Ultimate Guide to the Best State Parks in Indiana

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Indiana State Parks offers residents and visitors plenty of natural beauty and recreational opportunities. With dozens of wonderful state parks in Indiana to choose from, it’s hard to narrow the list down to the best state parks in Indiana.

As someone who’s been visiting Indiana State Parks for years, I’ve narrowed the list down to the ones I think are the best. I’ve personally visited all of the parks in this article (some more than once!) and can vouch for them all as fantastic places to spend an afternoon.

Quick Guide to Best State Parks in Indiana

🥾 Best State Park in Indiana for Hiking: Turkey Run State Park

🏖 Best State Park in Indiana for Beaches: Indiana Dunes State Park

👩‍👩‍👧‍👦 Best State Park in Indiana for Families: Spring Mill State Park

❄️ Best State Park in Indiana in the Winter: Pokagon State Park

🍁 Best State Park in Indiana for Fall Colors: Brown County State Park

Top 5 State Parks in Indiana

Ready for the top 5 state parks in Indiana?

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast seeking breathtaking natural beauty, thrilling adventures, and serene escapes, then you’re in for a treat. Indiana boasts a wealth of stunning state parks, and I’ve handpicked the very best for your exploration.

Here are the ones that I think are the top 5 state parks in Indiana: Brown County, Turkey Run, Indiana Dunes, Chain O’ Lakes, and Clifty Falls.

But that’s not all! I’ll also share some other fantastic Indiana state parks that deserve a spot on your must-visit list.

So, grab your hiking boots, pack your sense of adventure, and let’s dive into the wonders of Indiana’s state parks!

1. Brown County State Park

Brown County State Park is a favorite park located in the rolling hills of southern Indiana. Located just outside of Nashville, Indiana, this park spans over 15,000 acres and is often referred to as the “Little Smokies” due to its resemblance to the Great Smoky Mountains.

Brown County State Park is renowned for its stunning vistas, dense forests, and abundant wildlife. The park offers a diverse range of activities, including hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and fishing. With over 70 miles of trails, you can explore the park’s natural beauty and discover hidden gems at every turn.

Brown County State Park, one of the best state parks in Indiana

One of the notable features of the park is the scenic Brown County State Park Lookout Tower, offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Additionally, Brown County State Park hosts various special events throughout the year, such as guided hikes showcasing the vibrant autumn foliage.

The park has a large lodge (with an indoor waterpark) as well as several cabins, so if you choose to stay overnight, you can easily do so. Nearby Nashville, Indiana is full of unique boutiques and local crafts on every corner. It’s easy to spend an entire weekend in the area!

Whether you’re seeking a serene retreat or an adventurous outdoor experience, Brown County State Park is an absolute must-visit for nature enthusiasts of all kinds.

Horseback riding is offered at many of the best Indiana state parks

2. Turkey Run State Park

Situated along the banks of Sugar Creek in Parke County, Indiana, Turkey Run State Park offers a captivating blend of natural beauty and recreational opportunities. This scenic park spans over 2,400 acres and is known for its rugged canyons, sandstone cliffs, and lush vegetation.

The park gets its name from the wild turkeys that once roamed the area. Turkey Run State Park is a paradise for hikers, kayakers, and nature enthusiasts, with a network of both easy and challenging trails winding through the stunning ravines and towering trees.

The popular “Trail 3” leads you through narrow gorges, over rocky creek beds, and under breathtaking sandstone formations. You’ll even get to climb a ladder – which was a really fun hiking experience when I was a kid – we always begged to take the “ladder” trail!

🥾 You’ll want great hiking shoes for the trails at Turkey Run (and all the other parks!), and I LOVE these. Not only are they comfortable, but they are cute and wear well!

Almost every summer growing up, we spent several fun afternoons hiking and picnicking at Turkey Run State Park as it was our preferred park for meeting up with my grandparents and other family members.

Whether you’re exploring the scenic trails or participating in special events, Turkey Run State Park is a haven for nature lovers and a prime destination to immerse yourself in the beauty of Indiana’s wilderness.

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3. Indiana Dunes State Park

Running along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes State Park is a true natural wonder and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Located in Porter County, Indiana, this stunning park covers over 2,000 acres and is renowned for its towering sand dunes, pristine beaches, and diverse ecosystems.

Indiana Dunes State Park offers a perfect blend of recreational opportunities and breathtaking landscapes. In the summer you can enjoy swimming in Lake Michigan’s refreshing waters, sunbathing on the sandy beaches, and picnicking with panoramic views of the dunes. It’s the only state park in Indiana with “true” beaches.

The park features numerous trails, including the popular 3 Dune Challenge, which takes hikers on a thrilling adventure to conquer the tallest sand dunes. Birdwatchers will delight in the park’s rich avian diversity, as it serves as a vital migratory stopover for numerous bird species.

