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Indiana might be best known for fast cars, fall foliage and the Indiana Dunes, but the Hoosier State is also home to some hidden gems you just won’t want to miss. Here, we tell you where to find the coolest caves, the yummiest pies, the prettiest waterfalls and the quirkiest roadside attractions on your next getaway in the state of Indiana.
Traveling through the Midwest, it can be tempting to drive from Toledo, Ohio, straight to Chicago, without stopping along the way. What a mistake! The Hoosier State is filled with kid-friendly fun, large Amish and Mennonite communities, great food, a Christmas-themed amusement park, gorgeous nature and the thriving metropolis of Indianapolis.
Here, we reveal our favorite hidden gems in Indiana, including tips on how to enjoy them with kids.
Don’t-Miss Roadside Attractions in Indiana
Martini-Drinking Pink Elephant
308 W Broadway St.
Fortville, IN 46040
The mascot of Elite Beverages in Fortville is just begging for a teen selfie! This bubble gum pink behemoth sips from an elephant-sized martini glass. It’s stood outside this liquor store location since long before the current iteration.
Why You Should Visit the Pink Elephant
Don’t you want a selfie with this big guy? Your tweens and teens do. Their Instagram followers demand it.
The World’s Largest Ball of Paint
10696 North County Road 200 West
Alexandria, IN 46001
How do we know this quirky roadside attraction is the world’s largest ball of paint? The Guinness Book of World Records tells us so! This giant ball of paint started as a baseball. Today, it weighs in at more than 8,200 pounds and spans a 16-foot, 9-inch circumference thanks to the 28,000 layers of paint that have been applied over the last 45 years.
Why You Should Visit the Largest Ball of Paint
You can slather on a layer of paint and write your name in a book. In return, you’ll get a certificate that says, “I painted the World’s Largest Ball of Paint.”
TravelingMom Tip: If you want to see and paint the ball, you need to make a reservation by calling 765-724-4088.
Muncie Visitors Bureau
421 S. Walnut St.
Garfield is in Muncie, the central Indiana city about an hour northeast of Indianapolis that is the home of Jim Davis. He’s the creator of the famous lasagna-eating cat. To honor his creation, the city is now home to 16 unique Garfield statues. Stop at the Muncie Visitors Bureau to pick up a map that will tell you where to find the statues.
Why You Should Visit Garfield
The Instagrammable statues make great selfies for tweens and teens and tracking them down is fun for the whole family.
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Hidden Gems in Indiana: Unusual Museums
Bob Ross Experience
1200 N. Minnetrista Pkwy.
Muncie, IN 47303
Yep. That Bob Ross. The guy with the Chia-Pet-worthy head full of curly hair, the always calming voice and the ability to paint an amazing landscape with a pallet knife in the span of one 30-minute “The Joy of Painting” episode on PBS. He’s been dead for 25 years, but his shows live on — and gained stunning new popularity during the pandemic. This museum, housed in the historic Muncie home where he taped the show, explores his life and legacy.
Why You Should Visit the Bob Ross Experience
You can stand where Bob stood, or sit in an 1980s living room and discover The Joy of Painting the way a cadre of fans did decades ago.
The Mascot Hall of Fame
1851 Front St.
Whiting, IN 46394
This charming spot in the far northwest corner of the state honors mascots that “impact both their sport and community, inspire their fans, and consistently give memorable and groundbreaking performances.” That includes a long list of mascots, from the furry green Phillie Phanatic of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team to Blue, the horse mascot of the Indianapolis Colts football team.
Why You Should Visit the Mascot Hall of Fame
It’s a creative and interactive children’s museum that incorporates S.T.E.A.M. education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) with exhibits such as the “Department of Furry Arts,” the “Science of Silliness Lab” and the “Phuzzical Education Department.”
TravelingMom Tip: The museum is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Museum of Miniature Houses
111 East Main Street
Carmel, IN 46032
One of only a few museums in the country devoted to the art of fine-scale miniatures, the collection contains thousands of miniatures including room boxes, miniature houses and exquisite individual items.
