Feel like your Indiana itinerary is missing a little special something? Exploring some of the best day trips from Indianapolis is a great place to start. Whether you’re looking to add bucket list experiences at epic state parks, take postcard-perfect photographs of dazzling natural landscapes, or get a taste of another iconic big American city, you’ll find them all in close proximity to Indiana’s capital.
Indianapolis—or “Indy” as its affectionately referred to by locals—has oodles of attractions to keep your itinerary jam-packed. On top of that, there are tons of wanderlust-inducing destinations just a short drive away. It would be a shame not to see at least one of them during your Indy visit.
Can’t get enough of the urban life? Extend your holiday by city-hopping to a nearby metropolis like Cincinnati. Or, if you want a healthy dose of the great outdoors, pack up the car and head to the likes of Patoka Lake or Indiana Dunes National Park.
Ready to take your Indianapolis trip itinerary to the next level? Embark on one (or more) of these top-rated Indianapolis side trips!
Looking for more ideas? Check out all our other day trip guides and our United States Travel Guide for more ideas on where to go, when to visit & what to do!
Top-rated Indianapolis side trips
If you love the thrill of a big city, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit nearby Cincinnati, OH. Clocking in at just one hour and 53 minutes, this day trip is an easy undertaking—even if you don’t have access to a rental car.
Since both Cincinnati and Indianapolis have well-established public transit systems, they’ve extended the service to those looking to get from one to the other. Bus routes connect the cities with fares under $50.
No matter what kind of city-dweller you are, Cincinnati has a wide array of attractions for you. Love being at all the hottest venues? Catch a Cincinnati Reds game or snap an Instagram pic in front of the iconic Roebling Suspension Bridge.
Prefer something a little quirkier? Check out the underground brewery caverns, or the American Sign Museum, an eclectic collection of neon.
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Food lovers should save time on their Cincinnati day trip to roam around Findlay Market. The historic marketplace is the city’s oldest, offering everything from fresh produce, cheese, and meats to handmade soaps.
Patoka Lake, IN
If you’re a waterbug through and through, add a weekend at Patoka Lake to your Indianapolis itinerary. Just two and a half hours from the city, this beautiful lake is the perfect wilderness oasis for unwinding before returning home.
Start your day with a morning swim before participating in any number of splashy activities like boating, canoeing, fishing, and waterskiing.
If you’d like to spend some time on dry land, you can also trek Patoka Lake’s extensive network of hiking trails or treat yourself to a spa treatment at the resort.
Along the way, be sure to keep an eye out for some of the region’s coolest inhabitants, like freshwater jellyfish and river otters.
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Got more time? Charming waterfront retreats are the name of the game in Patoka Lake. If you’d like to take this to the extreme, dive in from your doorstep of a floating cabin. Or go for something a little different and stay in the revamped grain silo at the local winery.
Indiana Dunes National Park, IN
If you want to find a good beach that’s day-trippable from Indianapolis, you can’t do better than Indiana Dunes National Park. It’s about two and a half hours away from the city, but is completely doable if you’re willing to dedicate a full day.
Love sunbathing, sand castles, and surfing? Indiana Dunes National Park is home to a whopping eight different beaches! A bonus? For those traveling with their furry best friends, all of the beaches here are dog-friendly.
Visiting Indiana in winter? A walk along the picturesque boardwalks is a good choice as the waters sparkle under a shelf of ice in this winter wonderland. In fact, travelers come from all over the country to witness this phenomenon!
If you’re willing to splurge on an exciting expedition, one of the best ways to explore these ancient dunes and surrounding forest trails is on horseback.
Want to turn your beach day into a beach weekend? There are also plenty of lovely beach houses and hotels in the area. Picture epic sunsets, powdered sands, and towering waves: Yep, this is a bucket-list-worthy destination!
Marengo Cave, IN
Head to Marengo Cave if you’re looking to indulge your adventurous side. After approximately two hours of driving from the city, you’ll be immersed in an underground world offering fun for all ages. From some amusement park staples to some once-in-a-lifetime natural sightseeing, a road trip to Marengo Cave has it all!
The first thing to do when you arrive at Marengo Cave is to choose your adventure level. Those looking for a slow-paced excursion will head out on easy walking tours to admire the cave-bound rock and crystal formations. Or those craving a true Spelunking adventure can suit up in helmets and headlamps. Just be sure to wear your oldest duds because you’re going to get down and dirty in this cave!
The Waterfall Crawl Tour is a fan favorite at Marengo Cave. That’s right! You’ll shimmy your way through crevices and dark passageways to an underground waterfall.
Back on solid ground, you’ll find pedal karting, mazes, climbing towers, and gem mining activities for children.
