Give your group a reprieve from the bus or car and see Indiana’s natural beauty from a different perspective
Much of Indiana’s stunning scenery and welcoming cities can be seen from traditional modes of transportation like a car or motorcoach. But so much of what makes the state special—its peaceful lakes and extensive forests—can be best enjoyed with an option literally off the beaten path. The “Crossroads of America,” Indiana is intersected with numerous train lines and waterways that offer sites (and tastes!) that are impossible to experience anywhere else. Get off your feet and enjoy an unforgettable train or boat adventure.
Long before it transformed into a world-class golf destination, the French Lick-West Baden Springs region attracted visitors from across the nation for the healing local spring water and dozens of illicit casinos. Learn about the area’s Prohibition past and enjoy a relaxing ride through Hoosier National Forest on the French Lick Scenic Railway. Groups begin the journey in the Indiana Railway Museum, a restored 1907 limestone depot where passengers can collect their tickets and admire over 65 pieces of rolling stock and locomotives. Soon, your group will embark on a journey through Hoosier National Forest aboard a preserved bi-level commuter car. Sites will include Larry Bird’s childhood home, sandstone rock formations, an 1850s log cabin and the second-longest railroad tunnel in the state. A dining car offers refreshments and unique views from a 360-degree observation panel. If your group seeks a themed event, the railway offers “Wild West Hold-Ups” (where “bandits” attempt to steal the payroll strongbox attached to the train) and the “Polar Express.” During the holiday season, the train is transformed into the famous locomotive from the famed Chris Van Allsburg children’s book and Robert Zemeckis film. Passengers are served hot chocolate and given musical performances as they pass through the snowy landscape.
Located at the historic junction in North Judson, the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum offers a ride into Indiana’s rich past. Begin at the museum, which includes a replica of a C&O depot, an operating signal system and the Grasselli Tower (a 1909 structure that provides a glimpse into primitive computing power). Next, hop aboard a World War II-era locomotive and embark on a ride through Starke and LaPorte counties, where you’ll see butterflies, wildlife and crops.
For a luxurious, climate-controlled adventure back to the 1940s, embark on the Spirit of Jasper. Groups can begin in the Old Jasper District, which contains a restored Jasper City Mill and gift shops, before boarding the glamorous train. The dining car, lounge and coach areas are all restored with correct period detail, so passengers will feel transported onto a classic Hollywood set. A variety of Wine & Dine experiences will spirit guests on an 18-mile loop through Hoosier National Forest. Options include “Chocolate Wine & Dine” (featuring delectable creations from locally-owned Chocolate Bliss) and “Jasper Strassenfest” (which coordinates with the local German heritage festival and offers catered meals by local restaurant Schnitzelbank). Your group can also tour the nearby Monastery of Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, a hilltop religious landmark with preserved Romanesque architecture.
Visit the historic village of Metamora, a preserved canal town that retains its grist mill and horse-drawn canal boat, with a journey on the Whitewater Valley Railroad. Originally a key transport route that connected Indianapolis and Cincinnati, the railway now offers themed excursions on weekends from May to October. Groups will board the Valley Flyer in Connersville for a five-hour adventure that includes a stop in the town of Metamora for a two-hour layover. Visitors can explore the village and see its preserved aqueducts, enjoy its cafes and shop at a boutique.
The Nickel Plate Express, Indiana’s newest train excursion, whisks passengers on 1950s Santa Fe Railway Hi-Level passenger cars through the cities of Atlanta, Arcadia and Cicero. The dining car offers special food & drink experiences like “Sunrise Express Brunch and Donuts,” “Thanksgiving Dinner Express,” “Ales & Rails” and “Holiday Cheers” (which includes cocktails and hot toddies).
Scenic Boat Excursions
Indiana’s second-largest lake and crown jewel of Hoosier National Forest, Patoka Lake is filled with a variety of watercraft during warm-weather months. Fortunately, large groups can board the Patoka Pride Tour Boat, a two-tiered, climate-controlled vessel that can seat up to 50 guests. A knowledgeable guide will point out wild animals such as beavers, ospreys and bald eagles, and a narrator will explain the lake’s origin as a flood control reservoir. Groups can enjoy tastings from local wineries paired with delicious hors d’oeuvres and desserts while enjoying a sunset view.
A zippier bird-watching experience awaits with Rockin’ Thunder River Tours along the Ohio River. Embarking from the historic river city of Madison, this vessel can surpass 50 miles-perhour as a guide explains the Ohio River Valley’s Native American and industrial history and indicates bald eagle nesting locations. Packages include the 75-mile “Midweek Lunch Excursion” (which takes passengers downstream to the Captain’s Quarters Riverside Grill for lunch) and the 90-mile “Kentucky Plantation Dinner” (where groups pass by locks built in 1838 and enjoy a catered meal at an 1850s plantation).
Float into the past on a 35-minute voyage through the Wabash & Erie Canal aboard the Delphi—a replica 19th century canal boat that transports passengers to Indiana’s pioneer days. Tour guides will explain how canals were crucial transportation arteries before Indiana created an interconnected road system and drop groups off at Pioneer Village. Here they can explore a school house, blacksmith shop, smokehouse and original homesteads.
A feeder to the mighty Wabash River and Indianapolis’ famous Central Canal, the White River provides beautiful views of the city’s riverside neighborhoods and preserved wetlands. An excellent supplement to an Indianapolis itinerary, a four-hour excursion with Broad Ripple Boat Company offers groups the opportunity to rest their feet and board a charming two-tiered paddleboat. Catering options are available, and group reservations can include up to 60 guests.
A 65-foot riverboat that floats along the St. Joseph River, the Elkhart River Queen welcomes Northern Indiana guests for a scenic cruise that glides past the region’s most beautiful riverside houses. Two decks (one enclosed and one air-conditioned) can be rented for catering and live entertainment, and the vessel can accommodate up to 50 passengers.
Indiana’s largest natural lake, Lake Wawasee covers 3,000 acres and draws visitors from across the country to Kosciusko County. Groups interested in the lake and its wildlife can embark on a cruise offered by Wawasee Tour Boat Company The 44-passenger boat departs from Oakwood Resort and passes by notable natural landmarks like Black Stump Point, Jarrett’s Bay, Morrison Island,Johnson’s Bay and the Main Channel. Nearby North Webster offers the Dixie Boat, a cruise on Webster Lake available for charters and group excursions along the lakeshore.
Groups looking for an unorthodox waterborne adventure can descend through the Binkley Cave System and cruise down an underground river. Indiana Caverns, an immense limestone system located near the historic city of Corydon, offers a 25-minute boat journey through Sleeping Bear Boulevard and past immense cave draperies formed by eons of moisture and pressure. Groups then disembark for a guided tour that includes waterfalls, boulders and ancient Ice Age animal bones.