Great adventures are often closer than you think. While a visit to Indianapolis is always a quick Cincinnati getaway, we wanted to experience what else Indiana had to offer. A wish list that included a beach, plenty of parks and family-friendly attractions had us mapping out the perfect Northern Indiana road trip.
Our journey through northern Indiana led us through country roads, small towns, and fascinating destinations. We were graciously hosted on this trip by the cities below, however, all opinions are my own.
North of Indianapolis you will find the charming town of Carmel, Indiana. After visiting last year, there was no question that a stop here was mandatory. This ever-growing portion of Indiana is booming with new local restaurants, trendy boutiques, and plenty of family-friendly adventures. We spent two beautiful days exploring even more of what Hamilton County as to offer.
What To Do
Starting in Indianapolis and spanning to the town of Sheridan, this former railroad turned paved pathway is now welcoming runners, bikers, and pedestrians to explore its scenic route. Bring your own bike or rent them then hop on the Monon Trail at one of the trail’s many access points. Ensure to venture off the path to discover beautiful parks, eccentric towns, or connect to another trail to leave no stone unturned.
One of the best ways to cool off during a hot summer day is with a visit to The Waterpark. Relax in the lazy river, zip down one of their many slides, or try your hand at surfing on a simulator. Two great kid areas are bound to keep those little ones entertained. From a tame toddler pool to a more action-packed zone that is bound to burn off that pent up energy. This is the perfect addition to any summer itinerary or a great way to cool off during your trek up or down the Monon Trail.
Stuckey’s Farm Orchard and Cider Mill
Once the apples are ready for picking it is the ideal time for a visit to Stuckey’s Orchard and Cider Mill. Grab a bag and head out into the orchard to pick a bag of crispy sweet apples. Signs will indicate which rows are ripe to pick from and they want you to fill those bags full! After our daughter grabbed that first tasty apple she was hooked. The apples she picked made for an ideal travel snack for the rest of our trip. Don’t forget to reward all your hard apple-picking efforts with a cold glass of refreshing cider.
History comes to life as you step back into time with a visit to Conner Prairie. This interactive outdoor museum will take your family on an amazing journey back through time with a visit to 1836 Indiana. Explore how times were like during the Civil War and even step into a four-story treehouse. Encouraging guests to create is a key component of any visit. Whether you are building a windmill or learning about the effects of wind a visit to Conner Prairie is bound to be fun and educational. We share tips and what to expect during your visit to Conner Prairie here.
Where To Stay
During our recent visit to Hamilton County, we stayed at the Renaissance Hotel in Carmel. The central location of this hotel was ideal as everything was within a few minute’s drive. The rooms were spacious, clean, and modern. We enjoyed many of the amenities the hotel had, but the best was the indoor pool.
Where To Eat
There are endless restaurants, eateries, and breweries throughout Hamilton County. From indulging in chocolate cake at the Cake Bake Shop to an Italian inspired brunch at Caffe Boundi, the possibilities are endless. Biking along the Monon Trail you will find classics like Bub’s Cafe and Burgers or stop in for a cold one at Sun King Brewery. Whatever you do, just save room for dessert at The Cake Bake Shop!
Read about our last visit to Hamilton County to get a few more great ideas to add to your itinerary.
The tranquility and beauty of the Indiana Dunes will have you questioning if you are actually in Indiana. Soft sand, huge dunes, and the waves rolling in from Lake Michigan made me feel as if I was along the coast. This is one stop that you must include in your Northern Indiana road trip.
Honestly, we did not spend enough time at the Dunes as I only allotted only half a day to explore this natural wonder. We made it to the beach twenty minutes before the storms we were outrunning caught up. With rain in the schedule for the rest of the day, we ventured to the Nature Center then headed on to our next destination.
Don’t make the same mistake I made; plan for at least two days here if not more. The Indiana Dunes is an incredible National Park that has many great hiking trails and activities to explore. They also have a campground for those who enjoy camping.
