Put These Hidden Gems in Indiana on Your ‘Must See’ List

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Photo credit Indiana Destination Development Corp.

Traveling through the Midwest, it can be tempting to road trip from Toledo, Ohio, straight to Chicago, without stopping along the way. What a mistake! The Hoosier State is home to some amazing attractions you just won’t want to miss. From a home for orphaned pigs to a real perfumery, here’s where to find the quirkiest, coolest and best hidden gems in Indiana on a Midwest getaway.

Natural Wonders in Indiana

Indiana Dunes National Park, Porter IN

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 beyond the sand dunes.

In addition to the 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, the park is home to 50 miles of rugged hiking trails that wind through a diverse ecosystem of dunes, wetlands, prairies and old-growth forest. There’s another three miles of lakeshore that are part of Indiana Dunes State Park.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Check the website for ranger-led guided tours of the dunes.

Suggested hotel: Hilton Garden Inn, Chesterton IN.

A waterfall in Indiana
Waterfalls are just some of the hidden gems in Indiana. Photo credit Indiana Destination Development Corp.

Waterfalls, Southern IN

There are waterfalls throughout central and southern Indiana, nearly as far north as Fort Wayne and almost as far south as Louisville, Kentucky. The majority are in the area around Indianapolis and just southwest of 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.

Suggested hotel: Dugan Hollow Log Cabin and Suites, Madison IN

Indiana Caverns boat ride
Ride a boat through Indiana Caverns. Photo credit: Indiana Destination Development Corp.

Caves and Caverns, Southern IN

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.

All of Indiana’s caves come with those magical stalactites and stalagmites and two — Bluespring and Indiana Caverns — have underground rivers, which means you tour them by boat.

SheBuysTravel 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.

Suggested hotel: Galt House Hotel Trademark Collection by Wyndham, Louisville KY

wolves at Wolf Park, one of the hidden gems in Indiana
Head to “howl night” at Wolf Park near Purdue University. Photo credit Indiana Destination Development Corp.

Wolf Park, Battle Ground IN

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. Wolves are magical creatures and the park offers fun ways to experience these animals, including guided tours and “howl nights.”

Suggested hotel: The Union Club Hotel at Purdue University, Autograph Collection, West Lafayette IN

Jug Rock, one of the hidden gems in Indiana
Jug Rock in Indiana. Photo credit: Figmig, via Wikimedia Commons

Jug Rock, Shoals IN

Shoals, IN

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.

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.”

Suggested hotel: West Baden Springs Hotel, West Baden Springs IN

Sunken Gardens in Huntington IN
Sunken Gardens in Huntington, Indiana. Photo credit: Nyttend, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunken Garden, Huntington IN

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 a 1.5-acre oasis of plantings, footbridges, fountains, fieldstone staircases and a horseshoe-shaped pool.

There are frisbee golf goals, a basketball court, tennis courts, picnic pavilion and scenic walking trails. Bring a picnic and spend the afternoon.

Suggested hotel: Comfort Inn Huntington, Huntington IN

Hidden Gems for Active Travelers

Photo credit Indiana Destination Development Corp.

White River State Park, Indianapolis IN

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 (the 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.

Suggested hotel: Ironworks Hotel Indy, Indianapolis IN

East Race Waterway, South Bend IN

126 S Niles Ave.
South Bend, IN

You may not think of South Bend, the home of the venerable Notre Dame University, as a whitewater rafting destination but it is! Each summer, the man-made whitewater rafting course opens along the St. Joseph River. It doesn’t rival a whitewater rafting run on the New River, but it’s a fun distraction on a sultry summer day.

The East Race Waterway folks say their rapids rival those of the Colorado River. The 2,000-foot-long man-made course can generate waves up to six feet or higher.

Suggested hotel: Morris Inn Notre Dame, South Bend IN

Quirky Roadside Attractions in Indiana

The World's Largest Ball of Paint, a hidden gem in Indiana
The World’s Largest Ball of Paint, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Photo credit: Indiana Destination Development Corp.

The World’s Largest Ball of Paint, Alexandria IN

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.

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.”

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you want to see and paint the ball, you need to make a reservation by calling 765-724-4088.

Suggested hotel: Courtyard Muncie at Horizon Convention Center, Muncie IN

Martini-Drinking Pink Elephant, Fortville IN

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.

Suggested hotel: Hampton Inn Greenfield, Greenfield IN

Garfield statues in Muncie, a hidden gem in Indiana
Muncie’s Garfield statues. Photo credit: Muncie

Garfield Statues, Muncie IN

Muncie Visitors Bureau
421 S. Walnut St.
Muncie IN

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.

Suggested hotel: Courtyard Muncie at Horizon Convention Center, Muncie IN

Hidden Gems in Indiana: Unusual Museums and Attractions

City Market Catacombs, Indianapolis IN

Don’t expect bones or crypts, but a guided tour through the underbelly of Indianapolis is a historical exploration. Take the nighttime tour if you prefer to take your history with a side helping of ghost story.