Brown County State Park, IN
Looking for somewhere just outside the city to fill your lungs with fresh air and experience the peace of the forest? Try Brown County State Park. It’s only 1 hour (on the nose) away from Indianapolis, making this natural escape a no-brainer. It’s actually the largest state park in all of Indiana; you’ll have plenty of space to disconnect from the craziness of everyday life.
Brown County State Park is a hub for outdoor recreation. Most visitors embark on an expedition down one of its many hiking and biking trails. But that’s not all: This reserve also has a nature center with interpretive programming, botanical gardens, a public pool, and horseback riding stables.
Looking for somewhere to host your picnic? Settle down at one of the many lakeside picnic facilities. You can also rent historic cabins/shelters for the day to beat the rain should it pop up in the forecast.
During the autumn months, Brown County State Park becomes especially magical. Watch the forest come alive with vibrant fall colors while you enjoy the rest of the amenities.
Looking for a nearby city with a small-town feel? Bloomington, IN, is the perfect match. The city looks straight out of a Hallmark movie, with a cute downtown core and tons of historic charm. Plus, it’s only one hour and a few spare minutes away, making it one of the best day trips from Indianapolis to fit shorter and tighter itineraries.
You’ll find the streets of Bloomington lined with preserved buildings and pretty trees and the community buzzing with a love for the arts. Home to Indiana University, this college town offers plenty of cheap and exciting nightlife. But don’t let that fool you: The vibe in Bloomington is laid-back, with plenty of sophisticated things to do.
Pack your day with visits to popular venues like the vintage movie theater, the ballet and opera house, and the antique market.
When you’re ready to unwind, you can stop for a pour at the local wineries or chill out on the shores of Monroe Lake.
Did you know that Kentucky’s top destination is in spitting distance of Indianapolis? Louisville, KY, is just under two hours away, accessible by both car and coach bus. Cross over the state border and experience all the best of the American South.
What does spending one day in Louisville look like? To start, you can visit the distillers of the best Kentucky bourbons and take a sip or two of this golden local specialty. You could dress up in a big fancy hat and watch a horse race at the infamous Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Or you can even toss on some cowboy boots and explore the city’s bluegrass/country music scene.
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Of course, there are also hundreds of restaurants in Louisville where you can chow down on homestyle southern cooking. Yum!
Fort Wayne, IN
If you’re looking for a road trip that’s sure to keep the kids entertained all day long, Fort Wayne, IN, is an excellent choice. The drive is rather short, sitting at around 2 hours, so you won’t need to be fielding “Are we there yet?” inquiries for an eternity. Plus, there are tons of kid-friendly attractions to choose from once you arrive at your destination.
Top tourist attractions like the zoo, botanical conservatory, and interactive science museum are always fun for the whole family. But Fort Wayne has so much more to offer. You can take a riverboat ride at Promenade Park or watch an interpretive reenactment at Historic Fort Wayne.
There’s a carousel at the Glenbrook Square Mall if you’d like to entertain your little ones while getting your shopping spree on. Or check out the mall’s real-life castle gallery, where your little princes and princesses can ascend to the tops of towers and imagine they are royalty.
Whether you’re a history buff or a fan of little villages, Oldenburg, IN, also known as “The Village of Spires,” is sure to be your new favorite destination. This one-hour and 10-minute journey is your ticket back in time; no fancy futuristic machines are needed! This old German settlement seems as though it’s been frozen in another century.
Oldenburg is home to plenty of pretty churches, historic sites, used bookshops, and quirky little attractions. Especially if you enjoy a charming main street area, you’ll fall quickly in love with this hidden gem.
If you happen to be traveling in July, you might even be lucky enough to catch Freudenfest. This celebration of German heritage features Dachshund races, accordion music, beer gardens, and traditional street food.
Consider yourself a theater geek? If so, add Valparaiso, IN, to your Indiana road trip itinerary. Though this destination lies the furthest outside Indianapolis’ city lines—just under three hours away—it would make a lovely addition to anyone’s holiday. There are several gorgeous inns and bed & breakfasts in the area; you could consider extending your stay overnight to space out the driving time.
Valparaiso is another Indiana travel destination that’s all about the arts. Besides art galleries—which you’ll find around every corner—there are also plenty of live entertainment options waiting to enchant you. The town’s Opera House and the Street Theatre welcome thousands of tourists each year. Be sure to check out a local wine bar or meadery before the curtain lifts.
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Looking for something a little bit different to add some balance to your itinerary? You could try outdoor ice skating at the Central Park Plaza, book an escape room, or catch a flick at the drive-in movie theater.