Needless to say, now that I know this amazing beach area is roughly a four-hour drive from Cincinnati, I will be making a return trip.
Considering Visiting Chicago During Your Northern Indiana Road Trip
While we didn’t venture to Chicago this trip it is a great option after visiting the Dunes. Chicago is less than an hour away. This great city is full of family-friendly adventures. Learn more about great things to do with your family in Chicago here.
One family-friendly stop that you don’t want by-pass, but rather include in any trip to Northern Indiana is South Bend. Located only an hour east from the Indiana Dunes it is packed with unique attractions and experiences for the whole family. We spent two nights in South Bend taking in all the sights.
What To Do
Potawatomi Zoo and Park
Take in the sights and sounds of Indiana’s oldest zoo, Potawatomi Zoo. What started as a modest duck pond has grown into the family-fun zoo that it is today. From a phenomenal petting zoo to walking around with kangaroos there is plenty to discover at this hidden gem.
The zoo is the perfect size to explore in a morning or afternoon, which makes it great for those with a toddler in tow. Don’t miss the huge bison, the river otters or the resident peacock parading around. Hop aboard the train and the carousel to add even more excitement to your visit.
Studebaker National Museum
Home to the classic automobile company, Studebaker, it is only fitting to visit this one of a kind museum while in South Bend. Learn the local history, brush up on your mechanic skills, and then bask in the glory of roughly 120 classic vehicles. Classic cars are not the only thing one will find when they step foot into the National Studebaker Museum.
The museum is home to the world’s largest collection of presidential carriages, including the one Abraham Lincoln rode in on his way to Ford’s Theater the night of his assassination. Little ones will love the Super Service Center where they can change tires, replace mufflers, and complete their tune-up checklists.
University of Notre Dame
The University of Notre Dame is not only home to a beautiful campus, but many rare sights that attract thousands of visitors each year. It is hard to miss the towering golden dome beckoning tourists. Visitors can opt for a guided tour or take a self-guided tour of the campus. Maps and information can be found at the Eck Visitors Center.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is one of the top sights on the campus as it is home to many precious relics. The Basilica is breath-taking and resembles those found in Europe. View Columbus Tapestries hanging in the Admission Building before heading to the Snite Museum of Art.
Then take a tour of the stadium if time allows. I’m chalking this up as my daughter’s first college visit.
Where To Stay
The Embassy Suites is quite honestly one of the nicest places we have had the opportunity to stay at. This brand new hotel gives families space that they so desperately desire and need. With a separate living room, kitchenette and tub I couldn’t imagine a better spot to bring my family.
Breakfast is included every morning, with a custom-made omelet station and happy hour in the evenings! Let’s not forget the indoor pool that is a staple in my hotel wish list. The staff was excellent and I just can’t recommend them enough.
Where To Eat
There is never a shortage of great places to eat in a college town and we found plenty! One of our favorites had to be The Lauber Kitchen and Bar. This old sheet metal factory turned local eatery is serving up scratch-made pizza, pasta, and so much more! The patio games were a hit with our daughter and made the evening go smoothly. For a quick lunch, swing into Barbici or enjoy a drink at the Crooked Ewe.
Fort Wayne: A Perfect Stop For A Northern Indiana Road Trip
We have fallen in love with this great family-oriented destination so much that we are already planning another trip back. Fort Wayne is home to a wide variety of family-friendly attractions, parks, and restaurants.
A two-night stay is what was planned, however, we should have stayed another night with so many great activities and a fun downtown scene to explore. This is a wonderful family stop along any northern Indiana road trip.
Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
A must-see sight when visiting Fort Wayne is their Children’s Zoo. There is a reason they are listed as one of the nation’s top ten zoos for kids.
Their interactive exhibits will leave you spellbound, while the animals often entertain their guests. The zoo is quite large, so it is best to plan ahead as you likely won’t see the whole thing in one day.
