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4+ EPIC Indiana National Parks (Helpful Guide + Photos)

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Indiana Dunes | Indiana National Parks

Indiana National Parks

In this article, we feature some incredible park sites in the great state of Indiana. We’ve got 4+ national park sites for you to see on your next visit to the Hoosier State.

These Indiana National Parks include amazing historic sites, incredible monuments, iconic parks, legendary trails, and more.

Remember that old 1970 song by R. Dean Taylor? It’s titled Indiana Wants Me. It has some memorable lyrics which include the following lines:

Indiana wants me
Lord, I can’t go back there
Indiana wants me
Lord, I can’t go back there

Well, we’re going to give you 4+ reasons why you can go back there. Or go there for the very first time. After reading this helpful article, you’ll definitely want to make Indiana your next vacation destination.

Indiana wants you!

Indiana National Parks Table Of Contents

  1. George Rogers Clark National Historical Park
  2. Indiana Dunes National Park
  3. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
  4. Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
  5. Hoosiers

National Parks of Indiana

1. George Rogers Clark National Historical Park | Indiana National Parks

George Rogers Clark Memorial | Indiana National Parks
A classic memorial stands on the site of Fort Sackville to commemorate the capture of the fort from British Lt. Governor Henry Hamilton and his soldiers by Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark and his frontiersmen on February 25, 1779. Courtesy of the National Park Service (NPS).

For almost 30 years, I taught high school history. What impresses me most about the field of history are the amazing stories of men and women whose contributions changed the course of human events. In doing so, they helped to bring about the country we have today.

The people we know, however, are few when compared to the people we don’t. When I asked my students what they knew about George Rogers Clark, I might have seen one hand raised. I would call on that intrepid soul and he (or she) inevitably told me about Clark’s historic journey across America with his companion Merriweather Lewis.

Folks, that’s the wrong Clark!

Who Was George Rogers Clark?

George Rogers Clark | Indiana National Parks
George Rogers Clark | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A short history lesson is in order, but I promise there’ll be no homework.

Clark’s best remembered (not by my former students however) as the brave commander who led a small force of frontiersmen during the American Revolution through the freezing waters of the Illinois country to capture British-held Fort Sackville at Vincennes during February of 1779.

While this was his most important contribution to the cause of liberty, Clark also built forts on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, repelled a British-led Indian attack in the Illinois country and led two major expeditions which destroyed the major Shawnee towns in the Ohio country. (Source: NPS)

Clark began his career as a surveyor before becoming a politician and a soldier. After the Revolutionary War, Congress appointed him as one of the commissioners to manage negotiations with the Native Americans in what was then known as the Northwest Territory.

He concluded a treaty with the Shawnee granting the United States sovereignty over all lands ceded by Great Britain.

Things To Do At The Park

George Rogers Clark Memorial | Indiana National Parks
Murals to the right of the George Rogers Clark Memorial in Indiana | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I always recommend that first timers start at the visitor center. There you can gather information on points of interest at the site. At this site, I recommend a 30 minute film, titled Long Knives. The film explores Clark, his march to Vincennes, and the attack on Fort Sackville. 

From there you should check out the Memorial where you can see seven murals which tell the story of Clark and the Old Northwest along with a magnificent statue of George Rogers Clark.

As the National Park Service notes, the Memorial was a major feat of architectural engineering. It was built from 1931 to 1933. Workers assembled it piece by piece like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. Today it stands as a testament to a man who did his part for the cause of freedom.

RELATED: 7 Epic KANSAS National Parks (Helpful Tips + Photos)

2. Indiana Dunes National Park | Indiana National Parks

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore | Indiana National Parks
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore | Courtesy of Wikimedia

I love history, but my wife frequently reminds me that there are actually people who would rather visit national park sites to enjoy the wonderful outdoor activities which they have to offer. Or, they go there to take in the beauty and become one with nature. Could she be right?

In our marriage, she usually is. Rest assured that, if you’re one of those people, you can’t lose by taking a trip to Indiana Dunes National Park. This beautiful park includes 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan. It has so much to offer that you won’t find in the history books.

