ESSENTIAL RV INDIANA:
TOP RV DESTINATIONS IN THE CROSSROADS OF AMERICA
by Andrea Neff
ESSENTIAL RV INDIANA:
TOP RV DESTINATIONS IN THE CROSSROADS OF AMERICA
by Andrea Neff
Almost all roads lead to Indiana—and it’s well worth following them there. This gorgeous Midwestern gem abounds with unique natural beauty in its 24 state parks and home-grown towns in between. In your discovery, you will not only become acquainted with the state’s towering dunes and underground caverns, but you will also learn a thing or two about where your very own RV first got its wheels.
Indianapolis is where Indiana earns its nickname as the “Crossroads of America”—there are six major interstate highways weaving their way to the city. While it stands today as the state capital, Indianapolis was actually not originally designated as such: Corydon yielded the title to this more centrally located city in 1820, four years after the state was established.
Indianapolis is the proud home of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its annual race, the Indy 500, named after the city itself and the number of miles it takes to complete. Hundreds of spectators flock to the area each year over Memorial Day weekend with hopes to see their favorite driver cross the finish line and take a celebratory swig of milk. The city itself is an incredible mix of abundant greenery, iconic architecture and historic landmarks. In the true heart of downtown sits Monument Circle, where community events take place surrounding the grandiose limestone Sailors and Soldiers Monument which features the crowning figure Victory, four former governors and a Civil War museum dedicated to Indiana’s fallen servicemen and women. Art and culture come to life in the quaint and eclectic Broad Ripple village with galleries and shops featuring local artists and selling collectibles, winding waterways perfect for bike riding and jogging and a thriving nightlife scene. Indianapolis’ White River State Park isn’t what you’d expect — it’s actually located in the middle of downtown! As the only cultural urban state park in the United States, White River highlights the best of the best varietal attractions in Indy including the Indianapolis Zoo, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, the NCAA Hall of Champions and the Indiana State Museum.
It will definitely take you more than a day to enjoy everything Indy has to offer. We recommend parking your RV at Lake Haven Retreat—a perfect green oasis located not too far from the city center.
COVERED BRIDGE FESTIVAL
The Parke County Covered Bridge Festival takes place annually in eastern Indiana and is by far the largest festival in the state, attracting more than 2 million visitors each year. The 10-day festival begins the second Friday in October and gives attendees the opportunity to enjoy fall festivities in nine different towns across the county. While the festival revolves around the 31 surviving historic bridges, each community hosts its own unique celebration including arts and crafts, farmers markets with seasonal pumpkins and gourds, and a wide variety of food—such as hog roast in Montezuma, “buried beef” in Tangier and apple butter in Bloomingdale. If your plan is to drive through the festival, it’s recommended you follow the color-coordinated itinerary so you don’t miss a thing. Alternatively, bus tours are available if you’d rather sit back, relax and let someone else do the driving for a change.
Marshall is one of the towns along the designated festival route and hosts one of the state’s most popular recreational areas, Turkey Run State Park. Turkey Run is an outstanding destination for RVers—offering several accommodating campgrounds with big lots—but they may be a little crowded on the weekends. The perfect pairing to your town-to-town tour of Parke County is Turkey Run’s extensive ravines, sandstone gorges, and ancient forests.
SOUTH BEND / ELKHART
No RV bucket list could be complete without the absolute must-see area of South Bend/Elkhart. On the northernmost border of the state lies the cross-country camper’s dream come true — Elkhart is the RV Capital of the World. The automotive industry has long bolstered the economy of Indiana with Elkhart and South Bend leading the way; consequently, the RV industry utilizes the skills of its workforce. Today, about 80 percent of RVs across the globe are manufactured right here in Indiana. The most visited tourist attraction of the trade can be found at the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum, with full size displays detailing the technological advancements from WWI to present day. The facilities also host niche events including an exclusive Hall of Fame member induction while providing excellent exposure for manufacturers, dealers and the Go RVing campaign as a whole. Those with further interests in the history of the automotive industry can visit the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend and take a trip back in time while meandering through a collection of classic cars from its century of production. It’s also worth stopping by the historic University of Notre Dame campus and its iconic Snite Museum of Art.
Looking for a spot to park your own rig? The South Bend/Elkhart KOA is an ideal spot splitting the distance between the two towns.
The north-central portion of Indiana is also well known for its Amish population, which is the third largest in the entire world. Elkhart County is home to over 20,000 Amish, a faith that dictates not using electricity, automobiles and telephones. The communities in this county are known for their friendly hometown hospitality, and as much of the dedicated workforce for the automotive industry. Some of those in older settlements in the surrounding area live a slightly different lifestyle than those in Elkhart—you’ll find much more agriculture for one thing. An easy way to navigate the network of towns is via the Heritage Trail Driving Tour, which takes visitors through Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury, Nappanee, Bristol, Wakarusa and Shipshewana. Audio tour CDs are available at the Elkhart County Visitors Center, allowing you in-depth information without leaving the comfort of your RV. Winding between Middlebury and Shipshewana is the popular Pumpkinvine Nature Trail—17 miles of excellent running, walking and biking terrain. This area is also known for the Midwest Museum of American Art, the Wellfield Botanic Gardens and Midwest Quilt Festival Week—and you simply can’t go wrong choosing to eat and shop local.
If your tour ends near Nappanee between April and October, Pla-Mor Campground Inc. is a perfect place to park—featuring an on-site laundry facility, small golf course and driving range, swimming pool, and catch-and-release fishing ponds.
