Indiana has a wealth of adventure destinations and activities if you know where to look. And no matter how you define adventure – leaving the jalapenos on the nachos this time; skydiving on a dare; or canoeing down a peaceful river – somewhere in Indiana you’ll find as much excitement as you can stand. Indiana’s state parks are a great place to start your adventures. Indiana operates 23 parks and nine reservoirs, plus state forests and historic sites, where the activities include hiking on trails that range from easy to rugged (depending on Mother Nature’s whims), to basking in the sun on a sandy beach.
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You can also camp, fish, swim, waterski, golf, climb or simply gather the family for a reunion, which can be adventure enough. And don’t overlook the state’s three national properties; the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, for example, offers 25 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline to explore.
The Knobstone Trail backpacking route through Clark, Scott and Washington counties is Indiana’s version of the famed Appalachian Trail without the crowds. Along the Knobstone Trail’s 58-mile course are stone outcroppings which make for steep climbs and descents, valleys, ponds, creeks and caves. Following the entire trail is a demanding challenge that can take three to five days. As on any serious hike, be prepared to carry out everything you carry in.
Biking in Indiana can be rigorous or relaxing, depending on the pace and course. If you’re up to covering 60 to 100 miles a day, you can ride from Fort Wayne to Evansville – a course of 365 miles that mostly follows the Wabash River.
The City of Madison has charted two somewhat leisurely road routes and two tougher routes designed for mountain bikes. The city itself is a great urban bike ride, and pastoral landscapes outside town are dotted with historic log and stone structures as well as Eleutherian College – the first college west of the Alleghenies to admit African-Americans and women. Pick up a Bicycle Route Map from the Madison Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, and get going. Other bike routes, short and long, exist all over the state.
If Madison’s history isn’t ancient enough for you, explore Indiana’s prehistoric beginnings. Floods caused by melting glaciers formed the Whitewater Gorge near Richmond, where adventurers can see fossils in the vertical cliffs, and even try their hand at digging for fossils in rubble piles caused by erosion at the bottoms of slopes along roads and creeks.
Geologic changes also created Indiana’s fascinating caves. Marengo Cave was discovered by two schoolchildren in 1883, and its numerous rooms continue to draw first-time visitors and experienced spelunkers. While in cave country, check out Wyandotte Caves State Recreation Area in Leavenworth; Squire Boone Caverns in Corydon; and Bluespring Caverns in Bedford.
To get in touch with your own inner caveman, how about howling with the wolves? On weekend nights at Wolf Park in Battle Ground, you can observe the wolves when they are at their most active and howl along, full moon or not. And during daylight hours, you can tour the wildlife park to learn more about the wolves and herd of bison who live there.
Even without an ocean, Indiana offers plenty of adventures in and on the water. The East Race Waterway in South Bend, reclaimed from a manmade mill race that is an offshoot of the St. Joseph River, is one of the country’s premier courses for whitewater sports, including kayaking, rafting and whitewater canoeing. (And one of only six such courses in the world!)
Olympic and national champions compete there regularly, but even beginners can rent rafts and “funyacks” – inflatable kayaks – for their first run through whitewater. People who prefer dry land can watch all the action from more than five miles of paved paths lining the East Race, or fish for Chinook salmon, steelhead trout and small-mouth bass.
Canoeing is popular all over the state. Some of Indiana’s loveliest scenery can be viewed while navigating the Blue River through southern Indiana limestone country. Sugar Creek in western Indiana passes through dramatic vistas and Turkey Run State Park.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Web site (www.state.in.us/dnr/outdoor/canoegui/index.htm) lists nearly 30 canoe liveries that rent everything you need for a fun, safe day, and more than 30 canoeing clubs and organizations that can provide advice and camaraderie. No matter which river or creek you choose to explore, the water is best in spring and summer.
Another favorite water sport in Indiana is power-boating on the state’s many lakes and reservoirs. Brookville Lake, for example, is one of Indiana’s biggest lakes and an easy drive from Indianapolis, Columbus or Cincinnati. Its three marinas rent all kinds of boats, whether you want to waterski, fish, sight-see from a pontoon boat or spend a few days aboard a houseboat.
Indiana also offers man made fun in the water. Two popular spots are Indiana Beach at Lake Shafer in Monticello and Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus. Indiana Beach’s Water Park has five tube slides, a speed slide and a quarter-mile Action River, plus the resort’s famous daily aquatic shows featuring trick water skiing stunts.
Indiana Beach also offers rides, shows, games, restaurants and shops – plus overnight accommodations for visitors who can’t squeeze everything into just one day.
Splashin’ Safari at Holiday World, in the southern part of the state, offers dozens of ways for families and friends to cool off. The towering Monsoon Lagoon has 12 levels and 60 ways to get wet, plus you can go tubing and sliding.
Holiday World also features numerous rides – two in even more water, and two rides where kids pilot their own boats. Holiday World’s two wooden roller coasters, the brand-new Legend and the Raven, are getting rave reviews from coaster enthusiasts nationwide.
If roller coasters are too tame for your taste, try skydiving. Skydive Greensburg in Greensburg and Aerodrome Skydiving in Richmond both offer a variety of training and jumping options, as well as special events, including the Labor Day Weekend Boogie at Aerodrome Skydiving, one of the nation’s biggest gatherings of skydivers.
Another way to risk your neck in Indiana is racing. If you prefer racing under your own power, the Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis offers classes in racing bikes on its banked track. The Velodrome also has a course for BMX riders, and a park for skateboarding and rollerblading.
In Indianapolis, Track Attack is a school for race-car driving (up to 120 mph!) on a half-mile course, and No Limit Racing Adventure at Indianapolis Raceway Park teaches people how to compete in full-size, V-8 trucks, and also offers go-cart competitions.
For a real adventure, let the kids drive at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, where they can pilot a zebra-striped Jeep through the 22-acre African Veldt. (Don’t worry – it’s on an electric track.)
Of course, this space can’t contain all Indiana’s adventure possibilities. Also in Indiana, you can find hot air ballooning, sailing, hang gliding, nighttime hikes at Ritchey Woods in Fishers, renting a pedal boat on Indianapolis’s Central Canal, or join any of the numerous clubs that explore Indiana, like the Central Indiana Wilderness Club or Volksmarch walking clubs.