Small towns in Indiana offer unique culinary and creative experiences, boutique shops and handicrafts, and a hefty dose of history and culture. Groups wanting to experience the state’s small-town charm should put these five destinations at the top of their lists.
In the heart of northern Indiana’s Amish country, Nappanee makes a great base for learning more about the Amish people and culture, and learning to unplug and embrace a slower pace. Downtown Nappanee is very walkable, and visitors will enjoy a variety of cuisines as well as boutique shops. Coppes Commons, a repurposed factory building that now houses shops, restaurants and event space, is a favorite group destination. It offers upcycled products, handmade fabric art and fabric stores, ice cream and a deli.
The Nappanee Center houses the Evelyn Lehman Culp Heritage Collection, which tells the story of Nappanee through permanent and rotating exhibits. Main attractions include the new Grant Family Gallery, which features the work of Amish folk artist Emma Schrock, who painted scenes of rural and home life in the Amish community. There also is a tribute to six nationally known cartoonists who called the area home.
From late May to mid-September, the center features a well-maintained quilt garden that is part of the area’s famed Quilt Garden Trail. Visitors to the area can visit 17 quilt gardens, including ones in Nappanee, Bristol, Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury and Wakarusa. The Barns at Nappanee offer visitors a more personal experience with the Amish culture. Groups can tour an Amish homestead on the grounds, take a buggy ride, shop handmade goods made by local artisans or take in a theatrical performance at the Round Barn Theatre. Another popular activity is a family-style Threshers Dinner at the FarmTable restaurant, which offers traditional Amish fare.
The quaint central Indiana village of Nashville features more than 200 shops, art galleries and restaurants, and is surrounded by a beautiful state park. Brown County’s arts scene permeates Nashville’s downtown with studios, galleries, classes and workshops, and public art pieces are scattered around town. Many groups land in Nashville because they want to experience the 16,000-acre Brown County State Park, which offers 20 miles of tree-lined roads, hiking and mountain biking trails, horseback riding and a nature center. Groups can book private tours of the park through the nature center.
Peak visitation to the area arrives during the summer months and extends through leaf peeping season in the fall, with Hesitation Point and other great overlooks a big draw. More adventurous groups can book guided paddleboarding or kayaking tours or take a self-guided backroads art studio tour, where they can see art being created and purchase original works directly from the artists.
The nearby Village of Story is a charming stop. The town was founded in 1851 and has since been transformed into The Story Inn, Indiana’s oldest country inn, with 14 rooms and cottages, and a gourmet restaurant and bar that is housed in the former general store. The bar and a renovated barn host live music and monthly comedy shows.
Visitors can climb 928 feet to the top of Browning Mountain for breathtaking views of the area, especially during autumn, when the leaves are changing color.
In southern Indiana, the state’s first capitol city, Corydon, is rich in history that dates back before Indiana applied for statehood. Groups wanting to learn more about the area should visit Corydon Capitol State Historic Site to tour the original state capitol building, which was in use from 1816 to 1825, before the state capitol was moved to Indianapolis. Governor William Hendricks’ headquarters and home is also worth a stop. The two-story Federal-style brick building was completed in 1917.
The Battle of Corydon Historic Site commemorates the only Civil War battle fought in Indiana, when 450 members of the Harrison County Home Guard tried to delay Confederate troops from marching through the southern part of the state. The park features a memorial, an original cabin from the era and historical markers describing the events of July 9, 1863.
The Harrison County Discovery Center is a great stop to learn more about state and local history through interactive and hands-on exhibits, and experience the Battle of Corydon through a 360-degree movie.
Zimmerman Art Glass, which is downtown within walking distance of the visitor center and capitol, is a family-owned business offering glass-making demonstrations from start to finish. It is surrounded by antique stores, coffee shops, candy stores and boutiques.
Groups that like to gamble will want to visit Caesars Southern Indiana Casino, and outdoors lovers will want to visit three natural caves in the area: Indiana Caverns, with its Bat Chaser aerial coaster; Marengo Cave, which is a historic landmark; and Squire Boone Caverns and Zipline Adventures, which offers Indiana’s longest zipline.
Near the center of the state, Bloomington is not only a university town — the University of Indiana Bloomington calls the area home — but it also is situated on the largest inland lake in Indiana, Lake Monroe. Centrally located between Chicago; Nashville, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; and Columbus, Ohio; the town is an ideal getaway from just about anywhere in the country.
Outdoor recreation abounds, with Monroe and two other recreational lakes offering kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing and other water sports. Indiana’s only national forest, Hoosier National Forest, surrounds the town, offering opportunities for hiking and mountain biking.
The city, which considers itself an artistic haven, has more than 350 restaurants and locally owned shops. Live music is offered everywhere, and visitors looking to experience art and culture can visit the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, as well as the Lilly Library, a rare book and manuscript library that includes the first printed edition of “The Canterbury Tales,” a New Testament of the Gutenberg Bible and George Washington’s letter accepting the office of president of the U.S.
Bloomington is known for its famous Salem Limestone, which was used to build many of the nation’s most famous buildings, including 27 state capitols, the Lincoln Memorial and the Empire State Building. As they journey along the self-guided Indiana Limestone Heritage Trail, visitors can learn how and where the limestone was quarried and how it was used throughout history. One stop on the trail, Bluespring Caverns Park in Bedford, offers boat tours of the caverns on America’s longest navigable underground river.
Founded in 1814 in the southwest corner of the state, New Harmony was an experiment in utopian and communal living that was founded by Johann Georg Rapp and his Harmonie Society, separatists from the German Lutheran Church who were awaiting the second coming of Christ. When that didn’t occur on schedule, many of Rapp’s followers moved to Pennsylvania to establish a new town called Economy. The town was then sold to Scottish industrialist Robert Owen, who had a different view of utopia, believing that all people are created equal, everyone has an equal right to education, children should be protected from forced labor, and women should be able to vote.
The town still attracts artists, musicians and intellectuals. Situated on the Wabash River, New Harmony has many historic buildings that date back to the time of the colony’s founding. The Roofless Church is world renowned, and the city is known for its labyrinths. The most famous is the Cathedral Labyrinth and Sacred Garden, which is a replica of one that was built at Chartres Cathedral in the 12th century. Harmonist Labyrinth is more traditional, with manicured hedges planted in concentric circles.
New Harmony is known for its many festivals, including the Firefly Festival, which celebrates the millions of sparkly fireflies that appear annually during a two-month window. The Atheneum Visitor Center offers tours daily between March and the end of October and features exhibits, a gift shop and movie about the founding of New Harmony.