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10 fun places to go with outdoor activities within a 3 hour drive of Indianapolis, with current COVID-19 updates included.
The state of Indiana is in Stage 4.5 out of 5 of reopening due to COVID-19. The good news is that Indiana has not only farmland but also rivers, forests, and lakes that are great ways to have socially distanced travel fun.
1. Turkey Run State Park
There are many ways to explore Turkey Run, especially the ravines and sandstone gorges. Trail 2 and Trail 3 (Ladders Trail) are notable hiking trails and were voted as the top two hiking trails on VisitIndiana.com. Trail difficulty ranges from “easy” to “very rugged.” Other activities include camping, hiking, fishing, boating, birding, hunting, bicycle riding, horseback riding, and geocaching.
Turkey Run State Park is open for nearly all activities. The public outdoor swimming pool is closed for the summer season, and the drinking fountains are turned off. The Nature Center and historic buildings are open but may have limited hours and visitor capacity.
2. Brown County State Park
Within an hour drive from Indianapolis, the largest state park in Indiana has many opportunities to recreate responsibly. It has the longest mountain biking trail in Indiana, which Bike magazine said has the most varied terrain east of the Mississippi, and the hiking Fire Tower Trail which was ranked as the fourth best hiking trails on VisitIndiana.com. You can also go horseback riding on well-marked trails or visit picnic areas, fishing and boating lakes, and tennis courts. Stay overnight in various campsites, cabins, or lodging.
The state park is open for nearly all activities. The public outdoor swimming pool is closed for the 2020 summer season, and drinking fountains are turned off. Gates may be closed on busy weekends when parking capacity is reached.
Photo by Katelyn Milligan
3. Kosciusko County lakes
Build your own weekend getaway by visiting Lake Wawasee, Tippecanoe Lake, Winona Lake, or Barbee Lake which are some of the lakes formed from glaciers in Kosciusko County in northern Indiana. On the water, each lake has opportunities to go boating, fishing, skiing, or kayaking, and outside of the lake, there are areas to go biking, geocaching, and bird watching. Stay in hotels, resorts, rental houses, or condos. Most of the area is commercialized and has several local tourism attractions.
Most places are open, but check for COVID-19 updates and restrictions on their website.
4. Hoosier National Forest
Hoosier National Forest spans nine counties in southern Indiana. You can hike, mountain bike, ride horses, camp, fish, hunt, or canoe. There are many special places, like the Charles C. Deam Wilderness, to visit within the 203,000 acres of land. Most areas are open. After you’re done exploring, cool off from the hot weather by visiting the nearby Patoka Lake, the second-largest reservoir in Indiana. If you a weekend getaway, Patoka Lake has houseboat rentals and floating cabins, and within a half hour drive is the iconic hotel The French Lick Resort which has many outdoor leisure activities like golf, horse stables, swimming pools, and sporting clay ranges.
Most places are open with social distancing guidelines in place.
5. Clifty Falls State Park
If you are looking for waterfalls, creeks, and canyons made from the last Ice Age, then Clifty Falls State Park is the place to visit. Big Clifty, 60 feet in height, and Tunnel Falls, 83 feet in height, are popular waterfall attractions. In addition to hiking, there are picnic tables and tennis courts. Clifty Falls is located in Madison, IN.
It is open for nearly all activities. The public outdoor swimming pool is closed for the summer season, and the drinking fountains are turned off.
Photo by Patrick Williams / @cartoonsushi
6. Indiana Dunes National Park
Explore the 15,000 acres of sand and beaches among this shifting Hoosier landscape. Swim on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, or hike the multiple trails of dunes, wetlands, prairies, rivers, and forests. The 1.5 mile 3 Dunes Challenge reveals a great view of Lake Michigan. It is currently recommended to visit West Beach due to the open space available there. Near the Indiana Dunes central beach is the Michigan City Lighthouse, built in 1904, and pier.
Most beaches, trails, and restrooms are open. Park closures and updates are in a constant flux. Visit here for the most recent information.
7. Canoe Country
Located in Daleville, IN, rent a kayak, canoe, or inner tube for the day and float down the White River with different options for length of trip. Park at the main building and board a shuttle that drops you off upriver so you will end up back at your car. Along the river, spot turtles basking in the sun or eat a packed lunch on the riverbank. Due to Covid-19, online reservations are required, and they close at 3 p.m. For evening activities or eateries, check out the nearby cities of Yorktown, Muncie, or Anderson.
Photo by bellena/Shutterstock
Located in northern Indiana, this town is home to the third largest Amish community in the U.S. and operates the Midwest’s largest flea market. Shops have a reputation for selling hand-crafted wares and antiques. The flea market is outdoors and is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays through September 30. The Blue Gate Restaurant, known for home cooked Amish meals and featured in USA Today, Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times, is also open and following state guidelines.
LaGrange County is currently requiring face masks to be worn indoors or when 6 feet social distancing cannot be maintained while outdoors. A violation of this may result in a fine.
9. Mammoth Cave National Park
Exactly a three hour drive from Indianapolis is Mammoth Cave National Park, which has the world’s longest cave, 400+ miles. below ground and 53,000 acres of forest. There are 70 miles of trail, including tree covered ridges and valley floors, nearby the Green River. The visitor center, food/beverage opportunities, and retail sales have recently reopened. From June 1, 2020 – July 31, 2020, you can take a 2 mile round-trip, 1.5 hour self-guided Extended Historic Tour of Mammoth Cave, done at your own pace. Make a reservation online for your ticketed entrance time because tickets are limited to reduce capacity.
Park campgrounds are open. Masks are strongly encouraged. Check the website for additional information on park operating modifications.
10. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
The Cincinnati zoo, the fifth-oldest zoo in the U.S., is open to the public with new changes in place. Outdoor animal habitats and large garden exhibits are open as well as the train ride and giraffe feeding. Some indoor animal habitats are closed, and animal encounters are closed momentarily. Per Ohio’s city ordinance, face masks are required in all buildings and high congestion areas. Indoor restaurants and gift shops are closed at this time, but outdoor dining options are available.
Online reservations with reserved entry times are required to ensure limited capacity. To learn more, visit the Reopening FAQ.
Katelyn Milligan is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a graduate of Purdue University.