Indiana Dunes State Park also hosts a variety of special events and programs, such as guided hikes, educational workshops, and nature-themed festivals.

With its natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and engaging events, Indiana Dunes State Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience for visitors of all ages, making it a must-visit destination in Indiana.

Pair your visit to the Indiana Dunes State Park with a visit to the only National Park in Indiana, the nearby Indiana Dunes National Park, as well as a day trip to one of the many communities close to the park such as Valparaiso.

Many Indiana state Parks have special programs.

4. Chain O’Lakes State Park

Chain O’Lakes State Park is a hidden gem in the heart of northern Indiana’s lake region. Located in Noble County, this scenic park encompasses 2,718 acres of pristine lakes, wetlands, and forests.

The park gets its name from its interconnected chain of nine glacial lakes, offering ample opportunities for water-based activities such as boating, fishing, and swimming. Although the focus of this park is on the lakes, there are several miles of hiking trails where you can explore the park’s diverse ecosystems and observe a variety of wildlife.

One of the notable features of Chain O’Lakes State Park is its historic log cabins, which offer a glimpse into the area’s rich cultural heritage. The park’s peaceful and tranquil setting makes it a perfect destination for camping, picnicking, and simply unwinding amidst nature’s beauty.

Throughout the year, the park hosts special events and activities, such as guided nature walks, birdwatching excursions, and educational programs for children. If you love lake life, then Chain O’Lakes State Park is the park for you!

5. Clifty Falls State Park

Close to one of my favorite Indiana towns (Madison) and encompassing some of the scenic hills of southern Indiana, Clifty Falls State Park is a nature lover’s paradise waiting to be explored.

Located in Jefferson County, the park includes 1,416 acres of breathtaking landscapes, including rugged canyons, cascading waterfalls, and verdant forests. Clifty Falls State Park is known for its namesake waterfalls, with the largest, Clifty Falls, plunging 60 feet into the gorge below.

The park offers several hiking trails that wind through the gorgeous woods, providing opportunities to witness the beauty of the falls and the surrounding wildlife. For adventure seekers, the rugged terrain is perfect for a bit of a challenge.

The park also boasts an impressive variety of flora and fauna, making it a popular spot for birdwatching and nature photography. Clifty Falls State Park offers a lovely Inn, camping facilities, picnic areas, and fishing spots, inviting you to unwind and immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature.

Throughout the year, the park hosts various events and programs, including guided hikes, nature workshops, and seasonal festivals. The nearby town of Madison gets all dressed up for Christmas, so if you can brave the cold, it’s well worth planning a winter adventure.

Whether you’re seeking a scenic retreat, an active outdoor experience, or a chance to connect with nature, Clifty Falls State Park offers an enchanting escape that is sure to leave a lasting impression.

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Other Fun State Parks in Indiana to Consider

With so many fun state parks in Indiana, it was really hard to narrow the list down to five, so I decided to share a little bit about 5 additional state parks that REALLY ought to be on your list of parks to visit.

6. McCormick’s Creek State Park

Tucked within the hills of Owen County, Indiana, McCormick’s Creek State Park is a true natural gem awaiting exploration. Spanning over 1,900 acres, this enchanting park stands as Indiana’s oldest state park, boasting a rich history and a wide range of landscapes.

Gorgeous hiking at McCormicks Creek State Park

McCormick’s Creek State Park is renowned for its rugged canyons, majestic limestone cliffs, and the meandering waters of the creek that gracefully wind through the park. You can discover a network of hiking trails that lead to awe-inspiring overlooks, tranquil waterfalls, and even Wolf Cave, a cave you can hike through.

The Canyon Inn is a lovely place to extend your stay at McCormick’s Creek State Park and be sure to spend an afternoon exploring the nearby town of Spencer, Indiana.

🥾 Related post: A Perfect Day in Spencer

Wildlife enthusiasts will find joy in the park’s abundant flora and fauna, offering plentiful opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife photography. Spend some time at the nature center to learn more about the area and what the park offers.

Make sure to stop at nature centers when you visit Indiana State Parks

Whether you seek scenic beauty, outdoor recreation, or a serene sanctuary away from city life, McCormick’s Creek State Park promises an enthralling experience that will leave indelible memories.

7. Spring Mill State Park

Spring Mill State Park is a hidden gem in the heart of southern Indiana, offering a captivating blend of history, natural beauty, and outdoor adventures.

Located in Lawrence County, this expansive park covers over 1,300 acres and is home to a meticulously restored pioneer village. You can step back in time as they explore the historic grist mill, pioneer cabins, and other meticulously preserved structures. The park’s centerpiece is the stunning Twin Caves, where you can embark on a unique guided boat tour through the underground waterways.