Suggested hotel: Ironworks Hotel Indy, Indianapolis IN

Gennett Recording Studio Walk of Fame, Richmond IN

201 South 1st St.
Richmond IN

During the early 20th century, legendary musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Gene Autry and Hoagy Carmichael were drawn to Richmond and the Gennett Recording Studio. Today, those musicians and the studio’s role in birthing jazz music are celebrated on the Walk of Fame, a series of ceramic and bronze medallions resembling 78 rpm records.

Fairfield Inn by Marriott, Richmond INSuggested hotel:

Annie Oakley Natural Perfumery, Ligonier IN

300 Johnson St.
Ligonier IN

Located in the heart of Indiana’s Amish Country, Annie Oakely was started in 1980 and today is the only perfumery in the United States. Take a tour to learn the history of the company, see how the fragrances are created, blended and bottled, then make your own personal scent at the Mixing Bar.

Suggested hotel: Oakwood Resort, Syracuse IN

a rescured black pig at Oinking Farms Sanctuary in Brownsburg IN
One of more than 500 rescued pigs at Oinking Acres Farm. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Oinking Acres Farm Rescue & Sanctuary, Brownsburg IN

8420 N County Rd 650 E
Brownsburg IN

Olivia Head was just 18 when she started this sanctuary for abandoned, neglected, abused, and unwanted pot-bellied pigs and other farm animals. Since 2017, she has rescued more than 500 abandoned animals — and she knows each one by name. The farm is open to visitors via a self-guided tour on Fridays and Saturdays. The admission fee helps Olivia feed and care for the animals. Click here to get the latest updates on farm visits.

Suggested hotel: Hampton Inn and Suites Indianapolis/Brownsburg, Brownsburg IN

Bob Ross Experience, Muncie IN

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. You can stand where Bob stood, or sit in a 1980s living room and discover “The Joy of Painting” the way a cadre of fans did decades ago.

Suggested hotel: Courtyard Muncie at Horizon Convention Center, Muncie IN

Kokomo Opalescent Glass, Kokomo IN

1310 South Market St.
Kokomo, IN

Take a behind-the-scenes tour of America’s oldest art glass company. Kokomo Opalescent art glass is manufactured in the same facility and with the same techniques today that were used when the company was founded in 1888. During the factory tour, you’ll watch the glass blowers make stunning creations that are hand-ladled from a 2,000-degree furnace.

Tours are offered on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 11am but reservations are required. Call 765-457-1829 to schedule.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Wear closed-toe shoes; sandals and clogs are not allowed on the factory floor.

Suggested hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites, Kokomo IN

The Mascott Museum in Whiting is a hidden gem in Indiana
Kids playing in the Mascott Museum in northwest Indiana. Photo credit: Mascott Museum

The Mascot Hall of Fame, Whiting IN

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.

This is 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.”

SheBuysTravel Tip: The museum is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Suggested hotel: Ameristar Casino Hotel, East Chicago IN

Riley Boyhood Home and Museum, Greenfield IN

250 W. Main St.
Greenfield IN

This historic site is the childhood home of poet James Whitcomb Riley. The museum showcases his family’s life before, during and after the Civil War. Known as “The Hoosier Poet,” he is honored each October with The Riley Festival, which draws thousands to this small Indiana town.

The museum is open from the first Tuesday in April through the end of October.

Suggested hotel: Hampton Inn Greenfield, Greenfield IN

Museum of Miniatures in Indiana
Photo courtesy of Museum of Miniatures

Museum of Miniature Houses, Carmel IN

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.

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.

Suggested hotel: Hotel Carmichael, Autograph Collection, Carmel IN

Rotary Jail Museum, Crawfordsville IN

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, limit interaction among the inmates and improve 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.

The museum is only open Wednesday-Sunday March through December and hours vary by season. Check the website before planning a visit.

Suggested hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Crawfordsville, Crawfordsville IN

1932 Gilkie Tent Trailer at the RV Hall of Fame Museum
RVs have come a long way since this 1932 Gilkie Tent Trailer. Photo courtesy of the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in Elkhart Indiana

RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum, Elkhart IN

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 meet the 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.

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.

Suggested hotel: Hotel Elkhart Tapestry Collection by Hilton, Elkhart IN

Indiana Medical History Museum
Photo courtesy of the Indiana Medical History Museum

Indiana Medical History Museum, Indianapolis IN

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.

Suggested hotel: Ironworks Hotel Indy, Indianapolis IN

Pie from Bluegate Restaurant in Shipshewana IN.
Just some of the pie choices at Bluegate in Shipshewana. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

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 names like the “Rise and Shine” 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.

Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of SheBuysTravel.com. She also is the mom of two now grown kids who have traveled with her since that first, fateful plane ride when one preschooler discovered a barf bag in his seat pocket and his sister, finding none in hers, demanded, “I want a barf bag too!” She has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, an editor at Chicago Parent and Catalyst Chicago and an instructor in the graduate school at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism.
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