Find elephants and more in Indiana

Since Indiana is known as “the Crossroads of America,” you’ve probably driven through it. But there is more to explore in the Hoosier state than what you can see from the expressways.

Bathe elephants

Once spring returns, treat an African elephant to a “spa day” at Wilstem ( in the rolling hills of southern Indiana, in Paoli. You can spray Lovie, Lou or Makia with water and suds them up. They’ll even splay their big, beautiful ears so you can get behind them. Then finish with a little oil on their toenails to keep them radiant.

After bath time, learn more about these majestic, gentle creatures during an educational encounter. The trainers are happy to gush about their size, their smarts and anything else you’d like to know. Afterwards, the elephants are released to roam in a huge habitat on the 1,100-acre property. (Elephant encounters end Nov. 4 and reopen in March. Reservations are required.)

Wilstem also offers giraffe and kangaroo encounters open year-round. Jeff “the bear man” Watson and his two grizzlies, Bob and Screech, who were featured on Animal Planet’s Project Grizzly and Discover Channel’s Porter Ridge, offer bear safety educational encounters.

Stay at French Lick Springs Hotel, a gorgeous historic hotel featuring an array of family-friendly activities such as FootGolf, bowling, hiking, horseback riding, a KidsFest Lodge with activities, indoor and outdoor pools, a spa and a range of restaurants.


Glide down the quarter-mile refrigerated track of Pokagon State Park’s Toboggan Run near Angola, in the northeast corner of Indiana. Drop 90 vertical feet during the course of an exuberant 30-second ride that reaches up to 40 mph. Open Nov. 24-Feb. 25, this historic slide offers thrills with or without snow on the ground. Sleds hold up to four people and are rented per hour.

Stay at the Potawatomi Inn for its location on the beach and the game room downstairs, with table tennis and other fun activities for after-dinner bonding.


Scenic outdoor activities, rustic charm and an artistic downtown are reasons to make the four-hour drive just south of Indianapolis to Nashville. Zip through the trees at Rawhide Ranch. This 90-minute experience is hosted by two hysterical guides who take groups of 10 out into the woods. 

Enjoy the natural beauty of Brown County while you hike, bike, kayak or canoe. Gem mining, paintball, ATV and horseback riding adventures await. Afterwards, quell your hunger at Big Woods Restaurant at Hard Truth Hills, a great new craft food eatery next to a distillery on 325 acres in the hills.


Fort Wayne, the second largest city in Indiana, is a sweet little escape from the bustle of Chicago. While things move at a slower pace, the vibe is modern artsy and the food is phenomenal. Not only can you savor rich chocolates on the DeBrand Fine Chocolates tour, be sure to also delight in the farm-to-fork goodness at Tolon and sink your teeth into incredible tacos at The Hoppy Gnome.

Families especially love the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, which reopens for the season April 27.

Whitewater raft

When summer comes around again, grab a paddle and catch the thrill of whitewater rafting closer to home. East Race Waterway offers an affordable, urban outdoor adventure. The only of its kind in the Midwest, this waterway is open weekends June-August and recommended for families with older children.

While in South Bend, be sure to tour Notre Dame (, recognized as one of the most beautiful campuses in America, and the Studebaker National Museum to see historic automobiles and other artifacts like President Lincoln’s carriage.

This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.

Cortney Fries
Cortney Fries
An award-winning travel journalist, Cortney Fries (pronounced "freeze") has been writing about family travel for over a decade. She knows that parents planning trips are looking for all members to have fun and make lasting memories. Cortney believes that you should definitely try anything that makes you slightly nervous.
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