Just 15 minutes northeast of downtown Indianapolis, Lawrence is a fast-growing city that was associated with a U.S. Army post for much of its history.
Founded in 1906, Fort Benjamin Harrison was part of an early effort to consolidate an assortment of state militias into a national army.
The base closed down in 1991, and since then about two thirds of that land have become a highly popular state park.
Many of the fine Colonial Revival buildings on the old base have also been repurposed by Lawrence, and an old military theater is now the linchpin for an arts campus.
1. Fort Harrison State Park
A fabulous natural haven for the Indianapolis area, Fort Harrison State Park covers more than 1,700 acres and encompasses much of the old Fort Benjamin Harrison.
Named for the 23rd President of the United States, this U.S. Army Post opened in 1906 and was decommissioned in 1991.
Rich with history, the state park also contains a former WWII prisoner of war camp, a Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps camp and an interwar Citizens’ Military Training Camp.
Now more than 900,000 people each year visit to savor the peace of the park’s woods on trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
One of the Indy area’s best sledding hills awaits you in winter, while in summer you can take a canoe or kayak trip down Fall Creek.
For background about the base, head for the interpretive center in the park office, or the Museum of 20th-Century Warfare, which we’ll talk about below. The state park connects with the seven-mile Fall Creek Trail, starting in downtown Indianapolis.
2. Museum of 20th-Century Warfare
By the state park’s visitor center and the trailhead for the Schoen Creek Trail is a museum reminding you of what came before.
Run by volunteers and free with admission to the park, the Museum of 20th-Century Warfare is housed in Building 711 and presents a big cache of artifacts for all branches of the military from 1910 to the Gulf War, while recounting the story of the fort.
As well as an extensive library, this nonprofit museum has big collections of uniforms, weapons, munitions, photographs, military art, medals and a variety of other equipment.
All year round, the museum uses its large inventory to stage reenactments, and these can be season-specific, like a Pacific Theater reenactment in August and a Battle of the Bulge display in January.
3. Schoen Creek Trail
You‘ll completely forget that you’re a matter of minutes from downtown Indy on this 3.3-mile loop in Fort Harrison State Park.
Rated as moderate in difficulty, the Schoen Creek Trail mostly traces that namesake watercourse as you make your way through deep, lush woods and over the park’s rambling hills.
What makes the trail tricky is its occasional steep and narrow sections, with an elevation gain of almost 150 feet.
Wildflowers abound in spring and summer, and if you go quietly you may catch sight of deer. Dogs are allowed on a leash, and you’ll need to be aware of any mountain bikers sharing the trail.
4. Theater at the Fort
Now the anchor for the Fort Ben Cultural Campus, the Theater at the Fort is a revived performing arts venue on the base, dating back to 1929.
The organization responsible for this award-winning transformation is Arts for Lawrence, and the 200-seat theater now has a bustling calendar for performances.
On the menu are plays, musicals, dance, concerts, storytelling, as well as educational programming, like a summer arts camp.
A typical season has close to 70 performances, and the stage is also made available to local schools at no cost.
5. Fort Ben Cultural Campus
As mentioned, Theater at the Fort is the central element of a vibrant 1.5-acre arts complex that was officially opened in 2021.
Work was ongoing at the time of writing, and, when completed, the campus will include the Visual Arts Center, an amphitheater for outdoor performances, lots of green space, public art and interconnecting themed pathways like a History Walk.
One super creative installation here is the world’s first permanent set of Musical Swings, representing four instruments, guitar, vibraphone, harp and piano, and with pitch changing depending on speed and height.
The Visual Arts Center, in the WWII-era service and communications building, has already become an invaluable platform for local artists and makers.
As well as a venue for festivals and other events all year, the campus is also the site of a docking station for Lawrence’s new bikeshare program.
6. Fort Harrison Horseback Riding
Fort Harrison State Park is home to a saddle barn arranging trail rides for everyone over the age of six. These are available from around mid-March through October, and there’s a menu of experiences available.
The two main options for grownups are rides along the 1.5-mile trail or the 2.5-mile trail.
Children new to horses can go on a parent-assisted pony ride, while this saddle barn offers hayrides and English or Western riding lessons for $30 an hour.
All children aged 12 and under have to wear an approved helmet, and this can be provided at the stable.
7. Tour Lawrence Bike Share
As a modern and growing city, Lawrence has launched a few initiatives to encourage people to get around on foot or by bicycle.
When we wrote this article the city had just announced Tour Lawrence, a bike share program.
In the early days of the scheme there were two docking stations, one at the Lawrence Government Center and the other at the Fort Ben Cultural Campus.
You can purchase monthly or annual memberships to take part, or simply ride on a pay-as-you-go basis, at $1.50 for 30 minutes.
