Indiana is best known for its vast stretches of farmland and the Indianapolis 500, but what might surprise you (and thrill your little ones), is that the Hamilton County area offers up a multitude of active, artsy and educational activities for families, making it a perfect destination for your Midwest vacation. From Carmel to Noblesville (and all of the stunning surrounding areas), we’ve rounded up all of the details on where to play, eat and stay for a dream Indiana family vacation!
photo: Zachary Raber
Far from the hustle and bustle of Indianapolis, in the artsy town of Carmel, you’ll find the perfect place to set up basecamp for your Hamilton, Indiana adventures. The Fairfield Inn & Suites is run by some of the friendliest folks you’ll ever meet. From the moment you step inside the front doors, right up until you check out, you can expect to be greeted by smiling helpful staff who make your comfort, their top priority. Right off the bat you’ll see a sweeping dining and sitting area that you can use any time of day. A full complimentary breakfast is served each morning and if you have any business that needs to be attended to, they have free high-speed internet and computers available for use.
Rooms come in a variety of sizes. Choose their single king, double queen and spacious king suites which feel just like home. All of the rooms are well appointed with plush beds and a relaxing atmosphere. And you don’t have to put on the standard extra vacation weight, with free access to their fitness room and pool. You’ll love this place so much, when it’s time to go, you’ll likely want to stay.
If you’ve spent hours in a car or on a plane the first thing you’ll need to do is stretch your legs. Fortunately for you, Carmel is home to the trailhead for the Monon Trail. The Monon is a rails-to-trails paved path that runs across Central Indiana and connects Downtown Indianapolis with the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. The trailhead is located at 96th Street in Carmel and offers over 25 miles to bike, run and romp with your family as you travel north through Westfield, Grand Park and then to the town of Sheridan.
If you want to bike to cover more territory, you can rent a bicycle for $3/hour at a Zagster bike share station. The trail takes you through Carmel’s city center to the arts and design district which has streets lined with cool shops and restaurants. It also takes you past the Monon Community Center, which is home to an outdoor waterpark (open in summer), an an indoor aquatic center and offers access to nature trails and programs.
On your ride you will pass parks, go over bridges, zip by ponds…the scenery is amazing and there’s plenty for little ones to explore. Make sure to stop and take in the surroundings now and then, and don’t forget to pack water along with you.
Soar Through The Air
Head over to Edge Adventures in the nearby town of Noblesville to turn up the fun with an adrenaline pumping aerial adventure. Kids and adults ages eight and up can zip and climb from tree to tree over and through obstacles. It gives your family a unique way to take in the area’s landscape. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget!
Travel Back in Time
You can’t leave Indiana without visiting Conner Prairie. This giant interactive history park preserves the William Conner home and offers visitors a snapshot experience of what it was like to live in Indiana in the 19th Century. In1836 Prairie Town, life in Central Indiana in 1836 is recreated as your family interacts with residents of the area and walks through the homes, and even the one-room schoolhouse. Other opportunities to explore the past include the Civil War Journey, the Lenape Indian Camp, the Tree Top Outpost, and of course the William Conner home. Plan to spend the whole day in this magnificent space. And don’t leave without taking a ride in the 1859 Balloon Voyage. Your kids will squeal with joy as the tethered ride takes you 350 feet over Connor Prairie.
Every kid, big and small, loves a train ride! Well you are in luck. The Nickel Plate Express offers year-round rides on a historic train that traverses 12 miles of track between Atlanta and Noblesville. Each trip takes about 40 minutes. Passengers enjoy the scenery and sips and bites along the way. Special excursions take place through out the year and include the Pumpkin Express, Ghost Express, Uncorked Express and Ales & Rails Express.
Hamilton County is full of opportunity for young artists to stretch their creativity. Nickel Plate Arts and Caravan Classes in Noblesville offer classes for artists young and old. There are even options for the whole family. Drop in on one and make a keepsake to take home. While you are there, peruse the artwork on display and find inspiration.
Ignite Art Studio and Makerspace at HEPL is a dream come true for families who want to take art to the next level. Use their 3D printer, laser engraver or heat press to make your creations come alive. If you just need some time to work with your hands, but don’t know what to do, check out their art kit library for inspiration.
Speaking of inspiration. Make a stop at The Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts and see if there’s anything good playing. You don’t want to miss the opportunity to see a show in their stunning 151,000 square foot hall. Don’t forget to check out the exhibit at the Great American Songbook Foundation, while you are there.
Bring your stretchy pants because Indiana’s food scene is incredible. You could literally spend your whole visit going from restaurant to restaurant and be 100% happy. We suggest you start one of your days at Rosies Place in Noblesville. This restaurant prides itself on its locally sourced, seasonally prepared cuisine. But, you’ll come for the breakfast and stay for the cookies…the unforgettable Gooey Butter cookies. Everything on the menu is fantastic. We suggest ordering a mimosa to help you wash the cookies down.
Eggshell Bistro is another fantastic breakfast option. The coffee is incredible and you can order unique dishes made to perfection like the Shakshuka, Quintessential Quiche and Caprese Strata. If all of the above options sound too refined for you little ones, head to the Donut Refinery where your kids can create their own donuts! That’s sure to be a crowd pleaser. No Label at the Table, is a feel good option, especially for families with children on the autism spectrum or those with dairy and gluten intolerances. This bakery is staffed by individuals on the autism spectrum who make delicious gluten and dairy-free treats that will keep you coming back for more.
For an extra special treat, take your young tea lover to Tina’s Traditional Tea Room where they can experience a real tea party. They can learn everything they need to learn about tea etiquette while nibbling on authentic British treats and sipping next-level tea.
Cafe Patachou offers both breakfast and lunch options. This restaurant deserves close consideration. They make everything from scratch so parents can feel good about the “road-food” their kids are eating.
Fantastic lunch and dinner options include 10 West Restaurant & Bar where you can order tacos, pizza, slammers and sandwiches. There’s even a dedicated kids menu. Mimi Blue Meatballs presents a one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience what it’s like to get a meal at a meatball restaurant (hint: yum!). If you prefer to try several dishes in one sitting, then Divvy is your place. They serve up a variety of small sharable plates the whole family can enjoy. We suggest the Mac & Cheese, Beer Cheese Fondue and of course the Lobsterdilla.
The Sun King Brewery is the perfect place for a nightcap. Or stop for a beer and a burrito. If the night is just right, head to Union Brewing Co. where you can sit outside, light a fire in a fire pit and enjoy a drink while the kids get out the last of their energy playing in the patio area.
Indiana’s Hamilton County is incredibly eclectic. There is something for every type of explorer in your family and then some. Fitting in everything you want to do, easily demands a couple of days to a week. So, plan accordingly. You may find yourself planning your next trip to the area, before you’ve even left.
—By Annette Benedetti
This trip was paid for by Hamilton County Tourism, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.