A lively college town in Northwest Indiana, Lafayette has a population that swells during the semester thanks to Purdue University.
The city was founded in 1825 and quickly prospered as a river town, with more than a dozen boats docking each day and spawning a bustling commercial area on the riverfront.
Much of the architecture constructed at that time is still standing, lending Lafayette’s three downtown areas a lot of character, heightened by their unique stores, restaurants and sense of fun.
You can uncover all sorts of local stories around Lafayette, going back 300 years to the days of French fur trappers, which is celebrated with the popular Feast of the Hunters’ Moon every October.
1. Downtown Lafayette
At the heart of the Lafayette-West Lafayette metro area is a cross-river downtown area, linked by a pedestrian bridge and made up of three distinct and equally intriguing areas.
West to east, these are Chauncey Village by the Purdue campus in West Lafayette, the Wabash Riverfront and then Arts & Market further along Main Street.
All are enlivened by the presence of the Purdue campus close by, and all abound with a diversity of independent stores, dynamic nightlife, culture and dining options for all tastes.
On a stroll you can also take in plentiful brick and stone buildings from the 19th and early 20th century.
One of the many monuments to behold is the Long Center for the Performing Arts, an old vaudeville stage from 1921, now a majestic performing arts center for the symphony and theater.
If you’re curious about the history of the city you can download an architecture tour from the Lafayette-West Lafayette tourism site.
2. Haan Museum of Indiana Art
The largest collection of Indiana art in the world can be found at this museum in Lafayette, in a grand Colonial Revival mansion dating to 1904.
This building was the Connecticut building for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of that same year and was relocated to Lafayette when the fair ended.
The Haan Museum’s collections are particularly strong for Hoosier Group Impressionist art, with works by William Forsyth, Richard Gruelle, J. Ottis Adams, Otto Stark and TC Steele.
The permanent exhibit has a rotating display of more than 60 paintings by Indiana’s foremost artists, as well as sumptuous pieces by key contemporary and historic ceramic artists.
You can also marvel at Indiana craftsmanship, with a giant display of furniture, as well as glasswork, architectural details, sculpture and much more.
The grounds are a treat, with more than 20 pieces in the sculpture garden, and a one-mile with 30 species of trees native to Indiana, all carefully labeled.
3. Purdue University
Directly across the Wabash River in West Lafayette is Purdue University, dating back to 1869 and counting Neil Armstrong among its alumni.
The campus is a day out in its own right, and you can head for the university’s Welcome Center, set in the Stewart Center, or the Admissions office, to pick a booklet for a self-guided tour.
Outside of lecture and class sessions, the campus buildings are open to the public, and there are ten essential stops to make, including the Art Deco Elliott Hall of Music (1940) and the statue of the original benefactor, industrialist John Purdue (1802-1876).
There are two art galleries to check out, the Robert L. Ringel Gallery in Stewart Center and the Patti and Rusty Rueff Gallery, in the Yue-Kong Pao Hall of Visual and Performing Arts.
Sports-wise Purdue is the founder of the Big Ten Conference, and you can see the Boilermakers in action at venues like the 14,804-capacity Mackey Arena and the Ross–Ade Stadium, which holds 57,236.
4. Columbian Park Zoo
If you’re in Lafayette with family in summer, there’s a super midsize zoo open at Columbian Park, mid-April to mid-October.
Open since 1908, this attraction has close to 200 animals from around 100 species, and is constantly adding new structures and exhibits.
Among the more recent arrivals there’s Wallaby Walkabout, the Galapagos Tortoise Exhibit and the North American River Otter Exhibit.
One long-standing building is the Animal House, which has been here since 1928, sitting next door to The Butterfly Garden, which has a walk-through section with numerous North American butterfly species.
The Family Farm meanwhile has llamas, chickens, a pot-bellied pig, a miniature horse and rabbits, as well as goats that can be fed for a small fee.
5. Prophetstown State Park
One of the newest state parks in Indiana is set a little way north of Lafayette at the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers.
Over 2,000 acres, Prophetstown is on the site of a large, multi-tribal Native American village founded at the start of the 19th century by fabled Shawnee brothers Tecumseh (1768-1813) and Tenskwatawa (1775-1836).
On a visit you can view replicas of Shawnee structures at the Woodland Indian Settlement, while there’s also a historic farmstead painting a picture of rural life here in the 1920s.
An outdoor aquatic center opened in the park in 2013, and has a beach entry wading area, tube slide, lazy river and splash zones.
There are trails for hiking and biking, as well as picnic sites, a campground with 110 camping sites and a visitor center with live animal exhibits and interactive displays about the park’s ecosystems.
6. SAMARA (John E. Christian House)
There’s a house by Frank Lloyd Wright on the northern Edge of the Purdue campus in West Lafayette.
Epitomizing Wright’s Usonian vision, SAMARA was built in the mid-1950s for the Purdue professor Dr. John Christian and his wife Catherine, as a family home and place to entertain staff and students. The living room is especially large, and can comfortably hold 50 people.
The name SAMARA comes from the winged seed, which Wright spotted on the property when he first visited, and appears repeatedly as a motif.
The Christian family maintains the house to the architect’s precise specifications, which, as always with Wright, extended to furniture, landscaping and even fabrics. Detailed guided tours of SAMARA take place April through November and last for around 90 minutes.
7. Wolf Park
Just north of Prophetstown State Park is a research and conservation facility founded in 1972 to study the behavior of wolves and other canids, and help researchers in the wild.
May through November, Wolf Park is open to the public by appointment, and on a guided tour you may pick up facts about this misunderstood animal that may come as a surprise.
