15 Best Day Trips from Indianapolis

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Indianapolis is Indiana’s state capital, making it a worthwhile destination for a trip across the country.

Being Indiana’s most populous city, it also boasts some great restaurants and bars, a tonne of great museums and art spaces, and plenty of green areas for al fresco activities.

It’s a great place for kids, too, not least because it’s home to the popular car race: the Indy 500, which is held on the Indianapolis motor speedway every year.

These attractions aside, there are plenty of places to visit in the surrounding area, all across the state, making it an excellent base from which to take some day trips.

Whether you live in Indianapolis or are just visiting, here are fifteen of the best day trip options from the city.

1. Marengo Cave

Marengo CaveSource: Jeffrey M. Frank / shutterstock
Marengo Cave

Marengo Cave offers an action-packed day away from Indianapolis, with activities ranging from guided tours of the caverns, to mining for gem stones.

The cave system was discovered in 1883 by a couple named Orris and Blanche Hiestand, and today it is a popular spot for locals.

The Dripstone Trail cave tour lasts 60 minutes, and is a mile long, while the Crystal Palace tour is just 40 minutes and a third of a mile, so this is a good option for a more relaxed visit.

Either tour will show you some jaw dropping stalactites and stalagmites, as well as other rock formations.

There’s also a great place nearby where you can hire kayaks if that takes your fancy.

2. Patoka Lake

Patoka LakeSource: Jason Hinton / shutterstock
Patoka Lake

In a landlocked state, Patoka Lake provides some much-needed refreshment in summer, and is certainly a tranquil place to spend a day out.

Kids will love floating around on the water or taking a boat trip to explore, while there’s something for the grown-ups in the nearby wineries of the region.

It’s the second-largest reservoir in the area, and if you just can’t get enough of the place on your one day there, then you can always rent a space in one of its famous floating cabins, stretching out your escape from the busy city that little bit longer.

3. Brown County State Park

Brown County State ParkSource: Aeypix / shutterstock
Brown County State Park

Outdoor lovers will adore this gorgeous state park for a day trip option, particularly if it’s visited in the autumn when its magnificent colours come into play.

Located near the peaceful, creative town of Nashville, there are hiking trails dotted across the park just waiting to be explored, and lots of activities to be found: from horseback riding to swimming.

There’s also a nature centre and an indoor water park, meaning that the children certainly won’t be bored.

4. Pokagon State Park

Pokagon State ParkSource: Tyler Herman / shutterstock
Pokagon State Park

Tucked in the northeast of Indiana lies the beautiful Pokagon State Park, which has something to offer at any time of year; from the international Migratory Bird Day or the fun Mother’s Day Meander to the much-anticipated date of the annual triathlon.

There could hardly be a better place to immerse yourself in nature; whether you want to witness the first bloom of the wild flowers in spring or the crisp cold of the first dusting of snow.

Plentiful wildlife, the great outdoors and acres of space in which to roam: this is a fantastic day trip for all.

5. Indiana Dunes State Park

Indiana Dunes State ParkSource: shelly bychowski / shutterstock
Indiana Dunes State Park

The Indiana Dunes are surely one of the most impressive natural phenomena to be found across the state.

You can hike, camp, sunbathe and swim across the park, among more than 2000 acres of sand dunes which are thought to have formed in the Ice Age.

Race around among the sand giants, and when the heat and dust gets too much, head over to the gorgeous Lake Michigan to take a dip and wash all that sand off.

This is an excellent day trip for all the family.

6. Shipshewana

Shipshewana, IndianaSource: haveseen / shutterstock

Located just north of Indianapolis is the quaint rural town of Shipshewana, the beating heart of Amish Country.

This little community is the perfect package from the past; with Amish horse and buggies trotting around town and Amish cuisine on offer at the Blue Gate Restaurant, where you can also take in a show.

It also has the largest flea market in the Midwest: the Shipshewana Trading Place.

It really is the perfect family-friendly location for a day trip.

7. New Harmony

New Harmony, IndianaSource: MarieKaz / shutterstock
New Harmony

For something a little different, why not pay a visit to this intriguing small town just south of the capital, where you can find a whole other world? Originally founded as a utopian commune, the place still has echoes of its fantastical past, including a roofless church which was intended for members of any and all religions to worship in.

There are also antique stores ready for the browsing, scattered about the streets.

Though the idea of a utopian community ultimately failed, it’s still an interesting place to spend the day.

8. Whitewater Valley Railroad

Whitewater Valley RailroadSource: whitewatervalleyrr.org
Whitewater Valley Railroad

Embrace the train spotter within you on your visit to this authentic piece of history at the Whitewater Valley Railroad.

