I’m a HUGE fan of day trips. Whenever life gets too busy for a vacation or a weekend getaway, I start planning plenty of Midwest day trips. And there are some amazing day trips in Northern Indiana that will help you fulfill that travel bug!
What counties are included in Northern Indiana?
Northern Indiana borders Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio and consists of 13 Indiana Counties. The counties include Elkhart, Fulton, Jasper, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Lake, LaPorte, Marshall, Porter, Pulaski, St. Joseph, Starke, and Steuben.
As part of my Explore Indiana project, so far I’ve officially visited 7 of them on either a day trip or overnight. Being a life-long Hoosier, I’ve actually spent time in all of them!
What is Northern Indiana Known for?
Northern Indiana is flatter than the southern part of the state, but there is still plenty of variation in the area. From sandy beaches along Lake Michigan to wooded forests in Pokagon State Park you’ll find beauty throughout the region.
Aside from the interesting topography, Northern Indiana is known for its large Amish population. In fact, the area has the 3rd highest Amish population in the United States.
Historically Northern Indiana was also a hotbed for auto and RV manufacturers. In fact, over 80% of the RVs on the road are still being made in Elkhart County.
5 Fun Day Trips in Northern Indiana
Ready for some fun day trips in Northern Indiana? Here are five of my favorites – and if you wanted to combine them all into a weeklong Indiana road trip, that could be a really terrific vacation. Maybe start at the Indiana Dunes and head East to hit the rest of the areas.
1. Fort Wayne, Indiana
As the second largest city in Indiana, Fort Wayne really deserves more than a day trip. We’ve spent many days (and weekends) exploring the area and haven’t run out of fun things to do yet!
For first-time visitors to Fort Wayne, I’d suggest spending at least half the day at the Fort Wayne Zoo. It’s an amazing, world-class zoo with wonderful exhibits, plenty of animals, and some fun unique things to do like feeding the giraffes!
There are often special events happening at the Fort Wayne zoo – it was a fall tradition for our family for many years to visit when the zoo is all decked out with fall decor. But really, any time of the year is a great time to visit.
If it is baseball season, taking in a Fort Wayne Tincups baseball game is a ton of fun. The stadium is really nice and very family-friendly and it’s a lovely way to spend an evening.
Another fun option after the zoo would be to enjoy the new Promenade Park. It’s right downtown and there is always something going on. You can rent kayaks or enjoy a riverboat cruise, and there are several kids’ areas with special things for the kids to enjoy.
If you don’t have kids along for this Indiana day trip, head just south of the city to Two-EE’s winery and sip their award-winning wine while enjoying the swanky atmosphere.
Where to eat on your Fort Wayne day trip
You’ll be able to find any type of cuisine in Fort Wayne, so for your first visit, I’d concentrate on some of the iconic Fort Wayne staples.
Start your day with breakfast at Cindy’s Diner. What makes Cindy’s unique is that although it’s right downtown, it’s super small – with only about 15 seats surrounding a counter.
They specialize in traditional diner food like eggs for breakfast and burgers for lunch. It’s a fun experience for sure!
For lunch, another Fort Wayne staple is Coney Island Weiner Stand. At well over 100 years old, Coney Island is the oldest coney stand in the United States. Right here in Fort Wayne. Even if you don’t like hot dogs, it’s worth a visit – and you can get a yummy burger or slice of pie instead.
There are so many choices for dinner, but a few that stand out include The Hoppy Gnome or The Oyster Bar.
The Hoppy Gnome is a fun little gastropub that specializes in unique tacos and beer – they have a bunch on tap so I’d suggest a flight so you can try several. Tacos and beer – delicious combination, right?
If you are in the mood for seafood, The Oyster Bar is an excellent choice. The food is wonderful and if you sit outside, you might get lucky and get to enjoy live music from the bar across the street! The building is historic and the restaurant has been around in one form or another for years, so it’s a perfect Fort Wayne staple for ending one of your day trips in Northern Indiana.
2. Pokagon State Park
Pokagon State Park is a fantastic destination year-round. From the gorgeous inn on Lake James to the toboggan run in the winter, you’ll easily find something fun to do whenever you visit! Pokagon State Park definitely deserves to be on your list of day trips in Northern Indiana.
