Before You Go
For more information, contact Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitor Commission 1-800-283-8687, or visit online at www.indianadunes.com
Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana 1-800- 450-4534
French Lick Springs Resort Hotel 1-800-457-4042
Indiana Railway Museum, 1-800-74-TRAIN (800-748-7246)
Ohio River Scenic Byway,
1-800-489-4474, www.ohioriverscenicroute. org
Indiana Tourism Hot Line
1-800-884-4612, www.EnjoyIndiana.com.
To plan your Indiana trip, stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks and TourBook guides.
Order free information about Indiana through Reader Resources.

Indiana getaways
From climbing giant dunes to sipping lemonade on a veranda, the Hoosier state knows how to celebrate summer’s best

Published: Jul/Aug 2002
By Mike Michaelson

The sand dunes in Porter County (left) seem far removed from Chicago’s steel canyons. This sandy Midwestern playground makes a great late-summer getaway./ Mike Michaelson photo
From sand dunes to charming towns on the Ohio River, Indiana has a late-summer getaway in store for you. Here’s a sampling of Hoosier State escapes to enjoy before summer wanes.

Doing the dunes

After a heart-pounding, leg-wearying climb, you spread out a beach towel in a quiet clearing atop a high dune. Surrounded by the green leaves of sumac and struggling strands of dune grass, you seem a thousand miles from the concrete-and-steel canyons of Chicago that are less than an hour’s ride away.

Indiana’s rolling sand dunes are the playground of America’s heartland. As Carl Sandburg observed, “Those dunes are to the Midwest what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona and the Yosemite to California.”

A getaway to Porter County is a time to visit apple orchards and boutique wineries, to hike sand dunes, and to relax at a resort and spa. Bike trails follow secondary roads through picturesque countryside that includes farms, lakes, meadows, parks, and sleepy towns. There are antique shops and galleries to browse and eateries to sample.

Stay at Indian Oak Resort and Spa, where from the rustic balcony of your room, you can watch migrating waterfowl and a resident population of Canada geese and mallards on a small private lake. The spa offers a wide range of health and beauty options. Some guestrooms have whirlpools and/or fireplaces.

Large expanses of dune country are protected by 2,182-acre Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, a federally administered preserve of about 15,000 acres. Together, they contain some of the most diverse flora and fauna in the Midwest. Habitats include beach, sand dunes, black oak forest, wooded wetlands, and marsh.

Interpretive programs range from hikes with a naturalist to explore semi-arid desert-like environments to a video presentation about edible wild foods. Programs for children include beach-blanket bingo and scavenger hunts that teach about the dunes’ habitats.

Three miles of wooded trails along the Little Calumet River lead to Chellberg Farm, the 120-year-old farm of Swedish immigrants Anders and Johanna Kjellberg. At the site are the homestead, family cemetery, farm, visitor center, and picnic area.

A local dining spot is Pumps on 12 (that’s U.S. Highway 12) at Pines, housed in a former gas station, circa 1920s. You’ll find vintage gas pumps on the patio and in the dining room and hefty sandwiches on the menu, plus a wide selection of microbrews. Choose from baked French onion soup, “hub cap pizzas,” overflowing plates of pasta, barbecued hickory-smoked ribs, batter-dipped fried cod, and a selection of steaks.

Taking the waters

Around the turn of the last century, the Springs Valley area, tucked into the hills of southern Indiana, attracted upper-crust health seekers and well-heeled high rollers to its mineral springs, black-tie casinos and elegant hotels. Its sulfurous water’s were touted as a cure for more than 50 ailments, from alcoholism and rheumatism to acne and malaria. The resort area grandly billed itself “the Carlsbad of America.”

When lavish West Baden Springs Hotel opened in 1902, it was hailed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Centerpiece of the yellow-brick building was a six-story red-tiled domed atrium adjoined by four Moorish towers. For more than 50 years that monumental dome was recognized as the world’s largest free-span dome–bigger than those of the White House and St. Peter’s in Rome, and not outmatched until construction of the Houston Astrodome in the 1960s.

During the heyday of rail travel, 13 trains a day–each packed with travelers–chugged into the Springs Valley area. Top dance bands played, operatic divas sang and roulette wheels spun as movie stars and politicos mingled with captains of industry, sports celebrities, and Chicago gangsters. “Diamond Jim” Brady stayed there, as did Al Capone and entire professional baseball teams. The place was a heady mix of an elegant health spa and a raucous gambling town–like Las Vegas with mineral springs.

After the stock market crash of 1929, the fabulous West Baden Spring Hotel fell into a decline and soon closed. By 1983, the property was a decaying sanctuary for pigeons and a target for vandals.

The comeback began in 1996 when the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana and the Cook Group Incorporated intervened. After a $32 million partial restoration, the grand resort is glittering again, its monumental dome restored, its four crumbled turrets replicated and lifted into place by helicopter. It needs only someone with deep pockets to buy the property and put the landmark resort back into use.