Kids especially love this state park as it is a bit different from most of the other Indiana State Parks – there is much more to see and do than just hiking. I know when I was a kid, my grandparents took me to Spring Mill every summer and it was always a memorable day trip.

Spring Mill State Park also offers a myriad of outdoor activities, including hiking, fishing, camping, and wildlife spotting. With its lush forests, scenic trails, and tranquil lakes, the park provides a serene escape into nature’s embrace.

Whether you’re a history enthusiast, nature lover, or seeking a peaceful retreat, Spring Mill State Park offers a unique experience that transports you to a bygone era while immersing you in the beauty of the Indiana wilderness.

8. Fort Harrison State Park

Fort Harrison State Park is a unique destination in that it’s just a few miles from downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. Situated within the former site of Fort Benjamin Harrison, this expansive park spans over 1,700 acres, providing a tranquil retreat away from the urban bustle.

The park offers a range of activities for outdoor enthusiasts, including hiking, biking, fishing, and horseback riding. With its well-maintained trails and paved multi-purpose walkways, Fort Harrison State Park is a haven for nature lovers seeking to explore its woodlands, meadows, and scenic waterways.

Walking trails at Fort Harrison State Park

Additionally, history buffs will delight in the park’s connection to its military past, as evidenced by the preserved Citizen’s Military Training Camp, and the Museum of 20th Century Warfare.

Since it’s so close to the city, we love to spend an afternoon hiking (or hiking and sledding in the winter months) and then visit nearby Triton Brewery for a flight of beer and tasty food.

Whether you’re seeking outdoor adventures, historical insights, or simply a serene setting to unwind near the city, Fort Harrison State Park is the perfect destination that offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and cultural significance.

9. Shades State Park

A nearby neighbor to the more popular Turkey Run State Park, Shades State Park is a hidden gem for hikers. Located in Montgomery County, this enchanting park spans over 3,000 acres and is known for its deep sandstone ravines, towering cliffs, and tranquil streams.

With its challenging hiking trails, Shades State Park offers a thrilling adventure for outdoor enthusiasts. The park’s highlight is the iconic Devil’s Punchbowl, a breathtaking gorge carved by cascading waterfalls, providing a mesmerizing sight for those who venture its paths. I’ve hiked this trail dozens of times, and it never gets old – if you love to hike it’s just challenging enough to be fun, but it’s still beautiful and enjoyable.

Camping, fishing, and picnicking opportunities abound, allowing you to soak in the peaceful ambiance and create unforgettable memories, and since it’s less busy than Turkey Run, it’s an excellent choice on holidays or busy summer weekends.

Whether you seek an adrenaline-filled hike, a peaceful escape into nature, or a scenic backdrop for outdoor activities, Shades State Park is a must-visit destination that promises a rejuvenating experience amidst the splendor of Indiana’s wilderness.

10. Pokagon State Park

Pokagon State Park is an enchanting haven situated on lovely Lake James in northern Indiana, with a variety of outdoor adventures available throughout the year.

Located in Steuben County, this sprawling park encompasses over 1,200 acres and showcases its stunning beauty through the beautiful lake, rolling hills, and verdant forests.

With its invigorating hiking trails, Pokagon State Park offers exhilarating exploration for nature enthusiasts. The park’s crown jewel is the awe-inspiring Lake James, where you can revel in water activities such as boating, swimming, and fishing.

Lake James at Pokagon State Park

The park also features the lovely Potawatomi Inn, cabins, inviting picnicking spots, and an abundance of wildlife, creating a serene retreat and an excellent way to extend your visit.

In the winter, the park opens the state’s only toboggan run. Racing down the track at up to 35 mph is a surefire way to create a memorable family adventure.

Whether you desire an invigorating hike, a calm lakeside escape, or an opportunity to connect with Indiana’s wildlife, Pokagon State Park is a destination that promises an unforgettable experience amidst the captivating splendor of the great outdoors.

Tips for Visiting State Parks in Indiana

On your visit to the Indiana State Parks, use these helpful tips to make your trip more enjoyable.

What to bring and wear to Indiana State Parks

When preparing for a visit to Indiana State Parks, it’s important to pack a few essentials to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

First and foremost, bring appropriate outdoor clothing suited for the season and activities you plan to engage in. Dress in layers to accommodate fluctuating temperatures (it’s Indiana, so the weather can vary dramatically!) and wear sturdy, comfortable footwear for hiking and exploring. If it might rain, be sure to pack a lightweight rain jacket (I love this one from Columbia).

Don’t forget to pack sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. It’s also a good idea to bring insect repellent to ward off any pesky bugs you may encounter.

Carry a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated throughout your adventure. Additionally, consider bringing a backpack to carry your belongings, including snacks, a trail map, a camera, and any personal items you may need. If you plan on picnicking, be sure to bring a quality cooler to keep your food safe until you are ready to eat.

