Hamilton County Indiana: Elevate Your Indiana Travel Experience

Fall is the season for weekend trips, around here we like to call them Gas-Tank Getaways. When you live in Illinois, our neighbor to the east is a popular location. If you’re looking for a getaway for the coming long weekends in October, I suggest you look beyond the usual suspects of Northwest Indiana and Indianapolis and set your sights on Hamilton County. Indiana is celebrating 200 years, and there is way more to Indiana than just Northwest Indiana (one might say there is much better Indiana the farther in you go!)

visit hamilton county indiana

Hamilton County Indiana is located just north of Indianapolis, and is about a 3.5-4 hours drive from Lake County. When we were invited this summer to visit Hamilton County and experience it for ourselves, we didn’t know what to expect. What we found was a vibrant and lively downtown full of art everywhere you turned. We saw natural spaces that rival anything we have seen in the Midwest, and were surrounded by more activities than we could possibly do in one weekend. Before leaving, we were already trying to plan our next visit back!

One thing we did different on this trip, that will change the way we travel forever, is really focus on going local. Our kids are getting are getting old enough that if they won’t eat off a menu that is actually printed and handed to you at the table, well, there are granola bars in the car.  From our food to our activities ,we tried to balance the tourist “must-dos” with the places that the locals frequent, and it made for a super fun weekend.

hamilton county indiana

We stayed at the Spring-Hill Suites Indianapolis Caramel, just a bit outside the Caramel Arts District. Pro-tip: when traveling with children, always get a suite. It gives you both more room and the ability to stagger bedtimes. It also allows you (usually) to stock snacks and drinks in a mini-fridge to cut down on costs.

As far as hotel breakfasts go the breakfast at Spring-Hill was great–waffles, oatmeal, cereal, fruit–plenty for the kids to eat. However if you have the time and the funds, you really should explore beyond the free hotel breakfast.

Where to Eat in Hamilton County Indiana:

where to eat in Hamilton county indiana

While walking around the Caramel Arts District, we saw the sign pictured above. Let me tell you, when you see a sign that says #1 donut, you go inside.

Square Donuts – Caramel
Square donuts makes, you guessed it, square donuts. They were warm, melt-in-your-mouth, and may be worth the drive to Indiana alone. We got a bag of classic ones (at $1 each, you could get a lot!) and sat outside to enjoy them all. The strawberry donuts made everyone so happy they smile now just thinking about them.

Bub's indiana

Bub’s Cafe
220 2nd St. SW, Carmel, Indiana | (317) 844-2822 | Facebook

This brightly-colored cafe serves top-notch diner food for breakfast or lunch.  The down-home cooking and friendly faces will fill you up with more than sustenance. All products are made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. We went for lunch and enjoyed everything! My son had a bread bowl of soup (despite it being 90 degrees!) the rest of us all had sandwiches of one sort or another that were just perfect. My Indiana family tells me we missed out buy not getting the famous, fresh-made Bub holes (donut holes) and the breakfast menu is so mouth-watering that when we go back, it will be for breakfast.

big hoffa bbq
Big Hoffa’s Sokehouse Bar-B-Que

800 E. Main St, Westfield, Indiana | (317) 867-0077 | Facebook

Big Hoffa’s looks like what most would define as a “hole in the wall.” In fact, we drove right past it the first time! However my husband is an aficionado and he insists these type of places make the best barbecue. The line that was packed to and out the door confirmed that we shouldn’t judge a barbecue by its decor!  TABELog voted it the 3rd best BBQ in America and well, we would have to agree.

Known for swashbuckling barbecue, their meat is smoked for 25-30 hours. We ordered the family meal and had WAY MORE than our family of six could eat. It was so nice to have the family option. We got the Hungry Hoffa Meal which comes with a full rack of ribs, one pound of meat (we got pulled pork), two pounds of rib tips, two sides and six garlic butter rolls.

woody's library restaurant
Woodys Library Restaurant
40 E. Main St., Carmel, Indiana | (317) 573-4444 | Facebook

Possibly the coolest restaurant ever, even for the kids. Built as a Carnegie Library in 1913, it still maintains that historic library atmosphere while being a family- friendly pub. The food was so good and the kids’ menu is definitely not your typical tasteless fair. Printed on a coloring sheet filled with vintage Woody Woodpecker cartoons and delivered with a rainbow pencil, the kids could choose from a quesadilla, grilled cheese, turkey mini, tacos, mini-burgers, or chicken tenders. All meals were $4.00 to $5.95 and tasty, really tasty! They also have gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan items.  Honestly, I could hang out at this place every single night. The staff was kind and friendly to sometime squirmy kids and knowledgeable on both their food and the local beers. It was my favorite place of the entire weekend.

icecream
Handel’s Ice Cream
2466 E. 146th St., Carmel, Indiana | (317) 705-1855 | Facebook

Handel’s has two locations in Indy, we visited the Carmel location. We were originally put-of; it was a walk-up, in a strip mall, but once we saw the line weaving around the building, something told us this was the place to be on a hot summer day. The ice cream is all homemade fresh everyday on the premises and there are so many flavors and options to choose from it was hard to pick just one! Those cones up above, they are singles!

families activities in Hamiliton County IndianaFamily Activities in Hamilton County Indiana

Let’s be honest, just about anywhere in the world you go if you have children you can find something entertaining for children. My kids are generally thrilled when we find a new playground to explore so for our whirlwind trip (Friday afternoon through Sunday morning) we wanted to mix it up with the must-see attractions as well as some down time just “doing as the locals do.”