8. Triton Brewing Company and Bistro
Since 2011, a historic US Army mule stable has found a new role as a craft brewery and bistro.
Triton’s goal is to encourage people to appreciate the subtlety of flavor you get in a good beer, discerning its individual ingredients and getting to know its backstory.
There are more than a dozen seasonal brews, and six flagship beers that are always available.
These are Hometown Hero and Hometown Hero Strawberry (Golden Ale), Rail Splitter (IPA), Star 19 (Double Dry Hopped IPA), Pale Splitter (American Pale Ale) and Dead Eye (Stout).
Food-wise Triton serves small plates, sharables, sandwiches, tacos, soups and salads. Think, Loaded Mac and Cheese, with bacon and chicken fingers, or Seared Yellowfin Tuna Kohlrabi Bowl.
9. The Fort Golf Resort
A big portion of the old Fort Benjamin Harrison is now occupied by one of the best public golf courses in Indiana.
Adapting a course from the army days, the Fort Golf Resort opened in 1998 and was designed by course architects Pete Dye and Tim Liddy.
This 7,148-yard, par 72 course takes advantage of the unusually hilly terrain, and every so often you might be taken aback by the far-off views.
As well as these rolling hills you’ll encounter tree-lined fairways and rippling greens, which are a Dye signature. You can choose from multiple tees, so golfers of all levels can expect a tough but fair track at The Fort.
The course is complemented by high-end practice facilities, a pro shop, expert golf instruction, on-site lodging and The Garrison Restaurant.
10. Daniel’s Vineyard
Close to the Geist Reservoir, northeast of Lawrence, Daniel’s Vineyard is a full-production winery and event venue, opening daily for tastings. There’s always a welcoming atmosphere here, matched with dreamy panoramic views of the vines.
The owners, Daniel and Kimberley, discovered their passion for winemaking in Tuscany, and in 2010, on returning to the United States, picked this spot near Lawrence to plant 14,000 vines.
You can come to sample from a wide selection of wines by the glass or bottle, on a spectrum from dry reds to sweet whites, along with wine slushies and fruit wines.
Daniel’s Vineyard organizes lots of exciting events, from concerts to balls to themed parties and comedy shows.
11. Winding Ridge Golf Club
In the southeast of Lawrence there’s another highly-rated golf course, in a rolling landscape, with bent-grass tees, fairways and greens.
At Winding Ridge Golf Club you’ll contend with large bunkers, elevation changes, undulating greens and plenty of water hazards.
There are five sets of tees here, with a total yardage of 7038 from the tips. Two standout holes are the par-4 2nd and the par-5 10th, both bordered by water on one side.
You can unwind post-round at the bar & grill, and there’s an aqua range to help you warm up before you play.
12. Fort Ben Farmers’ Market
From June through the first week of October there’s a farmers’ market on Thursdays, 4pm-7pm, at Lawrence Civic Plaza.
This is a chance to purchase fresh produce and a host of other times, straight from the growers and makers.
As well as supporting local farmers and other small businesses, you’ll get to talk with the vendors and find out more about their products and how to get the best out of them.
Normally you can find seasonal fruit and vegetables, eggs, grass-fed meat, honey, jams, syrups, jellies, baked goods, art, eco-friendly cosmetics, the list goes on. This is a real community event, and live music and children’s activities are all part of the fun.
13. Louis J. Jenn Memorial Park
Away from the state park, the Lawrence Department of Parks & Recreation looks after a dozen parks around the city.
One of the best is the multifaceted Louis J. Jenn Memorial Park, which has a few things going for it.
One is the pond, a popular fishing spot for its bluegill, catfish and largemouth bass. Overlooking the water is a cozy log cabin-style building, complete with a kitchen, and available for rental.
Another great feature at this park is the Waggin’ Tails Bark Park, an off-leash dog park with agility equipment, benches and a fountain. To use the dog park you have to become a member via the parks & recreation department.
14. 4th Fest
Lawrence celebrates the nation’s independence in real style with a big lineup of goings-on around Lawrence Community Park.
A day-long event, 4th Fest gets started with a parade featuring local services, clubs, schools, organizations and public figures like the mayor.
All day long there are carnival rides and games at the park, as well as an enticing choice of food and drink vendors. Live music is always part of the fun, and then after sunset there’s a fireworks display to round off the day.
The holidays are extra special in Lawrence thanks to a season of events, performances and more between November 20th and December 30th.
Throughout this time Lawrence Civic Plaza is taken over by a 60 x 80-foot ice skating rink, with skate rental available on site.
One of the big dates to mark in the diary is A Lawrence Christmas, usually on the last Saturday in November, bringing a parade, variety show, tree-lighting ceremony and a screening of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) at the Theater at the Fort.
Other things to look out for during this season include a winter farmer’s market on the plaza and Breakfast with Santa at the YMCA.