story by GLENDA WINDERS
As every traveler knows, the journey is often as much fun as arriving at the destination. And nowhere is this more true than along Indiana’s byways – routes mapped out by the state department of transportation “to preserve, protect, enhance and recognize transportation corridors of unique character.”
“Our state’s scenic byways demonstrate the fabric of Indiana through its history, culture and people, in a way that connects the Hoosier spirit of independence and love for the open road,” said Kurt West Garner, co-founder and president of the Historic Michigan Road Association. “Our state byways cover 55 counties, more than 1,000 miles of Hoosier roadways, and countless cities and towns.”
The official routes and some more off the beaten path give new meaning and pleasure to the concept of a road trip.
The Historic Michigan Road with which Garner is most closely associated was built in the 1830s to connect the Ohio River to Indianapolis and on to Lake Michigan. It opened the state to commerce and settlement and was also a route on the Underground Railroad. Passing through 14 counties, it connects the northern and southern parts of the state, encompassing a variety of communities and topography.
In the state capital it goes directly past Newfields (formerly the Indianapolis Museum of Art) in Indianapolis as well as Crown Hill Cemetery, whose residents range from President Benjamin Harrison, Kurt Vonnegut and James Whitcomb Riley to John Dillinger.
The Heritage Trail is a scenic 90- mile loop that goes through Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury, Nappanee, Bristol, Wakarusa and Shipshewana. Since it passes through the heart of Amish country, it provides excellent opportunities to pick up Amish-made furniture and crafts and stop at Amish restaurants for homemade chicken and dumplings topped off with a slice of pie. Summertime visitors on the route will get the added bonus of seeing the Quilt Gardens, more than a million blossoms in 17 gigantic designs. The new Heritage Trail Audio Driving Tour will allow you to live-stream stories, bits of history and suggestions about where to stop as you drive.
While you’re here, be sure to take in LaGrange County’s Barn Quilt Tour to check out more than 30 barn-quilt murals that celebrate local culture and the Amish lifestyle. Select one to take home for your barn or garage, or visit artisans who offer leather, textiles, pottery, baskets, jewelry and more.
The Historic National Road bisects the state from Richmond in the east to Terre Haute in the west on its route from West Virginia to Illinois. This first federal highway was conceived of by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who believed a trans-Appalachian road was necessary to unite the young country, and built between 1811 and 1834. Today its six-state path is rich with history, and the Indiana segment is no exception.
Following it will allow you to make a stop at the Richmond Art Museum, the gym in Knightstown where “Hoosiers” was filmed and the Oasis Diner in Plainfield for a tenderloin sandwich. Wrap up the trip with a marshmallow Coke or cherry phosphate at the soda fountain in Lynn’s Pharmacy in Brazil.
The nation’s first transcontinental highway, the Lincoln Highway, crosses the country from New York to San Francisco along the route of what today is Interstate 80. The Indiana portion connects Fort Wayne and Hammond and passes through towns such as Churubusco, where you can stop for a “Magic Burger”at the Magic Wand; Kimmell, for a stay in the Victorian Kimmell House Inn; South Bend, to visit the Studebaker National Museum; and Plymouth, to learn about the influence of roads at the Marshall County Museum and Crossroads Center.
The Wabash River Scenic Byway snakes along the waterway, giving visitors a real-life lesson in the art, culture and nature of the state as it demonstrates how important rivers were to the area’s development.
In West Lafayette be sure to visit Prophetstown State Park and the Tippecanoe Battlefield and Museum.
Not to be outdone, the Ohio River has its own scenic byway, 967 miles across three states, with 303 of them in Indiana. Along the way you’ll find antique shops, artists’ studios and farm markets. One of the most inviting spots it passes is Madison, which is alive with river regattas, historic architecture and a vibrant downtown filled with can’t-miss shops and places to eat. Book-lovers will want to pop in to Village Lights Books, antique-seekers will love the three floors of treasures at WOW What a Find, and hikers will enjoy Clifty Falls State Park.
The Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway consists of three loops that trace the settlement of the Whitewater Valley between Lawrenceburg and Hagerstown. The oldest church in Indiana, the Little Cedar Grove Baptist Church, is on this route, as are the canal town of Metamora and the Liberty Depot and Museum in Liberty. Finish off your day with dinner in Richmond’s Historic Depot District, where you can also take in the city’s iconic murals as you unwind.
If walking or biking sounds like more fun to you, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail is the place to be. Here eight miles of paved trails connect the city’s three major outdoor public spaces.