It’s a brilliant way to learn more about the past of the local area, and this place is lauded for its dedication to historical accuracy.

Today, it also serves the purpose of a museum.

There are special event train rides throughout the year, including the Wild West Train and the Fall Foliage Flyer, so make sure to look it up before you go.

9. Wolf Park

Wolf Park, Battle Ground, IndianaSource: ShutterSpeedFreak / shutterstock
Wolf Park, Battle Ground, Indiana

An absolute treat for the kids is a visit to Wolf Park, situated in Battle Ground, Indiana.

Visitors get the chance to learn more than you ever realised there was to know about the calls of wolves and their behaviour; while a brief wander around the park might lead to encounters with wildlife such as foxes, bison, coyotes and, of course, wolves.

The facility opened in 1972, intended as an education centre, where the behaviour of wolves and coyotes were studied, and today day trippers are educated on all this and more.

It’s certainly an interesting place to spend the day.

10. Paoli Peaks

Paoli PeaksSource: www.paolipeaks.com
Paoli Peaks

It might surprise outsiders to learn that Indiana has a skiing and snowboarding scene, but Paoli Peaks is certainly the spot for it in winter.

Though it might not be considered a highlight of ski locations across the US, it’s still a fun way to spend some hours, even if it’s just for a bit of tobogganing in the park.

There are also a few places to grab a hot drink, a snack, and sit back to watch the scenery unfold before you with its snowy carpet.

11. Santa Claus

Santa Claus, IndianaSource: Dougtone / Flickr
Santa Claus, Indiana

Christmas comes early and stays all year round in Santa Claus, Indiana.

Everything in this pint-sized place is Santa or Christmas-themed, so if you’re feeling in need of some Christmas cheer it’s definitely worth paying a visit: it’s a guaranteed family favourite.

There’s the Lake Rudolph Campground and plenty of Christmassy shops to explore, as well as a central post office where all the letters to Santa Claus are delivered and carefully answered.

Two highlights of the town are Frosty’s Fun Centre and Santa’s Candy Castle.

12. Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari

Holiday World & Splashin’ SafariSource: Sjh123 at English Wikipedia / Wikimedia
Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari

A guaranteed hit among the kids, Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari has four distinct sections, each dedicated to a different public holiday, and an adjoined water park.

Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Independence Day all have their own special space in this wonderful place, so get ready for an adrenaline rush when you try out all those rollercoasters and rides.

There’s live entertainment, rafts and water slides too, so there’s really something for everyone.

It’s very accessible, at just a short distance from the city, making it a headache-free spot to visit for the day.

13. Indiana Zip Line

Indiana Zipline ToursSource: indianaziplinetours.com
Indiana Zipline Tours

For the adrenaline seekers among you, a trip to Indiana Zip Line Tours will certainly provide the goods.

Located in Crawfordsville, this is a popular attraction among both locals and tourists alike.

Get some spectacular views of the natural landscape from a bird’s perspective as you zip along through the trees.

There’s also a rock climbing wall and a gyroscope located in the same area, if zip lining doesn’t provide quite enough adventure for you.

This day trip will definitely be a hit.

14. Indiana beach

Indiana BeachSource: Elizabeth C. Zurek / shutterstock
Indiana Beach

The shoreline in this relaxed amusement park takes some beating: it’s Indiana’s best beach in a state without a coastline.

It may not be by the sea, but that doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on all the water-based activities that you desire, provided on the lake.

The resort also boasts lots of different attractions; from the Den of Lost Thieves, to an amusement park with thrilling rides like the Double Shot.

This is a kid-friendly option too, so definitely consider it for a fun day’s getaway.

15. Bloomington

Bloomington, IndianaSource: EQRoy / shutterstock

This small but perfectly formed college town is located just southwest of the capital, and is an excellent option for a more chilled out day trip.

Its highlights are certainly hidden among the arts scene; it has galleries, museums and art exhibitions aplenty scattered about town, providing a more intellectual diversion to while away the hours spent here.

There are also some fantastic dining options.

If you’re visiting in summer, then you certainly shouldn’t miss the chance to pay a visit to the amazing Taste of Bloomington festival: a gustatory extravaganza with enough different types of food and drink to make anyone salivate.

15 Best Day Trips from Indianapolis:

  • Marengo Cave
  • Patoka Lake
  • Brown County State Park
  • Pokagon State Park
  • Indiana Dunes State Park
  • Shipshewana
  • New Harmony
  • Whitewater Valley Railroad
  • Wolf Park
  • Paoli Peaks
  • Santa Claus
  • Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari
  • Indiana Zip Line
  • Indiana beach
  • Bloomington