Best Indiana state parks - gatehouse

You’ll need a little cash or a credit card to get into the park as most of them charge an admission fee. In 2024, it was $7 for Indiana residents and $10 for out-of-state visitors.

Lastly, don’t forget to bring your sense of adventure and appreciation for the natural beauty that Indiana State Parks have to offer!

Best times to visit the State Parks in Indiana

The best time to visit Indiana State Parks largely depends on personal preferences and the specific activities you plan to engage in. However, generally speaking, the spring and fall seasons offer mild temperatures and stunning natural landscapes, making them ideal for hiking, camping, and exploring the park’s trails.

Spring brings vibrant blooms and blossoms, while fall treats visitors to a kaleidoscope of colors as the leaves change. These seasons also tend to be less crowded, allowing for a more peaceful and intimate experience with nature.

Indiana state parks forest

Summer is a popular time to visit for water activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing in the park’s lakes and rivers. The parks often host special events and programs during the summer months, providing additional entertainment and recreational opportunities.

Winter, with its serene beauty and quiet atmosphere, offers a unique experience for those interested in activities like cross-country skiing, winter hiking, snowshoeing, and winter photography. Keep in mind that weather conditions can vary, so it’s always a good idea to check the forecast and plan accordingly.

Ultimately, Indiana State Parks have something to offer year-round, so the best time to visit depends on your preferred activities and the experience you seek.

Be aware of the rules or regulations of each state park

Being aware of the rules and regulations of each Indiana State Park you visit is crucial to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for both yourself and the preservation of the park.

These rules are in place to protect the natural environment, wildlife, and other visitors. They may include guidelines on camping, hiking trails, swimming areas, fishing regulations, and the use of recreational vehicles.

Understanding and following these rules helps to maintain the park’s integrity, minimize human impact, and ensure the safety of everyone involved. Additionally, being aware of any specific rules or restrictions allows you to plan your visit accordingly and make the most of your time in the park.

By respecting and abiding by the rules, you can contribute to the conservation efforts and help preserve the natural beauty and resources of Indiana State Parks for future generations to enjoy.

FAQs about Indiana State Parks

What is the least visited state park in Indiana?

Trine State Recreation area located in Northern Indiana near Pokagon State Park is the least visited state park in Indiana. So, if you want solitude and fewer crowds, go check it out!

Which is better Turkey Run or Shades State Park?

Turkey Run is certainly more well-known and has fun ladder trails and a suspension bridge, but Shades State Park offers more unique hiking overall. Turkey Run also has an Inn, restaurant, and more amenities. However, Shades State Park is typically less crowded. So, depends upon what you prefer in a park!

What is Indiana’s newest State Park?

Prophetstown is Indiana’s newest State Park. It’s located near Battle Ground and Lafayette, Indiana where the Tippecanoe River meets the Wabash.

What is the oldest state park in Indiana?

McCormick’s Creek is the oldest state park in Indiana. It opened in 1916.

How many state parks are in Indiana?

Indiana has 24 state parks.

🥾 More articles to help you plan a great visit to an Indiana State Park

Conclusion: Best State Parks in Indiana

Indiana is home to a remarkable array of state parks that showcase the state’s natural beauty and offer a multitude of outdoor adventures. From the breathtaking waterfalls and rugged canyons of Clifty Falls State Park to the towering sand dunes and pristine beaches of Indiana Dunes State Park, each park offers a unique and captivating experience.

Brown County State Park mesmerizes visitors with its stunning autumn foliage, while Turkey Run State Park entices hikers with its scenic trails and sandstone gorges. Chain O’Lakes State Park provides a tranquil escape with its interconnected lakes, and McCormick’s Creek State Park immerses visitors in history and nature.

These parks are not only worth a visit, but they should be on every nature lover’s bucket list. So, pack your hiking boots, grab your camera, and embark on an adventure to explore Indiana’s natural wonders. Whether you’re seeking scenic beauty, outdoor activities, or a peaceful retreat, Indiana’s state parks have it all. Discover the diverse landscapes, witness the majestic waterfalls, and connect with nature in a way that only Indiana’s state parks can offer.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore the natural treasures that await you in Indiana. Start planning your visit today and let Indiana’s state parks leave an indelible mark on your heart and soul.

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Indiana State Parks offer residents and visitors a haven of natural beauty and recreational opportunities. This article includes the best state parks in Indiana. I've personally visited all of the parks in this article (some more than once!) and can vouch for them all as fantastic places to spend an afternoon.
Indiana State Parks offer residents and visitors a haven of natural beauty and recreational opportunities. This article includes the best state parks in Indiana. I've personally visited all of the parks in this article (some more than once!) and can vouch for them all as fantastic places to spend an afternoon.