What to do on your Indiana day trip to Pokagon State Park
If you visit in the summer, plan on spending the day outside doing all the fun activities the park offers. There are miles of lovely hiking trails, so that would be a perfect start to the day!
Pokagon State Park also offers biking trails so you could bring a bike for a change of pace from hiking. More fun outdoor activities include fishing, horseback riding, and onsite programs through the nature center (call ahead to see what’s going on).
One of the things that’s special about Pokagon State Park in the winter is the toboggan run. It’s open seasonally and only on the weekends when school is in session – so call ahead.
Each toboggan holds up to four people and after climbing to the top of the toboggan tower, you’ll race down the iced track at up to 35 mph. It’s exhilarating!
Hiking is also fun in the winter if you bundle up properly – and then you have an excuse to warm up by a roaring fire in the Potawatomi Inn.
Although you can easily spend an entire day at the park, if you want a change of pace, head over to nearby Angola and enjoy shopping and strolling downtown. There are also a few wineries nearby perfect for relaxing over a glass of wine and reminiscing about the fun you’d had.
Where to eat on your Pokagon State Park day trip
The Potawatomi Inn located in the park has an excellent restaurant onsite – with homemade favorites like fried chicken, salads, and mashed potatoes. Yum! Or enjoy breakfast classics like pancakes, eggs, and biscuits and gravy.
Just a short distance from the State Park is 6 Autumns Food & Spirits. Although it is attached to a Ramada Inn, it is a separate entity with a varied (and tasty) menu and a great beer list. It’s right off the interstate so an easy stop on your way to or from the park!
Related posts: Want to spend more time enjoying Pokagon State Park? With the details from these posts, you can easily spend a weekend having tons of fun any time of the year! An overnight adventure at Pokagon State Park and Five Fun Things to do in the winter near Pokagon State Park
3. Indiana Dunes
Recently designated as a National Park, the Indiana Dunes are a truly unique experience for most landlocked Hoosiers. Located on Lake Michigan, the dunes have lovely beaches and interesting hikes.
What to do on your day trip to the Indiana Dunes
Beaches in Indiana? Feels like an oxymoron for this state in the middle of the country, right? But beaches can be found at the Indiana Dunes National Park. And lovely beaches to boot.
Although the beaches are on a lake, Lake Michigan is HUGE. In fact, in many places, you can’t see across it so it feels more like an ocean. So of course, a beach day (or at least a partial day) should be on the top of your list for this Indiana day trip.
After your beach time, check out the rest of the park with a fun hike, some fishing, or even bird-watching. And in the winter you can take to the trails via snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
Make sure to start your day at the visitors center to pick up a map as well as ideas for things to do during your visit.
If you are up for it, give the 3 Dunes Challenge a try. Tackle a trek up the 3 tallest dunes in the park – it’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s fun for those who enjoy a physical challenge.
I can’t imagine having time to do anything besides the Indiana Dunes National Park during your day trip, but if you want to explore nearby, check out the towns of Beverly Shores or Valparaiso.
Where to eat on your Indiana Dunes day trip
As a popular vacation area, (and close to Chicago), there are dozens of delicious restaurant choices. If you enjoy breweries, give Chesterton Brewery a go. With delicious beers and fun menu options (try the brisket), you can’t go wrong!
For something a little more unique. go to Ivy’s Bohemia House. Mediterranean and Eastern European dishes are the go-to’s here, along with decadent cocktails! The atmosphere is eclectic and, of course, bohemian! There is indoor and outdoor seating, so you can enjoy the restaurant any time of the year!
Need breakfast? Go to Red Cup Cafe & Deli. Located in Chesterton, Indiana it’s the perfect stop to fuel up before you hit the trails or the beach at the Indiana Dunes National Park. Coffee, pastries, and more – everything you need to start your day in a cute and charming atmosphere.
4. Elkhart County
Elkhart County should be at the top of your list of day trips in Northern Indiana. In fact, you could easily enjoy a dozen day trips to this one Indiana county.
What to do on your day trip to Elkhart County Indiana
Elkhart County is full of artisans, culture, and outdoor activities, so this day trip will help you get a taste of all three!