Why You Should Visit the Museum of Miniature Houses
Who doesn’t love looking at tiny recreations of beautiful things? Adults can marvel at the workmanship and kids can make a wish at the fairy door, play in a dollhouse or work through three levels of scavenger hunts.
Rotary Jail Museum
225 N Washington St.
Crawfordsville, IN 47933
This is exactly what the name implies: a jail in which the cells can be rotated. The idea, according to the creators, was to make jails safer for guards, to limit interaction among the inmates and to improve the sanitation and airflow thanks to a central corridor. It failed from a humanitarian standpoint.
This 19th century Crawfordsville jail was the first of its kind when it opened in 1882. It housed prisoners until a new jail was opened in 1973. Astonishingly, it can still rotate. The tour guides will turn the hand crank and show off that ability during tours.
Why You Should Visit the Rotary Jail Museum
This is likely not the right stop for a family with younger or more sensitive children. But hardy teens might find it interesting.
TravelingMom Tip: The museum is only open Wednesday-Sunday March through December and hours vary by season. Check the website before planning a visit.
RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum
21565 Executive Parkway
Elkhart, IN 46514
The small town of Elkhart makes one of every two RVs on the road today. That makes it fitting that the RV/MH Hall of Fame would live in this northern Indiana town.
RV stands for Recreational Vehicles and MH stands for Manufactured Housing. And this museum tells the history of both.
It started in the aftermath of World War II when the RV industry began building larger stationary housing units to accommodate demand for housing for returning veterans. After that, the RV industry advanced in two directions – one branching into fancier RVs for travel such as units with an interior kitchen and restroom, and the other becoming the manufactured housing industry we know today.
Why You Should Visit the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum
If you’re an RVer or considering becoming an RVer, head to Elkhart to tour some historic RVs, then visit the Go RVing exhibit to check out the best of the best modern RVs.
Indiana Medical History Museum
3270 Kirkbride Way
Indianapolis, IN 46222
Located on the grounds of the former Central State Hospital in Indy, the museum’s Old Pathology Building, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The oldest surviving pathology facility in the nation, it started in 1896 to facilitate medical education and research on the physical causes of mental disease.
Today, visitors can explore the teaching amphitheater; laboratories for bacteriology, clinical chemistry, histology and photography; the library, reception room, records room; autopsy room and the anatomical museum that houses preserved specimens–mostly brains, organized by pathology.
Why You Should Visit the Indiana Medical History Museum
Have you got a teenager considering a future in the sciences or medical school? Bring her here to whet her appetite.
Natural Wonders in Indiana
Indiana Dunes National Park
1215 N State Rd 49
Porter, IN 46304
OK, a national park is hardly a “hidden gem.” But there are hidden gems inside this park on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. You might think of it as a beach destination, but the park is even more amazing for its breadth and variety of hiking trails.
In addition to the 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, the park is home to 50 miles of rugged trails that wind through a diverse ecosystem of dunes, wetlands, prairies and old-growth forest. There’s another three miles of lakeshore that is part of Indiana Dunes State Park.
Why You Should Visit Indiana Dunes National Park
Beaches, hikes and wide open spaces where children can run free. Need I say more?
TravelingMom Tip: Check the website for ranger-led guided tours of the dunes.
There are waterfall throughout central and southern Indiana, nearly as far north at Fort Wayne and almost as far south as Louisville, Kentucky. The majority are in the area around Indianapolis and just southwest around Bloomington.
Among the must-see waterfalls are Cataract Falls in Cloverdale, Big Clifty at Clifty Falls State Park in Madison and the falls at Turkey Run State Park in Marshall and McCormick’s Creek State Park in Spencer.
Caves and Caverns
Southern Indiana’s karst region (that’s a fancy word that means underground sinkholes and caves) is home to several underground wonders, including Bluespring Caverns, Squire Boone Caverns (close to the Ohio River, this one is named for Daniel Boone’s brother), Indiana Caverns and Marengo Cave. You can tour all four on the Indiana Cave Trail.
