Being so far north when looking for a quick gas-tank getaway or weekend adventure many of us point the car north and head to Wisconsin. Our neighbor to the east has lots to offer for families as well. Several summers ago we spent the weekend in Hamilton County Indiana and was presently surprised. The gem of Hamilton County – Conner Prairie, opens this week for their spring break preview, take a look at what you’ll find and plan your trip today!
Conner Prairie is an Immersive History park allowing families to experience by history first-hand on over 1,000 wooded acres in Fishers Indiana. Fishers is located just north of Indianapolis and is about a 4-hour drive from Lake County.
Conner Prairie offers multiple historically-themed encounters both outside and inside that combine history and art with science, technology, engineering, and math to provide an authentic look into history that shapes society today. The outdoor ground of the prairie will re-open on March 26, making it perfect for a quick trip over spring break.
Conner Prairie has multiple different areas and features that guarantee the whole family will leave having been engaged and entertained. Families can:
- Join a militia on the 1863 Civil War journey;
- Climb a treetop outpost with a nature walk, archaeology, art, and construction activities;
- Experience life in a 1836 Prairie town;
- Take a 1859 balloon voyage (tethered hot air balloon);
- Visit 1816 Lenape Indian Camp with a trading post, teepee;
- Explore the Conner Homestead, which includes a garden and a loom house;
- Experience Animal Encounters by visiting a livestock barn;
- Participate in the Civil War Journey, including a River Crossing Play area with a climbing, splash pad, train table and dress-up station; and
- Enjoy Inside Discovery with a discovery station, craft corner where kids can create and connect,
One of the things our family loved about our visit to Conner Prairie was how many hands-on activities there were. These activities not only help bring history to life but helps keep children engaged and interested. It also reduces how often you have to say, “No! Don’t touch that!” which makes the day more fun for everyone.
One of the indoor experiences is the Makesmith Workshop. The workshop offers children and families a hands-on experience that gets back to the fundamentals of creating. The theme changes periodically and is currently textiles. You can read more about the workshop and take a look inside at Indy with Kids. When we visited (in the summer) my son got to use real tools and try his hand at making a copper bracelet. It was a great time!
In the Create.Connect. section families will have the opportunity to see the inventions of Indiana’s history and also create their own. From building simple machines to electrical circuits, this is a fully hands-on STEM experience. It’s better for the older kids in the family although everyone will learn something or see something they enjoy.
While inside you can also visit the Discovery Station. If you have a mixed aged family, this is a great place to split up and take the younger kids (children 9 and younger) to the Discovery Station while the older kids explore the Create.Connect exhibit. The Discovery Station is an indoor play area where infants through age nine can climb, play dress-up do puzzles and more. We visited in the summer, so we didn’t stop in the Discovery Station so visit Indy with Kids to learn all about the Discovery Station at Conner Prairie.
The 1836 Prairietown is the first of the historical villages you pass through. This 19th-century village will allow you and your children to experience life on the prairie in 1836. You will meet villagers and can interact with them to learn about their life and what they do. Don’t ask them about their favorite K-pop bad though they will stay in character and question what you are talking about!
There are lots of hands-on experiences and demonstrations as you move through the town. You can visit with animals in the barn, a highlight for sure! You can also learn how to play traditional games such as hoop and stick, ninepin and more. The one-room schoolhouse will make your children appreciate their modern education, and you visit a blacksmith, carpenter and more. Your kids can even be put to work doing chores as they would in 1836, have them try it and they won’t complain about emptying the dishwasher again!
One of the most memorable experiences of our trip was the 1859 Balloon Voyage. This part of the experience does require an additional ticket, but if you are making the drive out there already, it’s worth it. You will be transported back to 1859 Lafayette Indiana and discover the history of manned flight and airmail by balloon. You will also get a chance to go up in a tethered balloon over the prairie. It was a fantastic experience that my kids still talk about today, and the views are incredible!
Walk across the covered bridge and find yourself in the southern Indiana town of Dupont shortly after it was raided during the Civil War. The older history buffs loved this part. Not only were their residents and immersive presentations there were actual shooting cannons!
In addition to the outdoor military drills and re-enactments, there is a splash pad and indoor water area that toddlers will love. In here my kids got to build with model trains, try on period clothing and climb in an indoor play area. We did not visit the splash pad, but it’s filled with fun water cannons perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day.
We will make the trip back to Conner Prairie just for the Treehouse Outpost. This 35-foot structure (four stories tall), is a modern day Swiss Family Robinson house. There are nature and archaeological activities, building stations, and crafts. Newly added Fort Hoosier will allow you to climb on a cargo net, scale a climbing wall, and explore hidden tunnels.
The Treehouse is a magnificent example of combining education and play, art and nature. There were so many things to see and do from music stations too archeological digs. You can build with a variety of materials and get an up-close look at native animals.
Know before you go:
There is a lot of walking involved. There are crushed limestone paths that were fine for strollers, but some areas such as the Lenape Indian Camp and Treetop Outpost have more difficult terrain. The Prairie does have a limited number of wheelchairs available at no charge on a first-come-first-serve basis. Since the homes are authentic to the 19th century some may not provide access to all, in those cases, staff will bring the experience to you. Learn more on the website.
Conner Prairie is Autism-Friendly and provides quiet spots, as well as weighted blankets and sensory toys. Learn more in their complete guide to visiting the Conner Prairie.
Food is available for purchase on-site at the Cafe located near the Balloon Voyage. There are also picnic areas, and you can bring in your own food.
The spring break preview runs through April 7 after that the Prairie will only be open weekends (Thursday-Sunday) through April 28. Starting May 1 it will be open Tuesdays-Sundays, hour varies.
Admission is $18 adults and $13 for children ages 3 – 13, children younger than 3 are free. Parking is free and admission includes everything except the Balloon Voyage.
Have you been to Conner Prairie? Tell us about it in the comments!
Find more family travel and weekend destination ideas on our Family Travel page.