana with a population of 887,642 as of 2020. This makes it the 15th most populated city in the Midwest after Chicago, Illinois and Columbus, Ohio. Situated in Central Indiana in the heart of the state, this capital is a major hub for trade, transportation, business, education, health, government, manufacturing, and hospitality.
One of the most famous attractions is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the Indianapolis 500 is held each year over Memorial Day weekend. Built in 1909, it is the world’s third-oldest permanent race track for automobiles. The speedway is also the world’s highest capacity sports venue with 257,325 permanent seats. Much more than a racetrack, there is also a Museum and Hall of Fame within the complex.
Beyond the Indy 500, the capital is a fun place for an adventure with families, friends, or as a couple. Whether you want to explore the local landscapes, food, museums, or history, there is an attraction for every traveler.
Some of the most popular things to do and see in Indianapolis are The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Indianapolis Zoo, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana State Museum, Dallara IndyCar Factory, NCAA Hall of Champions, Central Canal, and Eagle Creek Park.
Fort Wayne, “Summit City”
Home to 263,886 residents as of 2020, Fort Wayne was first built in 1794 by the United States Army. The fort was then named after General Anthony Wayne, a founding father, who was in charge of the building process. The city sits at the confluence of three rivers: the St. Joseph, St. Marys, and Maumee. Growth of Fort Wayne was accelerated by the Wabash and Erie Canal, as well as the emergence of railroads.
Although the city is smaller, its population puts it as the second largest city in the state. Fort Wayne excels at blending the old with the new. Boasting plenty of history, the city has plenty of modern amenities and attractions to keep guests comfortable and entertained too.
A few of the best attractions include the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Embassy Theatre, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, Historic Fort Wayne, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, and Science Central.
Situated on an oxbow of the Ohio River is Evansville with a population of 118,414 as of 2020. The third most populated city in the state, Evansville is a central hub for commerce, education, and manufacturing. In recent years, the expansion of its culture and arts has turned it into a busy tourist destination. Spread throughout all parts of the city are exciting museums, venues, restaurants, and shops.
Downtown Evansville is particularly popular with tourists because of its high concentration of attractions, restaurants, and shops. As the central commercial district, some of the best things to see in the downtown area are the Victory Theatre, Riverside Historic District, and waterfront parks. A bonus is that downtown is particularly easy to navigate on foot.
Additional attractions in Evansville are the Evansville Museum of Arts, USS LST Ship Memorial, Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden, Burdette Park, Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage, Angel Mounds State Historic Park, and the Children’s Museum of Evansville.
Notre Dame, A University Community
Supporting 7,234 residents, Notre Dame is an unincorporated and census-designated place in Indiana. The community is most famous for being the home of three prestigious colleges: the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College, and the Holy Cross College. Most tourism to Notre Dame is driven by the three college campuses with visitors traveling to view the architecture or attend sporting events.
For more things to do in the area, the town of South Bend is less than 10 minutes from Notre Dame. With more options for accommodation, dining and entertainment, many tourists will stay in the South Bend area while visiting the colleges. For things to do in South Bend, visitors should check out the East Race Waterway, Navarre Cabin, Potawatomi Zoo, South Bend Chocolate Factory, and the Oliver Mansion.
Located in South Central Indiana, Monroe Lake has 13,202 acres of protected forest, three recreational areas, and the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area. The lake is a prime destination for outdoor recreation and very popular for summer vacations.
Boating and water sports are the most popular as people are eager to spend time on Monroe Lake. On the edge of the water, there are 9 boat ramps, fishing piers, a marina, picnic shelters, playgrounds, beaches, and swim spots.
Additionally, visitors can hike and camp along the lakeshore. The campgrounds vary in amenities and facilities, but in all there are 226 electric and 94 non-electric sites. To learn more about the lake, services and activities, tourists can head to the Interpretive Naturalist Services or Nature Center. The closest major city to Monroe is Bloomington, which is less than 25 minutes to the south.
Indiana Dunes National Park
One of three national parks in the state is Indiana Dunes. Located in the northwest region of the state, the park features about 20 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan. The main feature of the park are the sand dunes, which feature unique habitats like woodlands, prairies, and wetlands. Living within the ecosystems is a diverse array of flora and fauna.
Much more than a beautiful destination, there are several historic areas featured throughout the park. Some of these include the Bailly Homestead, Bailly Cemetery, the Century of Progress Architectural District, Lustron Homes, and Good Fellow Club Youth Camp.
Open year-round, visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities like swimming, sunbathing, hiking, boating, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Peak times to visit the park occur throughout the year. Spring is popular for the wildflowers, while summer is perfect for family vacations. Fall brings gorgeous colors and even winter can be fun too.
The longest hiking trail in Indiana is the Knobstone Trail, which stretches for 58 miles. Varying in difficulty from moderate to strenuous, the trail is recommended for intermediate, experienced, and advanced hikers. For those that are prepared to take on the rough trail, the reward is high. Hikers particularly love the views that the trail provides of classic Indiana landscapes.
Knobstone Trail can be hiked in a single or or in sections. To navigate the trail, there are waypoints that have been marked from 0 to 46. Some of the most difficult parts of the trail are around the Knobstone Escarpment, which reaches elevations of just over 1,000 feet.
Brown County State Park
Brown County is one of the most visited state parks in Indiana, located near the small town of Nashville. First opened in 1929, the park is famous for its scenic landscapes and rustic character. Spring and fall tend to be the busiest season for tourists because of the wildflowers and leaves changing colors.
The most popular activities at Brown County State Park are hiking, fishing, horseback riding, bird watching, and sight seeing. Both mountain bike and hiking trails vary in difficulty with tracks that are suited for beginner, intermediate, and advanced visitors. Anyone fishing in the park must have an Indiana state fishing license and must adhere to the local catch limits.
Pokagon State Park
Tucked away in the far northeast corner of the state is Pokagon State Park. Featuring two lakes and wetlands, the park is very popular for its hiking and biking trails, as well as swim areas and beach. Currently, it is the only state park in Indiana to offer a toboggan run during the winter season. Additional winter activities include cross-country skiing and ice fishing.
Visitors can stay within the park at the Potawatomi Inn and at cabins or campsites. Reservations are encouraged, especially during the summer and winter seasons. Additional accommodation can be found in Fremont, which is a village that is about ten minutes away from Pokagon.
Perfect North Slopes and Paoli Peaks
Indiana isn’t very famous for its mountains, but visitors who want to enjoy some snowy turns will find that there are a couple ski areas in the state – Perfect North Slopes and Paoli Peaks. Both resorts are located in the southern region and they feature multiple chairlifts and magic carpets.
Skiers and snowboarders of all experience levels will find trails to suit their skills. Additionally, the resorts offer various accommodation and dining options too.
In Indiana, Johnny Appleseed (real name John Chapman) is an important legend in the state. Although Appleseed traveled throughout the Eastern US, he died in Fort Wayne where the exact grave is contested. Nevertheless, the legacy of his apple trees are famous in Indiana.
One of the biggest events is the Johnny Appleseed Festival in Fort Wayne. Gathered at the festival are dozens of vendors, as well as demonstrations of planting and caring for the trees.
Offering hundreds of unique and fun experiences, Indiana is an appealing vacation destination. People who want a taste of everything will find rich history, culture, art, and food throughout this Midwestern state. So, prepare yourself for the adventure of a lifetime because Indiana may sweep you off your feet.