Known as the “Gateway to Scenic Southern Indiana”—and for its largest state park—the city of Bloomington overflows with natural beauty. As the home to the main campus of Indiana University-Bloomington, the city is cherished for its partnership with the college and the symbiotic relationship they share: the one campus alone more than doubles the total area population. IU also provides the city with a youthful vibe, exciting nightlife and athletic events. The university is the site for the “Little 500”—a play on the infamous “Indy 500” car race in Indianapolis. Each April, cyclists from across the country compete to raise money for student scholarships and provide entertainment for a large crowd of spectators.
In this part of Indiana, it’s go big or go home. If you’re searching for a watercraft-friendly destination the entire family can enjoy, set your wheels to roll to the largest inland lake in the state, Monroe Lake. Its 10,750 acres of water provide for boating, hiking, biking and bird watching. The deluxe RV site at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ at Lake Monroe is just one unique way for the family to stay. The grounds are complete with cabin and tent options as well as a splashground, pools, character visits and other organized community activities.
BROWN COUNTY / NASHVILLE
Hugging Monroe Lake to the southeast is Brown County State Park — the largest of 24 in Indiana, known for its vibrant autumn colors and abundant springtime blooms in addition to its sheer size. Brown County is the perfect place to “get lost” in nature with 70 miles of bridle trails, 30 miles of mountain biking trails, and over 18 miles of hiking. There are several campgrounds located throughout the expansive forest, or you can opt for a stay at the Abe Martin Lodge constructed in 1932 from local oak timber. Modern additions to the lodge include an indoor waterpark complete with waterslide, fountains, and water sports areas. Be sure to inquire at the Nature Center about audio park tours during the summer, or to experience their on-site snake exhibit and bird watching room. Also on the north end of the park is the tiny town of Nashville — and, no, it’s nothing like its city counterpart in Tennessee 250 miles south. It happens to be the only incorporated town in Brown County, featuring a restored pioneer village, art gallery, gem mine and tour of it all by train. It’s also an excellent little destination to get married, with several small wedding chapels and outdoor venues—think of a quaint, mini-Vegas! The Brown County / Nashville KOA has great reviews and includes a swimming pool, playground and laundry facilities.
The first of two unlikely Midwestern adventures has been described as “America’s Greatest Voyage Underground.” A crisp 53 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, the Bluespring Caverns boat tour is a natural oasis from the summer heat with operating times from March through October. Bluespring is located about 80 miles south of Indianapolis near the East Fork White River. Guides navigate the cave system 100 feet below the Earth’s surface and teach visitors about the limestone walls surrounding them and the critters swimming below. This site also hosts Indiana’s largest karst plain sinkhole, meaning it’s formed from soluble rocks such as limestone; the half-mile, above-ground loop trail is easily hikeable.
The second notable spot for an otherworldly underground experience is at Squire Boone Caverns at the southernmost tip of the state near the Ohio River in Mauckport. These caverns are named after the pioneer who discovered them in 1790. Squire Boones also subsequently established Boone’s Mill which continues to grind grain to this day. Underground tours are available year-round to enjoy the unique rock formations with waterfalls carrying millions of gallons of water through rushing streams. The surrounding village also includes a restaurant with homemade sweets, rock and gem shop, handmade soap and candles, and a six canopy zipline course.
For camping between the two locations, try Horseshoe Bend RV Campground where you can enjoy the majestic sights of the Ohio River.
Yes, you read it right: Santa Claus, Indiana is crowned “America’s Christmas Hometown” and will definitely provide your fix of Christmas cheer on demand. The town was originally named Santa Fe by German immigrants in the area. Local residents were soon informed the name was already taken; they would be unable to establish a post office without a name change. In 1914, the town’s postmaster James Martin began mailing response letters to children from Santa, eventually leading to the building of Christmas-themed attractions that stand today. The grandest attraction is Holiday World & Splashin Safari—a full-blown amusement park with thrilling roller coasters and water rides. Holiday World, originally Santa Claus Land, also holds the title as the first amusement park in the world, beating Disneyland to the punch by 9 years. All year long visitors can enjoy the Santa Claus Christmas Store, Evergreen Boutique and Christmas Shop, the Santa Claus Museum and Santa’s Village, and Santa’s Candy Castle.
The first three weekends in December attract the largest crowds, who come to participate in the Santa Claus Christmas Celebration. Even your RV stay can be on-theme at the Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Resort—named the best RV park in Indiana by Reader’s Digest and one of the 11 most family-friendly campgrounds by U.S. News & World Report.
It’s difficult to pick just a few of the state’s many incredible nature preserves to visit, but this one is well worth adding to the top of your list. Indiana shares its northwestern border with Lake Michigan, the largest of the Great Lakes. Much of the lakeshore area officially gained the title of Indiana Dunes National Park in 2019, including miles of beach with towering dunes reaching almost 250 feet in height. A smaller section along the water is still managed by Indiana itself, and remains Indiana Dunes State Park, surrounded on three sides by national land. Between the two parks there are several designated beaches and 14 hiking trails covering over 50 miles. But don’t let the park lines confuse you: there is equal ecological beauty to enjoy year-round at both locations, on land and in the water. Aside from taking in miles of beachy sand, visitors can appreciate dozens of playgrounds, parks, butterfly meadows, bike trails and also participate in bird watching and fishing. While in the area, it’s worth driving north toward Michigan City where the historical East Pierhead Lighthouse juts into the lake.
There are six well-equipped RV campgrounds in the immediate vicinity of the parks, including Dunewood Campground with booking dates from April to November.
While we can’t list every incredible destination the Hoosiers State has to offer, we hope you’ll consider adding this state to your cross-country adventure itinerary. No matter where your travels take you, there’s nothing quite like Honest-to-Goodness Indiana.