Try Something New

Admittedly this was not something I would have come up with on my own. Our guide at the Hamilton County Visitors Center as well as our friend Katy at Indy with Kids said it was so much fun for kids.

koteewi range
Koteewi Range at Strawtwon Koteewi Park
11909 Koteewi Dr., Nobelsville, IN | (317) 776-8472

Strawtwon Koteewi Park offers both a range and a treetop adventure. The treetop adventure is an aerial experience with ziplines, a Go Ape! ropes course and three trails ranging from 15-50 feet. Since we were arriving late in the day on Saturday, and had younger kids (only one of them weighed enough for the course), we skipped the ropes course. It looks so amazing and if you have older kids it would be an awesome fall adventure.

While our younger two children napped in the car, I took our older two to out to the range. For $15 an hour you can rent a bow and five arrows and shoot on the target range or in the family fun zone. Your rental starts with a brief demonstration and instructions on shooting and safety.

Koteewi is the largest archery-only range in Indiana with 800 acres. It’s Olympic-sized facility features both competition and practice ranges. The family fun range features animals and other fun targets for families to shoot at. Experienced shooters can walk their 3D trail to experience shooting in the woods.

My kids had an awesome time–they didn’t want to leave! Even mom got to unleash her inner Katniss Everdeen and shoot a few herself.

Do what you enjoy at home… away

caramel clay parks and rec waterpark
Photo Source: Caramel Clay Parks and recreation

Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation
Monon Community Center, 1235 Central Park Drive East, Caramel, Indiana | (317) 848-7275 | Facebook

After spending half the day in the car there was no better way to start our weekend then at the Monon Community Center Water Park. Parents got to cool off and relax in the lazy river and the kids got to use up all that energy that they stored up on the drive. This will definitely be something we do on future trips anywhere!

The Monon Community Center water park is a super fun pool (similar to any of the community water parks we have here) nestled into a beautiful landscape. Not nice out? They have indoor facilities too! The water park features a lazy river, slides and a Flowrider for surfing! The locker rooms feature lockers that lock, no coins needed! It was a perfect way for us to kill time while we waited to check into the hotel. We just had our pool bag packed separate from the rest of our luggage so we could grab and go!

monon trail

Despite my girls’ constant complaints, our family loves to hike and explore. The Monon Trail runs right through the Arts District making it perfect for after meal, and early morning exploring.

Monon Trail
1235 Central Park Drive East, Indianapolis/Hamilton County, Indiana

The Monon Trail is a former railroad line and an awesome walk for families, with lots to see and plenty of Pokemon to catch. This 16-mile, scenic trail is great for outdoor ad nature lovers, and also perfect for relaxing strolls after dinner, or lunch, or breakfast!  The Monon Greenway is the 5.2 miles that go right through the Carmel Arts District. You can pick up a trail map at the Hamilton County visitors center which includes places to stop along the way.

We found it to be a great way to kill some early morning hours with our (very) early risers without disturbing other hotel guests.  There are even bikes (similar to Chicago’s Divvy system) that you can rent along the route, including large tricycles with baskets.

monon trail bike rentals

Caramel Arts and Design District
E Main St. at N. Rangeline Rd., Carmel, Indiana | (317) 571-2787 | Facebook

The Carmel Arts and Design District was such a delightful surprise. I could move there today. The streets are lines with street art, galleries, and shops. It provides tons of fun for families, or an adult only weekend. Snap selfies with all the statues or visit the world’s smallest art gallery–there are surprises on every corner.

Caramel Arts

The Worlds Smallest Art Gallery was certified by Guinness in 1999. It showcases children’s art each month. Open Sundays 2-4, admission is free.

Museum of Miniature Houses–while my girls were bummed it was closed when we were there, we looked in the window and it’s on their list for a return visit! It’s home to more than 50 dollhouses and miniature scenes.

The Must See:

Conner Prairie
13400 Allisonville Rd., Fishers, Indiana | (317) 776-46038 | Facebook

Conner Prairie alone is worth the trip to Hamilton County. With more than enough for a full day of family fun, it deserves (and will get), its own story.

coner prairie

Conner Prairie is a Immersive History (aka Living History) park. The Interactive History Park allows families to experience history first-hand, making it more relatable, interesting, and enjoyable! My history buff husband and 11-year-old were in heaven. There is so much to do that even my preschoolers and daughter found something that they loved to do.

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,

The highlight for our family was the Treetop Outpost–a newly opened, 35-foot structure (four stories tall), like a Swiss Family Robinson house. There are nature and archaeological activities, building stations, and crafts. The Treetop experience alone could have kept us  occupied all day long.

 

p1300131

When you visit be sure to stop in the Visitor’s Center {37 E. Main St.} and pick up tons of information, get recommendations specific to your family, as well as pocket maps of the trail and dining guides.

 

Hamilton County is Social
App | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest | YouTube | Blog

 


Disclosure: My family and I were guests of Hamilton County and some of our experiences and admissions were provided for us in order to give you an insider view. All thoughts and opinions are my own and no further compensation was received.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Dance academy of Libertyville
About Melissa Haak 841 Articles
Melissa is mom to 4. She used to dream of traveling the world, now she dreams of a clean kitchen. She can be found on most social media sites as @PBinmyHair because with this much hair and four kids, you're bound to find something in it.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*