Take time to feed the goats, ride the train, and touch the stingrays. The Indonesian Rainforest is a fascinating exhibit that is home to orangutans, a kid’s treehouse, and fun discover station.
Get up close and personal with science at this hands-on science center. Located in the city’s old power plant building, the museum has kept the power plant feel by incorporating some of the old equipment into the museum.
Guests of all ages enjoy a variety of exhibits that spark the imagination. We especially love the Kids Central area which is dedicated to those 2-7 years old. A water table, age-appropriate play structure, and a nursing area can be found here. Best of all it is gated!
Older kids will be entertained with the endless hands-on science exhibits that not only teach but excite!
This gorgeous Riverfront Park has just opened and the locals and visitors are loving it. There is a lot to explore here. Outdoor games, water features, and walking paths are just the beginning of what you will discover. Hop aboard a boat ride or spend the morning taking the kids to the new playground. Either way, I recommend packing lunch and staying for a while.
One of our favorite places that we visited was the Botanical Conservatory. These beautiful gardens surpass expectations and make for an educational and kid-friendly visit. A discovery center full of fun interactive toys and books greets little ones. Each garden is full of fascinating and fun surprises. Be sure to look for signs to guide you to popular plants like the chocolate tree.
Where To Stay
During our visit, we stayed at the newly opened Hampton Inn near the ballfield. We truly enjoyed how walkable the hotel was from so many great city sights. The waffles that we made every morning were my daughter’s favorite. The hotel is home to an amazing restaurant Burger Bar. It gets busy, but it is busy for a reason. In the evening grab a cocktail on their rooftop bar! The hotel staff was exceptional, our room clean and beds comfy!
Where To Eat
Proximo was hands down our favorite restaurant that we visited. Their Latin-inspired menu is one that I could order off of every night. We also can never turn down a good taco, which why we ventured to the Hoppy Gnome!
The midwest is full of exciting adventures. Check out this fun 10-day Midwest Road Trip Itinerary.
Anderson/ Madison County
Home to the largest ball of paint and historic Indian Mounds, Anderson County Indiana has quite a few unique and quirky attractions worth visiting. Just northeast of Hamilton County, Indiana this was our final stop on our northern Indiana road trip.
Where to Go
World’s Largest Ball Of Paint
Imagine a massive wrecking ball-sized ball of paint… Come and see what over 26,000 layers of paint looks like on a single baseball and then add on another layer. Mike Carmicheal is the visionary behind this impressive feat and is always excited to tell visitors his story.
This Guinness Book of World Record attraction is open by appointment only so call before you show up. Learn more about how to visit and how you can add on another layer of history here.
Mounds State Park
Mounds State Park is home to ten unique historic Indian earthworks built thousands of years ago. There is plenty to explore in this great state park. With hiking trails, picnicking a nature center, and camping accommodations you can spend a whole weekend unlocking the mysteries of the ancient Indian Mounds.
Where To Eat
There are plenty of great chain restaurants available, however, a local told us to head over to locally-owned Bobbers which did not disappoint. Get one of their famous (fried) tenderloin sandwiches and enjoy the lakeside view. Afterward, take the time to explore the nearby park and stroll along the lake. Save time in your busy schedule to visit Good’s Candy Shop. Homemade ice cream, confections, and candies make this the perfect ending to your trip,
Where To Stay
There are plenty of good hotel options in the area to choose from. Check out the Anderson Madison County website for a complete listing.
Northern Indiana Road Trip Summary
We had a great time on our Northern Indiana road trip! We got to experience a taste of what Northern Indiana has to offer.
There were a lot of stops during this road trip, which proved to wear on our daughter and us. The amount of luggage you have when traveling with a toddler is appalling, so loading, unloading every other day is exhausting. I recommend picking two cities to explore at most if you have a little one with you.
This brings me to my second point, each city has way more to discover then what we got to experience. I could have easily spent an extra day or two at each location taking in the sights. Get a game plan together before you visit so you don’t get overwhelmed with all the options.