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Top to Bottom Beauty in Indiana

Indiana is for innovators.

The Hoosier State has a long-established record as a tourism hub of the Midwest, with several marquee attractions that have brought in visitors for decades. But in communities large and small, local entrepreneurs and tourism leaders are continually creating new ways for groups to have fun and explore the culture and character of the state.

Follow this path from the Amish Country in the north to the riverfront towns in the south to discover new ways for your group to experience Indiana.

Amish Country

In the far northern reaches of the state, large Amish populations have made Elkhart County a popular destination for travelers who enjoy the Amish culture, crafts and cuisine. The area boasts several well-established Amish-themed attractions, which are mainstays on many group itineraries. But local tourism leaders have also been busy innovating new experiences to help connect group travelers to the area’s Amish heritage in interactive ways.

“We’ve been trying really hard to develop new, authentic experiences where our groups can meet Amish people in their homes and businesses,” said Sonya Nash, director of group and experiential sales for the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There’s a new program called Asking Amish. We have found a lovely lady who loves to cook and welcome people into her home. She’ll sit down with a cup of coffee and answer all a group’s questions. Nothing is off-limits. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn about this different lifestyle.”

The CVB has also worked with a local step-on guide to create a series of tours it calls Backroads Experiences. These excursions can be half- or whole-day experiences and feature distinct topics such as local cuisine and Amish handcrafts. The popular Brown Bag tour visits a number of shops, and participants get a treat or a souvenir from each one.

Lafayette and West Lafayette

Sitting across the Wabash River from one another, the cities of Lafayette and West Lafayette are best known as the home of Purdue University. And although groups often enjoy campus tours and other elements of the college town, some new developments offer to add more diverse experiences.

The city has two new breweries — Brokerage Brewing Company and Teays River Brewing and Public House — that offer opportunities for travelers to taste local microbrews and learn about beer-making. And a longtime attraction, the Haan Mansion Museum of Indiana Art, has added a new sculpture garden that features a quarter-mile walking trail and 24 sculptures, all by Indiana artists.

Some of the most interesting new experiences, though, involve behind-the-scenes looks at distinctive industrial operations, such as RDM Aquaculture. This seafood-farming company got its start raising shrimp and has now added crawfish and oysters to its portfolio.

“Groups walk through the facility, and they get to see the shrimp from the infant stage,” said Ashley Gregory, director of sales for the Lafayette/West Lafayette Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They tell you about how they grow the shrimp and about the filtering system they have developed there. They do a little tasting at the end. It’s really the best shrimp I have ever had.”

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.