To experience the Hoosier State’s diverse landscape, pay a visit to these four state parks.
At the heart of the Midwest region of the United States, Indiana is best known as a farming state, its vast prairies draped in rows of cornstalks and golden fields of wheat. But Indiana has a wild side that many travelers don’t know about.
Just an hour's drive outside of bustling Chicago, Illinois, the rolling sand dunes and expansive shorelines await, while farther south you will find glacier-shaped ravines and temperamental waterfalls.
Indiana Dunes State Park
A little over 80 kilometers southeast of Chicago, Indiana Dunes State Park features nearly 900 hectares of beautiful landscape, including a 24-kilometer stretch of Lake Michigan’s coastline. The park’s main draw is its beaches, which are framed by undulating sand dunes that can rise more that 60 meters high. The park also offers opportunities to fish, bird watch, bike, hike and camp. Spring and summer are the most popular times to visit. However, the park sports lovely fall colors and is open to cross-country skiing in the winter.
Indiana Dunes State Park is beloved for its beaches, which flank the Lake Michigan coast.
Chain O’ Lakes State Park
In Chain O' Lakes State Park in northern Indiana (about 200 kilometers northeast of Indianapolis), nine connecting lakes provide boaters, swimmers and fishing enthusiasts a serene paradise. You can kayak or canoe across all nine lakes, or, if you prefer staying on land, hike the park's 16 kilometers of forested trails. To learn more about the area’s wildlife, spend some time at the nature center, housed in an old one-room schoolhouse. Chain O' Lakes is quite popular in the summertime, though the fall foliage casts magnificent colors across the lakes.
Chain O’ Lakes State Park is a playground for those who love to canoe, kayak and swim.
Clifty Falls State Park
Clifty Falls State Park encompasses more than 570 hectares of waterfalls, stony canyons and amazing hiking trails along the Ohio River. This park in southeast Indiana (about 70 kilometers northeast of Louisville, Kentucky, and 120 kilometers southwest of Cincinnati, Ohio) is also the place to go if you’re a fan of fossils. Clifty Creek is imprinted with ancient corals and sea animals. (Look but don’t touch, as fossil collecting is not allowed in the park.) Two other canyons intersect with Clifty Creek Canyon: Deans Branch, home to Tunnel Falls, and Hoffman Branch, where hiking trails lead to the scenic Hoffman Falls. Camping is widely available, but the Clifty Inn offers more comfortable accommodations if roughing it isn’t for you.
When you’re not searching for fossils in Clifty Falls State Park, follow one of the many hiking trails or spend some time admiring the park’s waterfalls.
Brown County State Park
Southern Indiana is also home to the state's largest park, Brown County State Park. With almost 6,500 hectares of ridges, ravines and forests, this beautiful wilderness area has earned the nickname "Little Smokies" because of its similarities with the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. Located about 75 kilometers due south of Indianapolis, Brown County State Park features ample hiking and biking trails, not to mention tennis courts and a swimming pool. But perhaps the best way to experience the park is on horseback. Guided rides along the park’s 110-plus kilometers of horseback riding trails are offered all year long.
Brown County State Park’s rolling hills and verdant forests are reminiscent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.