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Start Your Engines for Indiana

Indiana is the neighbor you always wanted. Known for its “Hoosier hospitality,” the state is often portrayed in movies and pop culture as quintessential America. This depiction comes from the hard-working, kind-hearted citizens who give the state its wholesome image.

Throughout the state, farm towns line the highways and open their doors to travelers. Elkhart County features several authentic ways to interact with the Amish community, and Dearborn County is known for creative, hands-on group activities that pack a lot of personality into a tour.

In its cities, Indiana offers high-caliber urban attractions. World-class museums, sports attractions and art experiences can easily fill an itinerary in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. For a historical look at the state, try Harrison County, Indiana’s original capital, which continues to preserve its past for interested visitors.

With so many accessible and engaging options, groups will love cozying up to the Hoosier State.

Elkhart County

Bursts of color welcome groups to Elkhart County along the Quilt Garden Trail. Each spring, blocks of more than 150,000 flowers are woven together to mimic gorgeous Amish quilt patterns throughout the county.

The Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau can incorporate the lovely gardens into a group experience. For example, local celebrity chefs can lead culinary programs for groups that feature edible plants from the area’s quilt gardens.

The county also draws many groups because of its large Amish population. The county’s Amish homes and businesses invite groups inside for conversation and behind-the-scenes information. Groups can choose in-home Amish meals, basketmaking demonstrations or tours of an Amish coffin workshop, among other face-to-face experiences.

Step-on guides help groups navigate the county’s picturesque country roads, Amish stores and local cuisine on a Backroads Experiences tour. On the popular Brown Bag Tour, participants stop at numerous local shops and receive a souvenir or treat at each one.

Groups can enjoy a night of musical theater at the Blue Gate Restaurant and Theatre in Shipshewana. The 1,000-seat restaurant serves traditional Amish and homestyle-meals. The theater also hosts concerts and family entertainment.

Amish Acres Historic Farm and Heritage Resort remains another must-see for most groups. The 19th-century farmstead reveals the history and traditions of the Amish people for a comprehensive look at the culture. The site also has a theater and a restaurant.

Another popular dining establishment, Das Dutchman Essenhaus, is one of Indiana’s largest restaurants. Surrounding the restaurant, five former farm buildings feature shops that also sellfruitcake, home-style noodles, local jam and other area favorites. Groups can stay in the property’s comfortable accommodations or catch a show at the Heritage Hall.

Harrison County

The summer sun of 1816 beat down upon the Indiana delegates seeking to pass a new state constitution that would make Corydon the state capital. Working in an unfinished log cabin, the delegates sought refuge from the heat under a giant elm tree, later named the Constitution Elm. The constitution passed, making Corydon the capital of Indiana until 1825, when delegates moved it to Indianapolis.

Groups can learn about this fascinating time in Harrison County’s history at the Corydon State Historic Site. Tours venture to various historic government buildings, with a stop at a portion of the Constitution Elm preserved in a sandstone memorial.

Visitors will find more intriguing history at the Battle of Corydon Memorial Park, the location of Indiana’s only battlefield. A log cabin and historic monuments tell the story of the Civil War battle that took place there.

Groups can also tour the Leora Brown School, one of the nation’s oldest remaining African American schoolhouses. Step-on guides arranged through the Harrison County CVB can tell the tall tales of the area, with stops in downtown Corydon to view the charming town and shop at eclectic local vendors that sell crafts and antiques.

At the Zimmerman Art Glass Factory, groups can watch as skilled crafters transform molten glass into beautiful works of art. Kerry Zimmerman continues the three-generation family tradition by making glass items by hand. After the demonstration, groups can browse the gallery and shop for pieces of art such as paperweights, fruit and holiday ornaments.

Underground, visitors can discover a new side of Harrison County. Indiana Caverns offers subterranean boat rides, a walking tour and gemstone mining. Those looking for a thrill can ride the Zip Coaster, a ride that combines a zip line with a free-falling roller coaster.

For a more relaxing experience, groups can visit one of Harrison County’s three wineries. The Best Vineyards Winery and Distillery, the Indian Creek Winery and the Turtle Run Winery invite visitors for tastings, tours and scenery within a 30-minute drive of one another.