Meanwhile, it remains a wonderful tourist attraction. There are guided tours, monthly Twilight Tours to view the dome bathed in ever-changing colored lights, and special events throughout the year. More than 50 varieties of flowers create a lush display in a garden larger than a football field.

Nearby French Lick Springs Resort, set on 2,600 acres, offers 485 guest rooms. Vacationers have been taking the waters there since 1834. Today, they go for horseback riding on 30 miles of trails, to play golf on the Valley Links Course or the more demanding Hill Course–designed by Donald Ross and qualifying site of the 2001 U.S. Open. Or they go to simply relax in wicker chairs on a broad veranda.

There’s an Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool, glass-domed indoor swimming pool, 10 outdoor and eight indoor tennis courts, six bowling lanes, and a spa offering therapeutic mineral baths, massages, facials, and other treatments.

Railroad buffs head for the Indiana Railway Museum where the French Lick, West Baden & Southern Railway offers 1 3/4-hour excursions. The 20-mile journey winds through scenic hills of Hoosier National Forest, through limestone rock cuts and through the 1,200-foot-long Burton Tunnel. On special weekends, “train robbers” on horseback add a touch of melodrama.

Following the river

One of Indiana’s prettiest drives traces the serpentine course of the Ohio River. It passes through countryside with postcard-pretty hills and hollows, vineyards and orchards, rural villages dominated by church spires, and thriving small towns with historic courthouses and imposing architecture.

Designated in 1996, the Ohio River Scenic Byway stretches 302 miles, beginning in Posey County, tucked into the toe of Indiana. At Twin Swamps Nature Preserve you’ll find cypress swamps reminiscent of the South, complete with water lilies and rare birds. On a side trip to New Harmony, site of the famed 19th-century Harmonist and Owenite-utopian settlement, enjoy the landscapes, gardens, architecture, summer theater and art galleries. Sample prime rib and Shaker lemon pie at the Red Geranium Restaurant. Stay at the pretty Raintree Inn Bed-and-Breakfast.

Cool off at the Splashin’ Safari at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind., this summer. Stop at the theme park while touring the Ohio River Scenic Byway, one of the prettier routes in Indiana./ Holiday World photo
Traveling through Hoosier National Forest to the town of Santa Claus, you’ll find old St. Nick and Holiday World amusement park. Opened in 1946, when theme parks were barely a gleam in Walt Disney’s eye, this leafy, family-oriented park offers 100 acres of rides and attractions and an adjoining 18-acre water park.

Nearby, you can learn about Abraham Lincoln’s formative years at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and attend the musical outdoor drama, “Young Abe Lincoln.”

Traveling eastward, you’ll journey through the most ruggedly scenic part of the route, past rocky outcroppings and forested hills. On a clear day you can see for 20 miles from the deck of the Overlook Restaurant perched on high bluffs overlooking an oxbow bend in the river at Leavenworth.

Tugs muscle barges downstream as hawks glide in the thermals and the sun sets spectacularly behind the wooded hills of Kentucky. It’s a popular spot for down-home fried chicken, catfish and ham-and-bean soup with homemade cornbread.

Corydon was Indiana’s capital 1816-1825. Visit the Federal-style capitol of blue-pink limestone and view the preserved trunk of the Constitution Elm, under the spreading branches of which delegates met on a hot afternoon in June 1816 to draft the state’s first constitution.

Lodging options include Kintner House Inn, a restored Victorian mansion so pretty that it was featured on two Hallmark Christmas cards.

Nestled into a cluster of hills known locally as knobs is Huber Orchard, Winery, and U-pick Farm. One of the area’s most popular attractions, it incorporates a winery, orchards, cheese factory, cider mill, produce market, bakery, gift shop, and petting zoo.

Madison was described by Charles Kuralt, as “the princess of the rivers ... the most beautiful river town in America.” It has 133 city blocks listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Taste wine and old-fashioned hard cider at wineries that also offer lively festivals and jazz, blues, and bluegrass music.

Nearby Clifty Falls State Park, one of Indiana’s prettiest, has deeply cut limestone gorges, sheer rock walls, and plunging waterfalls.

At Rising Sun, stop for antique shopping, a trolley tour, and a visit to an 1846 courthouse, oldest in continuous operation in Indiana. Find gaming action at the Grand Victoria Casino and entertainment complex.

In contrast, Vevay, settled in 1802 by French-speaking Swiss, is a sleepy little river village with lodging at the Rosemont Inn, a beautifully restored 1881 brick mansion.

Eastern terminus for the drive is Lawrenceburg near Cincinnati, where attractions include the Argosy Casino & Hotel and Chateau Pomije Winery with tours and tastings.

Wherever your interests lie, Indiana has a place waiting for you to explore this summer.

Mike Michaelson is a contributor from Chicago, Ill.


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