While you’re there you can you look for rare species of birds or fly a kite along the sandy beach. This national park includes 15,000 acres so you won’t run out of space.

If you love hiking there’s 50 miles of trails. They cover rugged dunes, magnificent wetlands, sunny prairies, winding rivers and tranquil forests.

So Many Incredible Activities At Indiana Dunes

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Why not go kayaking on Lake Michigan | Indiana National Parks

If you love boating Lake Michigan features kayaking, powerboating and sailing. While canoeing is not recommended on the lake itself due to the windy conditions, it is quite popular on the Little Calumet River.

There’s even horseback riding on the specified portion of the Glenwood Dunes Trails from March 16th to December 14th. And, let’s not forget cross-country skiing from December 15th until March 15th. Those trails stay busy year-round.

Other Outdoor Activities At Indiana Dunes

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There’s no shortage of fun activities at Indiana Dunes including horseback riding | Indiana National Parks

There’s no shortage of fun outdoor activities. See the beautiful wildflowers in the spring while strolling along the banks of the Little Calumet River. In the summer go swimming or build castles in the sand.

Check out the amazing colors in the fall which typically peak around the middle of October. The fall is also an excellent time to go bird watching.

From April 1 through October 31, overnight camping is available. Fishing the Little Calumet River during the summer can be a lot of fun. There’s also the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk fishing pier which offer lakeside fishing.

While You’re There You Can Explore A Century Of Progress

Poster for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair showing exhibition buildings with boats on water in foreground. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

You’ll find some amazing historical sites, too, which I’m always keen to explore. There are over 60 historic structures including a National Historic Landmark, the Bailly Homestead. Other notable sites include Camp Good Fellow, the Chellberg Farm and five houses from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair’s theme was a “Century of Progress.” In keeping with this theme you can see the House of Tomorrow, Florida Tropical, Armco Ferro, Wieboldt-Rostone and Cyprus Log House. These places feature innovative building materials, modern home appliances and new construction techniques.

RELATED: 6 (EPIC) Kentucky National Parks For Your Visit To The Bluegrass State

3. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail | Indiana National Parks

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail | Indiana National Parks
Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail at Decision Point | Courtesy of the National Park Service

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail follows the historic outbound and inbound routes of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I don’t know about you, but I get goosebumps just thinking about the Corps of Discovery.

Commemorating the Lewis & Clark Expedition (1804-06), the Lewis & Clark Trail connects 16 states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon).

This trail is administered by the National Park Service. It’s not a hiking trail, but does provide opportunities for hiking, boating and horseback riding at many locations along the route.

It’s a great opportunity to see the USA while learning about the brave men (and one woman) who weren’t able to make the journey in an air-conditioned SUV.

What Can I See In Indiana That’s Connected To Lewis & Clark

Map of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail | Indiana National Parks
Lewis & Clark Trail Map | Courtesy of the National Park Service

I’m so glad you asked. After all, our focus in this article is on Indiana.

In Indiana, this historic trail follows the Ohio River from the Indiana/Ohio border, to Clarksville, then southwest towards Indiana’s toe just south of Mount Vernon.  Merriweather Lewis historic 1803 meeting with William Clark has been honored for several years at the Falls of the Ohio State Park and the George Rogers Clark Homesite.

Now I know what you’re thinking. And, the answer is YES. William Clark descended from a line of adventurous men including William’s illustrious older brother George Rogers Clark.

RELATED: 6 GREAT Missouri National Parks (An Honest Guide + Photos)

4. Lincoln’s Boyhood Home | Indiana National Parks

Abraham Lincoln's Boyhood Home | Indiana National Parks
Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Home | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In 2021, C-SPAN asked a group of distinguished presidential historians to rank our nation’s presidents from worst to best. At the top of their list, with a total score of 897 points, was Abraham Lincoln. George Washington and Franklin Roosevelt came in second and third respectively.

Why is Abraham Lincoln ranked as the greatest president of all time? Simply put, he saved the Union. In the process of saving the nation, Lincoln managed to define the creation of a more perfect Union in terms of liberty and economic equality that rallied the citizenry behind him.

