Six Hot Hoosier Getaways
by Elizabeth Granger –
We see them daily, those slick ads touting getaway places in Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, even Florida. Yes, they’re all winners. But so are spots right here in Indiana with something to satisfy the little ones, teens, adults … I’ve gone alone, with my husband, with kids, and each one’s a charm. So check out our list of half a dozen Hoosier fun spots.
Start at home. And right here, right now, that means …
1. Conner Prairie in Fishers. With a new name attesting to its true identity, this is now Conner Prairie Interactive History Park. More history than ever before with more hands-on, interactive possibilities than ever before. The crème de la crème of this summer is the 1859 Balloon Voyage, complete with helium-filled balloon to take you 350 feet into the air for a bird’s-eye view of not only Conner Prairie but also the surrounding area. But make no mistake, the Conner Prairie of old, with Prairietown, Liberty Corner and the Lenape village, is still here.
Then check out the usual fun places in …
2. Indianapolis. You’ll find a lot more than the usual right now. Komodo dragons, the world’s largest lizards, are spending the summer at the Indianapolis Zoo. The NCAA Hall of Champions recently re-opened after a major renovation. “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” will begin a four-month stay at the Children’s Museum on June 27.
Why, just being in White River State Park is a vacation. Stroll by the Canal, go to an Indians game or IMAX movie, tour the Indiana State Museum. Take a Segway tour or pedal your way down the Canal.
And then, less than a tank full of gas south of here, you’ll find …
3. Santa Claus. Who can go wrong in a town named after St. Nick? Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari gives a double dose of fun. This family-friendly theme park consistently gets top honors for being the friendliest and the cleanest, and its roller coasters always place in the Top 10. Something new has been added every year since 1993; this year it’s Pilgrim’s Plunge, the world’s tallest water ride.
Yet some things never change. Santa’s there every day. Soft drinks and sunscreen are free, as is the use of inner tubes in the water park. Parking’s free, too. The theme park hoopla all began in 1946 when Louis Koch created the theme park – nine years before Disneyland – as his retirement project. The father of nine didn’t like the idea of children finding no Santa when they went to Santa Claus, Ind. So he opened Santa Claus Land with a toy shop, children’s rides and, naturally, Santa Claus himself. In 1984 Halloween and 4th of July sections were added, along with rides for bigger kids, and the name was changed to Holiday World. In 1993 the water park, Splashin’ Safari, came along.
Be ready to be tired at the end of the day. The perfect antidote to driving home? Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Park. It’s adjacent to the theme park, so you can walk over. Give the kids (and the kid in you) a camping experience the easy way by renting an RV for the night. All you have to bring are bed linens, towels and, if you don’t want to eat out, food. Don’t forget the marshmallows for your campfire.
Be sure to stay in Santa Claus an extra day to take in …
4. Indiana’s Lincoln sites. Honest Abe grew up in these parts, and the area’s gone all out this year to celebrate the bicentennial of his birthday.
“People come here because this is the site where Abraham Lincoln lived for 14 years of his life,” says guide Nathan Held at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. Many come with a sense of surprise. “One thing we hear a whole lot is, ‘I didn’t even know he lived in Indiana,’” says Held. “But he spent his formative years here.”
A visitor center offers information, a brief film, a bookstore and museum exhibits. The building’s facade has a series of sculptured panels of Lincoln, carved from Indiana limestone. The farmstead also has the burial site of Lincoln’s mother, who died when he was 9. A living historical farm is perhaps the most popular attraction at the memorial. Park rangers in period costume perform chores like the Lincolns would have.
Across the highway is Lincoln State Park with camping facilities as well as fishing, hiking, swimming and boating. A new monument in honor of Lincoln’s Hoosier youth was unveiled and the outdoor musical drama, “Lincoln,” debuted there in mid-June.
And not far away, to the north, is …
5. Patoka Lake. Indiana’s second-largest reservoir offers a view distinctly different from Geist. This southern Indiana lake was built in the 1970s by the Army Corps of Engineers; about 75 percent of the water is surrounded by the Hoosier National Forest so the only buildings on the lake are two marinas. No private homes or cabins or resorts.
But you’ll find floating cabins, which fall under houseboat regulations even though they never leave the dock. “A floating cabin is the next best thing to being able to build a home on the water, and it’s a great alternative to a houseboat,” says Patoka Lake Marina co-owner Harvey Edwards. “You get all the advantages of being right on the water, but you don’t have the responsibility of driving a houseboat.”
Rustic cabins these are not. These homes away from home offer the comforts of a most comfortable abode – full kitchens, dining areas, sitting areas, baths, two or three bedrooms. They’re snuggled up against a series of docks, which make for just-about-instant fishing. Guests can tie their vessels up to the docks and go immediately from bed to breakfast to boat. Rental boats are available for those who appear without. Or there’s fishing from the docks. Fishermen here typically go after bass – striped, largemouth, smallmouth, white – but there are also crappie and bluegill. What the floating cabins don’t have is the rocking motion that might be expected.
And just to the north of Patoka Lake are …
6. French Lick and West Baden Springs. Here is luxury personified in what Historic Landmarks of Indiana calls “the Save of the Century.” The label is no exaggeration.
When it opened in 1902, southern Indiana’s West Baden Springs Hotel was touted as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” After decades of decline, it’s once again a wonder. Here is a story of vision and hope, reality and despair, rescue and rejuvenation. The jump-start came in November 2003 when the Orange County voted to allow gaming. Plans called for a five-acre lake to be created between the West Baden Springs National Historic Landmark Hotel and the French Lick Springs Resort & Spa. A casino would float on the lake.
It’s come to pass. And so has the complete renovation of the two hotels. They, along with the casino, make up the French Lick Resort Casino. Guests at West Baden bask in the lap of luxury with 246 guest rooms and suites, some of which open onto balconies in the domed atrium, and at French Lick with 443 guest rooms and suites. Offerings include several restaurants, shops, spa, golf course, natatorium, horseback riding and shuttle to the casino. Historical tours are presented through Historic Landmarks of Indiana.
Elizabeth Granger is a freelance travel writer from Fishers. She also teaches English and journalism and advises the award-winning student newspaper at Lawrence Central High School.
More Info: Check out these websites, some with coupons.
Conner Prairie: www.connerprairie.org
Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari: www.holidayworld.com
Lake Rudolph Campgrounds: www.lakerudolph.com
White River State Park: http://www.in.gov/whiteriver/
French Lick Resort Casino: www.frenchlick.com
Patoka Lake Marina: www.patokalakemarina.com
Spencer County: www.legendaryplaces.org/
Note: Holiday World and the Lincoln sites, in Spencer County, are on Central Daylight Time.