You have a menu of tours to choose from, and the basic Follow the Pack tour entails a 45-minute walk with a trained education docent, finding out about the facility research work and admiring grey wolves, grey foxes, red foxes and bison.
There’s a Howl Night experience, after sunset when the wolves are a lot more animated, and you can howl along with the park’s noisy residents. Check the website for upcoming seasonal activities like a Turkey Toss at Thanksgiving and Holiday Party just before Christmas.
8. Art Museum of Greater Lafayette
Southeast of downtown Lafayette is another important art museum, this one with a history going back to 1909. Over the last 110+ years the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette has built up a collection of more than 1,500 works.
Some of the earliest acquisitions, often purchased directly from the artist, includes pieces by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Clifton Wheeler and F. Luis Mora.
The museum moved into its current building in 1960, with new wings added in 1980 and 1988. There are usually ten shows a year, with compelling solo and collective exhibits for prominent local and regional artists, as well as selections from the permanent collection.
The museum also runs a lot of educational programs, from classes to yoga and live model open studios.
9. Fort Ouiatenon
The first fortified settlement in what has become Indiana was founded in 1717 a short way west along the Wabash River from today’s Lafayette.
A French trading post, Fort Ouiatenon was a log blockhouse surrounded by a wooden palisade, established to counter the British expansion along the Ohio and Wabash valleys.
At its economic peak in the mid-18th century, this site was home to as many 3,000 people, passing into British hands in 1761 and Native Americans in 1763, before being razed by American troops in 1791.
A replica blockhouse was raised a mile downriver from the original fort in 1930. This is open on weekends, May through August, and in fall is the site of the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon festival, which we’ll talk about later in this list.
Fall is a lovely time to be in the Lafayette area, and one of the best places to visit for foliage nearby is this park on the steep hillside over Wildcat Creek, just northeast of Lafayette.
The Clegg Memorial Garden goes back to a country retreat, founded by Harold and Ruth Clegg in the late 1930s, and is now composed of restored native habitats.
With sharp elevation changes and several overlooks, the land is made up of gravel hill prairie, oak woodland, savanna and riparian habitats.
There’s more than a mile of trail, to take in splendid wildflowers in summer and those wonderful colors in fall. The old Clegg Cottage now houses the administrative offices for the Niche Land Trust, which manages the property.
11. Exploration Acres
Mid-September through October you can make the short trip southeast of Lafayette to discover Northwest Indiana’s largest corn maze and pumpkin patch.
Covering more than 550 acres, the farm here goes back more than a century, and in the 1990s switched from livestock to arable farming.
Exploration Acres was born in the mid-00s as a way of preserving and restoring the historic farm buildings, welcoming the public in fall and renting out the barn for events and weddings throughout the summer.
For those fun-packed few weeks in September and October you’ve got a 22-acre corn maze, 38 varieties in the pumpkin patch, hayrides, a tractor train and all sorts of other attractions and activities for little ones.
Food is always part of the experience, with kettle corn and shaved ice, as well as fall favorites (apple cider, pumpkin roll slices) at the country store.
12. Wea Creek Orchard
Also minutes out of Lafayette is another historic farm that opens its doors to the public in the summer and fall.
A registered archaeological site, Wea Creek Orchards is owned by three families all descending from the pioneers who purchased this land in 1855.
From late July to early November you can come to soak up the history of this place and purchase delicious produce as it comes into season.
The farm grows nectarines, peaches, apples and pumpkins from a wealth of varieties, and sells its own honey and homemade fruit products like jellies and pumpkin, peach and apple butter at the store.
You’re also free to take a look around; wandering through the orchard and along Wea Creek and visiting a beaver dam.
13. Wildcat Creek Winery
At a cute spot by the namesake watercourse you’ll find Lafayette’s oldest and only winery, opened by the couple, Rock and Kathy Black in 2008.
Sourcing high-quality grapes from regional growers, Wildcat Creek Winery produces a wide selection of award-winning wines.
Among them are varieties like Chambourcin, Traminette, Riesling, Cayuga, Steuben, Niagara, Catawba and Concord, as well as fruit wines from blueberry, cherry and cranberry.
The location is a delight, with an idyllic garden. You can bring your own chairs and blankets and pair your wine with a picnic, the ingredients (pickles, cheeses, jams), sourced from local farms and producers.
14. Lafayette Farmers’ Market
One of the oldest outdoor markets in Indiana, the Lafayette Farmers’ Market has existed in some form for more than 180 years.
This is a Saturday morning staple, taking over two blocks on 5th Street from Columbia Street north to Ferry Street, May through October.
This is a great chance to support local producers and makers, and there are more than 30 regular vendors.
On a normal week you’ll find seasonal fruit and vegetables, herbs, coffee, tea, plants, breads, pastries, cheeses, honey, syrups, international specialty ingredients, pet treats, soaps and beauty products.
There’s always prepared food like pizza, BBQ, jerk chicken, quiche and sandwiches, as well as music from talented local artists.
15. Feast of the Hunters’ Moon
For more than 50 years, the Tippecanoe County Historical Association, which maintains Fort Ouiatenon, has put on a historical reenactment and festival at the site over a weekend in October.
Always well-attended, the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon celebrates an annual fall gathering of Native Americans and French troops, which took place here in the mid-18th century.
More than 8,000 people take part, dressed as settlers, soldiers and Native Americans. You can enjoy a host of living history presentations, shining a light on customs, culture and military life at that time.
As well as reenactments, the festival stages plenty of music performances, and vendors sell contemporaneous food like venison sausage, voyageur stew and rabbit stew.