“His great achievement, historians tell us, was his ability to energize and mobilize the nation by appealing to its best ideals while acting ‘with malice towards none’ in the pursuit of a more perfect, more just, and more enduring Union.

No President in American history ever faced a greater crisis and no President ever accomplished as much.”

-Michael Burlingame, Professor Emeritus of History
Connecticut College

Lincoln Transformed The Presidency

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Abraham Lincoln transformed the office of the presidency | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Lincoln transformed the Presidency. He remade the president’s role as commander in chief and as chief executive into a powerful new position. In the process, he imbued the office with broader powers by making it supreme over both Congress and the courts.

His detractors argued then and now that he took actions which were unconstitutional such as suspending the writ of habeas corpus.

For those without a legal background, this is a writ “requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court, especially to secure the person’s release unless lawful grounds are shown for their detention.”

For Lincoln, however, it made no sense “to lose the nation and yet preserve the Constitution.” No President in American history ever faced a greater crisis and, in saving the Union, no President ever accomplished as much.

Visit Lincoln’s Birthplace

Abraham Lincoln statue in plaza of Lincoln National Life Co.’s home office building, Fort Wayne, Indiana | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There are many activities offered on a daily basis at Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. At the Memorial Visitor Center, park staff and volunteers are available to answer your questions. While you’re there you should allow at least 45 minutes to tour the Memorial Halls, Museum and watch the orientation film

The film, titled Forging Greatness: Lincoln In Indiana, is a 14-minute interpretive story which tells of the boyhood of Abraham Lincoln. Next up, I recommend the park museum. It’s housed in the Memorial Visitor Center which was completed in 1943. The tour is self-guided and includes twelve exhibits exploring the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Outdoor Activities At The Lincoln Boyhood Home

Large stone on side of trail with plaque in front on the ground.
Trail of the 12 Stones | Courtesy of the National Park Service

When you’re ready for a “good stretch of the legs” as our nation’s 16th President might say, there’s the Trail of the 12 Stones. It’s a half mile trail that begins just east of the Cabin Site Memorial. There you will find twelve historic stones arranged in chronological order at irregular intervals.

Small bronze tablets located near each stone, briefly explain the events in Lincoln’s life associated with each of the memorial stones. There are stones from twelve locations beginning with his birthplace in Kentucky and ending with a stone left over from the Lincoln Tomb in Illinois.  (Source: NPS)

You can also hike the Boyhood Trail of Abraham Lincoln. It’s the same ground that Abraham Lincoln did when he was a boy growing into a young man.

And if you’re ready to step back in time there’s the Lincoln Living Historical Farm. It’s a working pioneer homestead with a log cabin, outbuildings, split rail fences, livestock, gardens and field crops.

While you’re there you’ll see rangers are dressed in period clothing. They perform a variety of activities typical of daily life in the 1820s.

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Who Doesn’t Love A Great Story | Hoosiers

Hoosiers is a Cinderella story which appears on everyone’s list of the greatest sports movies of all time | Courtesy of YouTube

We’re More Than Just Parks which means we give you more than just parks.

If you love a great story (and who doesn’t) then you can’t go wrong with the film Hoosiers. It’s a Cinderella story about a coach with a checkered past who finds redemption in a small Indiana town. Along the way, he brings a father and son together, gains the undying affection of the townspeople and, of course, wins the girl.

I don’t want to spoil the film for you if you haven’t seen it, but it’s a nostalgic look back at a simpler time when Indiana conducted a single state basketball championship for all its high schools. That’s right. Every high school competed in a single tournament irrespective of their size.

The film is based on the story of the 1954 Indiana state champions, Milan High School. Like the film’s fictional Hickory High School, Milan was a very small high school in a rural, southern Indiana town. Both schools had undersized teams. But, by the time of the David vs. Goliath confrontation at the film’s conclusion, you’ll be totally hooked on this incredible story.

Forget about the crowds, the size of the school, their fancy uniforms, and remember what got you here. Focus on the fundamentals that we’ve gone over time and time again. And most important, don’t get caught up thinking about winning or losing. If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says. At the end of the game, you’re going to be winners!