Indianapolis

The roar of highly tuned race car engines echoes across the Indianapolis Speedway during the Indianapolis 500. One of the largest single-day sporting events on the planet, the race draws over 300,000 fans. Held Memorial Day weekend, the event draws travelers from all over the world who love the fast-paced fun, prerace traditions and postrace celebrations.

Whether groups visit during a race weekend or not, they’ll find plenty of noteworthy cultural attractions in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Museum of Art displays an extensive collection of American impressionist paintings, ancient Greek pottery and works by Rembrandt, El Greco and Caravaggio. Outside, the wonders continue in the 100-acre Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park. Huge interactive sculptures stand throughout the park.

Opened in 2011, the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library honors the Indiana native’s life and writings. Inside, guests can see the writer’s typewriter, a replica of his writing studio and an art gallery with works from local artists.

Gondoliers singing in Italian might seem out of place in America’s heartland. But they row along the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. The eight miles of trail features public art and landscaping and connects six cultural districts. It’s a great way for groups to explore the city.

Youth groups love the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, one of the biggest children’s museums in the world. The learning experience also attracts older groups, with 120,000 wide-ranging artifacts that include such items as retro Barbies and Samurai suits of armor. The Sports Legends Experience allows guests to interact with exhibits on mini golf and car races.

Dearborn County

Travelers can come home boasting about their painted silk scarf, suet feeder, Victorian ornament and other handmade items after a trip to Dearborn County. The Dearborn County CVB can help group leaders incorporate experiential activities into their Indiana itineraries.

One popular stop for many groups in the southeastern Indiana county is Casey’s Outdoor Solutions. The landscape store offers several do-it-yourself classes, such as making seed-filled suet feeders to attract wild birds, creating Indian corn wreaths and cooking with herbs. Activities also include a tour of the property’s 1850s log cabin and garden center.

Groups can also try other garden-themed activities at the nearby McCabe’s Greenhouse and Floral. More than 15 hands-on classes give guests a plethora of take-home options, including the Plant a Pollinator Pot experience. Greenhouse tours and samples of homemade gourmet fudge also add to the entertainment.

Though many cities offer art-themed attractions, few offer the variety of added group experiences offered by the SIAG Gallery and Studios. After seeing fine art, photography, wood crafts and sculptures from local artists, the visitors have a chance to tap into their own creativity. Led by one of the guild’s resident artists, participants can try several projects, including finger painting, decorating a gourd birdhouse and painting a silk scarf.

Even traditional attractions can come with a twist in Dearborn County. The Hillforest Victorian House Museum features 1855 Italian Renaissance architecture. Tours showcase the interesting history of past inhabitants while pointing out various 1800s furnishings. Groups can pair the tour with a hands-on activity, such as creating a Victorian ornament during the holidays.

Fort Wayne

At the confluence of the St. Mary’s, St. Joseph and Maumee rivers sits Indiana’s second-largest city: Fort Wayne. Visitors can take in the scenery at a riverfront park and enjoy strolling through the downtown district.

Known as the City of Restaurants, Fort Wayne delivers on its nickname with delicious local bites around every corner. Groups can choose from several museums to tour, including the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, where three glass-enclosed gardens feature different themes. The showcase garden changes quarterly, with a butterfly exhibit in the spring. The other two gardens display a tropical garden with a two-story waterfall and a desert garden.

The Fort Wayne Museum of Art showcases American art with a regional gallery of works from artists living in Indiana and surrounding states. Groups can tour the museum, wander through the outdoor sculpture garden, dine at the cafe and try a hands-on learning experience.

Other well-known attractions include the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, the Fort Wayne Science Central and the Fort Wayne History Center.

Many groups time their visits to coincide with the Vera Bradley Outlet Sale. The April event sells nearly 700,000 pieces of Vera Bradley merchandise at 40-60% off the retail price. Handbags, luggage and blankets sell quickly. VIP tickets are required for the first two days of the sale.

Another lively time to visit is in September during the Johnny Appleseed Festival. The event pays homage to John Chapman, who famously planted apple trees across the country. Groups can sample goodies from the 1800s, such as traditionally made apple turnovers. Primitive crafts and historic interpreters also shed light on the region’s past. Throughout the year, the Historic Old Fort retells Johnny Appleseed’s story and honors the final resting place of the folk hero.

visitindiana.com

Eliza Myers

Eliza Myers has worked for The Group Travel Leader since 2007. She is the online editor and associate editor for Select Traveler.

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