Exploring caves with their magical stalactites and stalagmites can be fun, although caves also can feel a little claustrophobic and scary for some kids. If you think your kids won’t like it below ground exploring the catacombs and rock formations, stay topside and let the kids explore the gemstone mine.
TravelingMom Tip: Caves are cool places to visit, literally. For example, the temperature in Bluespring is 53F (11.6C) year-round. Bring jackets and wear closed-toe shoes.
White River State Park
801 W Washington St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
This urban park in the center of Indianapolis is a jewel. It’s the gateway to the Indianapolis Zoo (hidden gem here is the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center — a definite don’t miss spot!), the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art, the Indianapolis Indians Baseball in Victory Field, the state’s largest IMAX Theater, the NCAA Hall of Champions Museum and the NCAA World Headquarters, the Indiana State Museum and The Lawn at White River State Park concert venue.
The hidden gem is the Urban Wilderness Trail that runs alongside the White River. It’s a vibrant wildlife habitat with a Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, and native Indiana flora and fauna, including beavers and bald eagles. In the summer, the park hosts Indy’s Urban Farmers Market.
Why You Should Visit White River State Park
If you don’t want to hike the trail, rent a surrey bike the whole family can peddle together to explore the park. In the hot summer days, rent a kayak or tubes for exploring the city from the river.
4004 East 800 North
Battle Ground, IN 47920
Since 1972, Wolf Park has focused on research, education and conservation in order to improve the public’s understanding of wolves and the value they provide to the environment.
Why You Should Visit Wolf Park
Wolves are magical creatures and the park offers fun ways to experience these animals, including guided tours and “howl nights.”
This strange rock formation is the largest free-standing table rock formation (also called a “tea table”) in the United States east of the Mississippi River. It was so named because someone thought it looked like a jug, although I admit that I don’t see it.
Still, the 60-foot tall rock stands “silently and alone in the midst of a quiet forest, with no telling rivers, open fields or companion rocks in sight. The strange formation has long been a local oddity and a source of pride, with the Shoals high school even making Jug Rock their mascot,” says Atlas Obscura.
Why You Should visit Jug Rock
It’s a fun stop on a road trip through south central Indiana. Here’s how to find it, according to Atlas Obscura: “North edge of town, on the north side of US Hwy 50. Drive slow. You’ll see a street sign for Albright Lane. Pull off the highway there and park in the tiny gravel turnoff (there’s really only room for one car at a time). Do not pull up the driveway, as it is private.
“Only then will you see Jug Rock back in the trees, and a tiny directional sign, ‘Jug Rock,’ with an arrow, that you would never see at highway speed. A path leads through the trees to the Rock. Once you park, Jug Rock is visible and accessible down a steep embankment.”
1200 W Park Dr
Huntington, IN 46750
Part of Memorial Park in this small town 25 miles southwest of Fort Wayne, the Sunken Garden is the beautiful transformation of a former quarry.
The abandoned Keefer and Bailey Lime, Brick, Tile and Cement Company quarry had been a town eyesore until the 1920s, when the Chicago Landscape Company transformed it into 1.5 acre oasis of plantings, footbridges, fountains, fieldstone staircases and a horseshoe-shaped pool.
Why You Should Visit the Sunken Garden
It offers a great playground for the kids, frisbee golf goals, basketball area, tennis courts, picnic pavilion and scenic walking trails. Bring a picnic and spend the afternoon.
Hidden Gems in Indiana: Where to Eat
The Indiana Foodways Alliance has created some yummy-sounding “food trails” that include stops around the state to eat the best. The trails have fun name like “Rise and Shine,” the breakfast trail; the “Between the Buns” burger trail; and the “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner” trail.
If you’re traveling with kids (or you just need an excuse to blow the diet), I recommend sticking with the “I Scream for Ice Cream,” “Sweet Temptations” or “Hoosier Pie” trail.
I haven’t tried all of them — yet — but I have tried the pie from Blue Gate Restaurant and Bakery in Shipshewana. Yes, yes, yes, you WILL want to stop there.