Coach Norman Dale (portrayed by Gene Hackman) in the film Hoosiers
If you haven’t seen this classic film then check out the official trailer

While In Indiana, Why Not Take The Hoosiers Tour Too

The 1954 Milan High School Basketball Team | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hoosiers was actually filmed in many locations throughout central Indiana in the autumn of 1985. While in Indiana, why not take the “Hoosiers Tour” by exploring both a piece of Indiana and cinematic history.

  1. Downtown Hickory was actually New Richmond, Indiana. It’s located northwestern Montgomery County. It was chosen for the town scenes. With a population of 400, it’s a genuine small town.
  2. Hickory High School is a 78-year-old high-school-turned-primary-school. It’s located in Nineveh in southern Johnson County, near 7544 S. Nineveh Road.
  3. The Hickory Gym where the team practiced is actually located in southwestern Henry County at 355 N. Washington St. in Knightstown.
  4. The sectional game was played in the 800-seat 56-year-old College Avenue Gym, at 315 E. College Ave. in Brownsburg, in northeastern Hendricks County.
  5. The regional game was played in the 2,200-seat Memorial Gymnasium was built at 315 N. Lebanon St. in Lebanon, located in central Boone County.
  6. The championship game was played at Hinkle Fieldhouse, on the campus of Butler University. It’s located at 510 W. 49th St. in Indianapolis. It was originally named Butler Fieldhouse.

Map Of Sites For Your “Hoosier Tour”

Fun Facts About Hoosiers

It was Jack Nicholson who very much wanted to play the lead role in Hoosiers, but was unable to do so | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Coach Norman Dale came to Indiana as a disgraced college coach who had seen his career go up in smoke when he struck a player. The role, masterfully portrayed by academy-award winner Gene Hackman, was actually based on Indiana’s legendary Bobby Knight. Knight was known to have an explosive temper too.

While I can’t imagine anyone playing the lead role in Hoosiers other than Gene Hackman, it was actually Jack Nicholson who had read the script first. He wanted to play the part in the worst way. Nicholson, however, was unavailable for filming because he was serving as a witness in a lawsuit, which sidelined him for six months.

Seven of the eight guys who played for Coach Norman Dale’s Hickory team in the film were actually from Indiana. This gave the story a real hometown flavor.

The #1 Sports Movie Of All Time

Gene Hackman
In this Dec, 6, 1985, file photo, actor Gene Hackman gives fictional Hickory High basketball players instructions during filming of the final game of the movie “Hoosiers” at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the Butler University campus in Indianapolis. “Hoosiers” shot all the way to No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 of best sports movies, a one-of-a-kind poll from the news organization known for its rankings of college teams. Released in 1986 and starring Gene Hackman, “Hoosiers” led the tally in results released Friday, April 17, 2020, receiving 46 votes from a 70-person global panel of sports writers and editors who work for the AP. (AP Photo/Tom Strickland, File)

The Associated Press is known for ranking sports teams. In 2020, they ranked sports movies. AP’s Top 25 List of the Greatest Sports Movies Of All Time awarded “Hoosiers” the number one spot. The film led the tally receiving 46 votes from a 70-person global panel of sports writers and editors who work for the Associated Press.

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To Learn More

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So many books, so little time. Why not take a deeper dive with some excellent book recommendations. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
  1. Pioneer History of Indiana: Including Stories, Incidents, and Customs of the Early Settlers by H. Monroe Bateman.
  2. George Rogers Clark: “I Glory in War” by William R. Nester.
  3. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose.
  4. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years & the War Years by Carl Sandburg.
  5. The Making of Hoosiers: How a Small Movie from the Heartland Became One of America’s Favorite Films by Gayle L. Johnson.

RELATED: 30+ Best National Parks Books (Great Gifts For Park Lovers)

Map Of Indiana National Park Sites

List Of Indiana National Park Sites

  1. George Rogers Clark National Historical Park
  2. Indiana Dunes National Park
  3. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
  4. Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
Tony Pattiz

Tony Pattiz is a retired history teacher currently researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.

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