Start your day outdoors with an early morning bike ride or walk along one of the many trails in Elkhart County. Millrace Canal Trail or Pumpkinvine Trail would be terrific options. If you don’t have a bike, there are plenty of places to rent one for a few hours.
After enjoying the outdoors, head inside to learn a little bit about American Art at the Midwest Museum of American Art in downtown Elkhart. With an incredible collection of Norman Rockwell collotypes and lithographs as well as many other American Art examples, it’s a fun way to while away an hour or so.
Elkhart County is also well-known for the many artisans that make their living creating beautiful and useful products. A few worth checking out include Teaberry Wood Products, The Soapy Gnome, and Janus Motorcycles. If you’d like some guidance on which ones are open and of interest to you, stop at the Elkhart County Visitors Center and let them help you plan out your visits.
Spend a little time just enjoying the scenery of the area too. With a high Amish population, you’ll undoubtedly see many well-kept farms, plenty of farm animals, and even a few horse and buggies.
Where to eat on your Elkhart County day trip
The food in Elkhart County ranges from homey Amish cooking to eclectic upscale dishes. Try to enjoy it all on your day trip to Elkhart County!
The perfect start to any day trip is an amazing cup of coffee. And the Americano at Relish Cafe located inside the Hotel Elkhart is just that. Add in a homemade pastry (made fresh daily) and hit your day running!
If home-style cooking is what you are craving, enjoy a delicious meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, homemade pie, and more at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury. After enjoying a tasty meal, you can spend a little time shopping at the Village Shops just outside the front door.
Ruhe152 is the place to go if you want to find upscale, eclectic dishes and outstanding drinks. As a brewery, distillery, AND restaurant, this hidden gem in the small town of Nappanee, IN will astonish you. The entire restaurant feels modern and fresh like a place you’d encounter in a big city.
Related posts: A day isn’t nearly enough time to enjoy all that Elkhart County Indiana has to offer. For enough fun things to do to fill a long weekend (or more!), check out Is Elkhart, Indiana worth visiting? and 15 Fun things to do in Elkhart County Indiana
5. Auburn, Indiana
Are you a fan of old cars, history, and small towns? If so, Auburn, Indiana should be on your radar for fun day trips in Northern Indiana.
What to do on your day trip to Auburn, Indiana
There are several really interesting museums located in Auburn, Indiana, so I’d suggest visiting at least one of them.
My personal favorite (and suggestion) is to visit the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. The automobiles you’ll find in this museum are not only historic, but they are also beautiful. The museum showcases many original cars and shares not only information about the cars themselves but also intriguing details about the time period in which the car was manufactured and driven.
Feel free to visit one of the other museums if you aren’t in information overload – or perhaps take a lunch break and then head back to another one!
Downtown Auburn is an adorable town with lots of boutiques and antique shops perfect for browsing. Plan on spending a little time strolling the streets and checking them all out.
After so much time browsing shops, learning at the museums and just enjoying the small town atmosphere, a brewery or winery break is in order.
Auburn Brewing is my favorite kind of brewery. With plenty of windows for light, space to spread out, games to play, and of course yummy beers it’s a perfect place to chill out after a busy day.
If wineries are more your speed, head a bit out of town to Byler Lane Winery. This large winery has lots of comfortable outdoor and indoor seating, so grab a tasting or glass of wine and relax.
Where to eat on your Auburn Indiana day trip
Love a good breakfast diner? Me too! Start your day at North Main Street Diner with fresh coffee and traditional breakfast foods at this local diner that’s been around forever.
If I had to pick one place to eat in Auburn, it would absolutely be Sandra D’s Italian Garden. On the outskirts of downtown, this small Italian restaurant serves standard Italian fare along with a few unique daily specials. Go for the specials – they are often spectacular.
Conclusion: 5 Fun Day Trips in Northern Indiana
Hopefully, this list of 5 fun day trips in Northern Indiana has inspired you to plan a few fun Indiana day trips – or even a long weekend or road trip. There are so many wonderful places to visit that they couldn’t all be listed in one article, but at least you’ve now got a starting point!
👉 Ready to extend your Indiana day trip to overnight or longer? Check out pricing HERE.
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